You can learn to live with anxiety
Anxiety management and regulation refer to what actions we take when we are anxious and how we can influence our anxiety sensitivity in the long run. Because it is not possible to get completely rid of anxiety, it is important that we learn to accept it as a part of life and find constructive ways to take the edge off it. This makes it possible for us to live a meaningful life despite having anxiety. This prevents anxiety from making our life narrower or determining what we can do and are capable of.
I’ve maybe accepted it as part of my life. I don’t try to actively get away from it. Those feelings will happen, but I’ve learned to live with that.Outi, expert by experience
You have been learning new methods in this self-care programme that have hopefully taught you how to regulate the intensity of your anxiety, calm yourself and shift your focus from distressing thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations to the present moment. The idea has not been to help you avoid anxiety or eliminate it altogether. These self-care exercises can help you cope with situations that would otherwise be unbearable and regulate your anxiety in ways that do not cause harm to yourself.
In the video below, experts by experience talk about what kind of a role anxiety plays in their lives.
Anxiety as part of life
There are a variety of mobile applications that can help you on your journey with anxiety. Some of them are free or have free features, while others you have to pay for. The majority of the applications are in English.
Below is a list of examples of such applications (checked in December 2022).
- Amaha (InnerHour): self-care
- Aura: Meditations, Sleep & Mindfulness
- Breath Ball Stress Relieve
- Calm – Sleep, Meditate, Relax
- Dare: Anxiety & Panic Attacks
- MindShift CBT – Anxiety Relief
- Rootd – Anxiety & Panic relief
- Sanvello: Anxiety & Depression
- Unwinding Anxiety
- Wysa: Anxiety, therapy chatbot
- 7 Cups: Therapy & Support
A person is like a house: when built on a robust foundation, it can withstand the strongest of storms, whereas a flimsily put together shack can be torn down by a minor gust. The foundation of a person and the cornerstones of our wellbeing consist of very ordinary things: a healthy diet, sufficient and high-quality sleep, physical activity, treating illnesses appropriately and avoiding substances that have an adverse effect on our mood and physical health.
Building this foundation is one of the most important ways to affect anxiety as well. But if these familiar and ordinary building blocks are not in place, no anxiety management method or other psychosocial treatment is guaranteed to help – it will be like pouring water onto the back of a duck or putting a bandage over a broken bone. A lack of sleep and nourishment, physical inactivity, failure to treat illnesses and excessive use of substances maintain a stress state in the body, which can make us feel highly anxious, and we then try to alleviate this anxiety through a variety of means while our lifestyle is simultaneously maintaining it.
Did you know that caffeine can increase anxiety? Of course, the effects of caffeine are individual and their duration depends on the amount of caffeine consumed, the person’s metabolism and their sensitivity to caffeine. Studies have found that anxiety and panic orders are associated with a high sensitivity to caffeine.
Caffeine is absorbed from the digestive system into the bloodstream and stimulates the central nervous system, causing a stimulating effect. This can manifest itself as heart palpitations, for example. Many patients have reported that the effects of caffeine on their body feel similar to the sensations occurring during a panic attack.
The upper limit for the safe intake of caffeine is 400 mg per day. This is equivalent to 2.5 mugs of Finnish light-roast coffee, for example. For pregnant and breastfeeding women, the safe upper limit is 200 mg per day. For children and young people, the limit is 3 mg per one kilogram of body weight. For a child weighing 40 kg, for example, this limit is exceeded by a single 0.33-litre energy drink.
Tobacco and intoxicants
Like caffeine, tobacco is a strong stimulant, as it contains plenty of addictive nicotine and other substances that are toxic to the body. Accordingly, it has been reported that smokers have more psychiatric illnesses than non-smokers.
Many smokers find that smoking alleviates stress, elevates their mood and improves their concentration – and this does indeed happen in the short term. However, in the long run, quitting smoking alleviates anxiety as effectively as medication. Quitting or substantially cutting back on smoking is worth it, even though the withdrawal symptoms can momentarily include anxiety.
Anxiety can be the reason for or the result of use of intoxicants such as alcohol, tobacco, snuff or drugs. In the short term, intoxicants can alleviate anxiety symptoms, but in the long run, their excessive use will increase anxiety. Previous studies have shown that intoxicants have an impact on the operation and development of the brain, and some people are also genetically predisposed to intoxicant use.
Anxiety disorders are one risk factor in intoxicant abuse: the person tries to rid themselves of an unbearable emotional state with intoxicants, but as the effects wear off, the anxiety often comes back stronger than before. As such, excessive use of alcohol or other intoxicants makes anxiety worse and has a major impact on the person’s quality of life, e.g. by undermining their quality of sleep and personal relationships. Additionally, the withdrawal symptoms of intoxicants resemble anxiety symptoms, adding to the existing anxiety.
When a person is experiencing severe anxiety and their mind is filled with worries, it can be difficult for them to fall asleep. Persistent difficulties with falling asleep cause sleep deprivation, which in turn affects brain regions that react to anxiety. Among other things, studies have shown that people with a tendency to worry are susceptible to the effects of sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation has been found to intensify anxiety by affecting the operation of the amygdala and the insular cortex of the brain, excessive activation of which is known to be involved specifically in anxiety disorders. For example, the amygdala is very quick to send a message to the brain if something is perceived as frightening or threatening.
Sometimes, anxiety and insomnia are difficult to tell apart. Researchers are yet to establish whether sleep difficulties cause anxiety or whether insomnia is a by-product of anxiety. However, a person can influence their wellbeing and mood by sleeping enough. A good night’s sleep makes the mind and the body more energised, which can contribute substantially to reducing anxiety.
A low level of physical activity is connected to the occurrence of anxiety. Both endurance and strength training have been observed in several studies to reduce anxiety symptoms. Exercise can bring more joy and pleasant experiences to a person’s life. Regular exercise has been observed to alleviate anxiety.
Exercise has numerous impacts not only on physical health, but mental health as well. One key impact is the feeling of pleasure and gratification generated by exercise, which is based on an increase in pleasure-inducing hormones, such as endorphin and dopamine. Exercise has been observed to have a positive impact on aspects such as stress and mood. Exercising with others also reinforces a sense of togetherness, which is a basic human need.
Great, you have made it to the end!
This self-care programme ends here. It is now time for you to thank yourself for taking the time to examine your anxiety and practise new ways to regulate it. Going through the programme has required commitment and determination. This self-care programme is only the beginning in the lifelong maintenance of your wellbeing. Because anxiety is a part of life and has a tendency to intensify in stressful life situations, for example, it is important that you continue practising after the end of this programme.
At the start of this self-care programme, you took an anxiety questionnaire. Do you remember what your anxiety was like back then? You can now take the questionnaire again. It is great if your anxiety regulation skills have improved and your anxiety has lessened over the course of this programme. If anxiety continues to be a significant hindrance in your life, do not feel like you have to tackle it alone and do not hesitate to contact your local health station.