According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. Forty million adults are affected every year, yet many fail to get the treatment they need. Not only does this exacerbate their mental health issues, it may also have a negative effect on their physical health. Long periods of chronic stress prevent the digestive, excretory, immune, and reproductive systems from functioning properly, which can lead to a whole host of problems.
If you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder (whether treated or untreated), tracking and managing your symptoms is an important step toward a more productive and fulfilling life. Fortunately, there are a number of different ways to go about anxiety tracking and management. Consider the following:
Tracking Your Anxiety
Keeping track of your anxiety allows you to identify triggers, share detailed information with your healthcare providers, and know at a glance if your treatment plan is effective. Here are a few ways you can go about monitoring your anxiety:
Journaling is a fantastic way to track your mental health and work through your anxious feelings. When feelings of anxiety are left unchecked, they lead to rumination. However, by focusing on and examining those feelings through journaling, you can shift your thoughts from ruminative to action-oriented.
One popular and particularly creative form of journaling that’s seen a lot of coverage lately is bullet journaling. If you’re handy with washi tape, markers, calligraphy, and other forms of crafting, Buzzfeed has an awesome guide on how to create the perfect bullet journal to track your mental health.
If you’re like me, bullet journaling may actually amp up your anxiety (I’m way too much of a perfectionist for that to end well). Instead of going all out with the Pinterest-worthy layouts, you can do a little old-school journaling instead. Detail what events are currently causing your anxiety to flare up, writing until you feel you’ve conveyed what needs to be said but haven’t actually started ruminating.
If pen and paper isn’t your thing, smartphone apps may be the way to go. With society becoming more and more aware of how common anxiety and other mental illnesses are, developers of mobile technology have stepped up to offer their own particular brand of help. Eileen Bailey over at Health Central has curated a wonderful list of apps you can use to help monitor your anxiety. It’s important to note that though these apps can help with day-to-day anxiety, they’re no substitute for professional care.
Though wearable technology has started to become fairly common, most on the market are dedicated to fitness tracking and goals. However, a growing number of devices are hitting on just how important it is to track our mental and emotional health as well. If you’re looking for some wearable tech aimed at keeping track of your anxiety, check out this list from A Plan for Living.
Here’s a creative way to track your anxiety. Though it’s not as detailed as journaling or other mental health trackers, Project Bead is great for those who are more visually inclined. The concept works like this: using string or wire, add a colored bead to your necklace/bracelet/keychain for every good day you have. On days you’re particularly anxious or have a panic attack, add a white bead. As your beads add up, you can look to your jewelry as a reminder that there are often far more good days than bad, and gain the strength you need to keep moving forward!
Managing Your Anxiety
Once you’ve successfully started tracking your anxiety, you can work on managing your symptoms. Here’s how:
Know Your Triggers
Anxiety is a funny thing. Sometimes it has clear origins — you’ll know exactly why you’re anxious and what caused you to feel that way. Other times it seems to come upon you for no reason at all — you’re completely fine and then BAM, anxiety!
You can’t always expect or control anxiety, but you can identify the triggers that make it more likely you’ll experience anxiety or a panic attack. Knowing your triggers is useful as each will have its own potential treatment. Working with a therapist, you can desensitize yourself to certain triggers or learn coping strategies that will help you achieve calm when you need it most.
Have Coping Mechanisms Ready
Dealing with anxiety isn’t easy, but coping mechanisms are a great tool for soothing yourself when you become overwhelmed. My therapist (whom I love dearly) has stressed the importance of having a handful of strategies for coping with anxiety at the ready, rather than attempting to Google them when you’re already in the throes of a panic attack. Here are a few coping strategies I use:
- Compartmentalize: Close your eyes and imagine a lidded container. Create whatever color, size, and shape of container you’d like. Put your anxious thoughts — or the things causing your anxious thoughts — into your container and close the lid. Then, imagine putting that container somewhere out of the way (under your bed, up on a shelf, etc.). Take a deep breath in, let it out, and open your eyes. You can open the container and deal with those feelings when you have the time and mental bandwidth to do so.
- Focus on your breathing. Take deep breaths in and out. Listen to the movement of your breath. Feel your chest rise and fall. Concentrate only on breathing in and out, breath to breath, moment to moment. Do this for at least five minutes.
- Redirect your attention to something you enjoy. I usually pull up Hulu or Netflix, put on one of my favorite (funny) shows, and settle down with a jigsaw puzzle or some Candy Crush. Before I know it, my anxious thoughts are gone.
- Take some time to think about the good things in your life. Write these things down in a journal. Focusing on the positive aspects of life is a great way to refocus your thoughts.
Talk to a Professional
Due to the stigma and myths surrounding seeing a therapist, 56 percent of Americans with mental illnesses don’t seek treatment. However, if your anxiety has become so intense that it’s disrupting your daily routine or causing you extreme distress, it’s time to seek professional help. Here are other signs you may need to see a therapist:
- You have recurrent headaches, stomach-aches or a rundown immune system
- You’re using drugs or alcohol to cope
- You’re no longer engaged at work
- You no longer enjoy previously beloved activities
- Your relationships are suffering
- Your loved ones have expressed concern
If you’re having trouble finding someone in your area, consult the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s directory of therapists who have specialized training and experience with anxiety disorders. Remember, the sooner you seek help, the sooner you’ll start to see an improvement.
Depending on the severity of their condition, some people will need medication in addition to therapy. If your anxiety is severe enough to interfere with your ability to function, you may want to consider talking to your doctor about medication. It’s important to note that though medication will help to reduce your symptoms, it will not cure anxiety. That said, medication can be very helpful in allowing you to manage your anxiety disorder (I speak from experience).
Living with an anxiety disorder can be extremely difficult. However, by tracking and managing your symptoms, you can get a better handle on day-to-day to life — and the fewer bad days you have, the sunnier life starts to look. You got this!
Have you tried any of these ways to track and manage your anxiety?
Get more like this—Subscribe to our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!