Does anxiety give you sweaty palms, make your face red, or leave you stammering? If so, you’re not alone.
People with an anxiety disorder often experience physical symptoms such as sweating, shortness of breath, trembling, or even heart palpitations. Explains Jonathan Rich, DO, an internist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, “It’s actually very common. There’s [almost] always some kind of a physical manifestation even before we diagnose anxiety.”
Fortunately, it is possible to ease some of the physical side effects that can go along with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety Problems: Tips to Help You Stay Calm
Try these strategies to help manage your anxiety physical symptoms:
Know yourself. If you’re able to recognize and acknowledge the physical symptoms that tend to develop when you feel anxious, it will be easier to control them. “If people start having palpitations, they worry that something is wrong with their heart,” notes Rich. “Just tell yourself, ‘Okay, this is what my body does when I’m having an anxiety attack.’” You’ll likely begin to notice your symptoms ease.
Avoid anxiety triggers. The best way to deal with the physical effects of an anxiety disorder is to avoid becoming anxious in the first place. This may be easier said than done, but one good way to accomplish this is by avoiding situations that you know cause anxiety, Rich says. People who become anxious in crowds, for example, may want to steer clear of them.
Breathe. If an anxiety-producing situation can’t be avoided and you start to feel yourself blushing, sweating heavily, or becoming physically uncomfortable in other ways, you may be able to blunt your symptoms with deep breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) techniques. One method of deep breathing is to breathe in through the nose for four counts, hold it for seven counts, and then breathe out to a count of eight. Breathing in this manner can help relax the muscles and provide a welcome distraction from an anxiety trigger.
Consider medication. People who find the physical side effects of their anxiety disorder to be particularly bothersome may want to talk to their doctor about taking medication to reduce their anxiety levels. “Usually, if anxiety is the underlying problem for physical symptoms, the physical symptoms will go away if you treat the anxiety,” says Rich. Some of the most common medications for long-term treatment of anxiety are antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which work by restoring the balance of chemicals in the brain. Sertraline and paroxetine are examples of SSRIs commonly used to treat anxiety disorders.
Anxiety attacks can also be treated with quick-acting medications like diazepam (Valium) or another benzodiazepine. “They are very good for short-term treatment of severe panic attacks,” says Rich. “They basically calm you down.”
Also, anxiety and its physical side effects may be managed with beta blockers, a class of medications usually used to treat heart conditions and high blood pressure. Beta blockers like propanolol slow the heart rate and relax blood vessels, which can ease physical symptoms in many patients. When used for anxiety, they are only taken right before an anxiety-inducing event. For example, a performer with anxiety would take a beta blocker before he goes on stage, Rich explains.
Exercise. Here’s yet another good reason to hit the gym: Getting regular exercise can go a long way toward relieving anxiety. Physical activity is thought to help the body practice responding to stress. That way, when the real thing does occur, the body is better prepared to handle the difficult situation than it would be otherwise. “For general overall mental health, any exercise is certainly beneficial,” Rich says. At least two and a half hours of moderate physical activity per week are recommended for healthy adults, but beneficial effects can be seen with even an hour of exercise per week.
If you experience anxiety on a regular basis, remember these tips to help keep physical symptoms at bay. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor, though, if your anxiety problems persist.