The National Institute of Mental Health estimates approximately 19.1% of adults in the United States qualified for an anxiety disorder in the past year. More comprehensively, 31.1% of adults in the United States qualify for an anxiety disorder at any point in their lives. This highly prevalent human experience has been richly studies across many disciplines including mental healthcare, academic discourse, industrial/organizational practices, and primary care settings. In simplistic terms, anxiety can be described as “fear in the absence of obvious danger” (Mundo & O’Neil, 2017, p. 164). The term danger is used broadly in reference to a signal in our psyche that informs us of a past experience(s) that identified a particular object or situation as a danger to our well-being. This conceptualization is important, as it implies the anxiety is not inborn, but rather, is a product of a prior experience that influenced our perception and navigation through a distressing time. This could be a person, situation, object, setting, relationship, or emotional, among many others. Common symptoms endorsed by those who have persistent anxiety include poor concentration, rigid thinking, poor memory, ease of distractibility, feeling tense or “on edge”, intense worry, catastrophizing, and breakdown of physical functioning (e.g., headaches, sweaty palms, nausea). Many interventions can be utilized to help manage anxiety including deep breathing, meditation, and psychotherapy.
Deep breathing exercises are widely practiced and researched as methods to subdue distress. In a 2017 edition of Cognition and Emotion, Kiat Hui Khng (2017) found that deep breathing exercises in young children correlates with diminished anxiety and the establishment of a better state-of-mind by enhancing the regulation of thought during performance evaluations (e.g., quizzes, tests, presentations). Research also suggests deep breathing exercises were effective in reducing anxiety levels in patients with bipolar disorder, a disorder characterized by intense emotions that override experience (Serafim et al., 2019). These sorts of techniques are easily to learn and implement in our day to day lives in managing our internal tension and turmoil. They can also be effective in decreasing physical pain and ailment by increasing pain thresholds due to a decreased focus and detection of pain perception (Busch et al., 2012). The University of Michigan Medicine Department has published a guide to deep breathing that you can access here https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255.
Meditation has also proven to be effective in reducing anxiety levels. Meditation based programs have been associated with reliving anxiety symptoms in patients with confirmed anxiety disorders (Lee et al., 2006). Specific brain regions are observed to reduce their activity rates during meditation practices, thus decreasing ruminative thought processing, blunting of emotions, general tension, decreases in state anxiety, and increases in cognitive processing (Zeidan et al., 2014). Other studies continue to replicate these findings on the calming effect of meditation practices, with one study reporting test subjects who were exposed to mindfulness meditation sessions had an increase in positive self-statements (Hoge et al., 2013). Several meditation practices including yoga, Zen Buddhism, and mindfulness routinely assist patients every day in navigating through anxiety provoking experiences. If you are interested in what meditation looks like, practice videos can be found on YouTube, although it is generally advised to find a type of meditation practice that works for your individual experience.
Psychotherapy has consistently proven to be a curative agent in alleviating anxiety. Both individual and group cognitive behavioral therapy have been shown to decrease anxiety related symptoms and experiences in youths (Wergeland et al., 2014). Even children as young as four years old have shown to benefit from psychotherapy tailored to anxiety reduction as shown by improvements in their interactions with peers, decreased problematic behaviors, decreased nervousness, and increases in cognitive processing (Göttken et al., 2014). Psychotherapy has also been shown to promote lasting change in anxiety reduction up to four years after initial treatment in adults (Knekt et al., 2016). Anxiety does not have to a be a defining characteristic of your life. There are interventions that can support you in gaining power over anxiety. If you feel as though your anxiety has become overbearing and has thus, limited your joyful meaning and experience in life, please consider consulting with the clinicians at Town Center Psychology. You are not alone!
Busch, V., Magerl, W., Kern, U., Haas, J., Hajak, G., & Eichhammer, P. (2012). The effect of deep and slow breathing on pain perception, autonomic activity, and mood processing – an experimental study. Pain Medicine, 13, 215-228.
Göttken, T., White, L. O., Klein, A. M., & Klitzing, K. V. (2014). Short-term psychoanalytic child therapy for anxious children: A pilot study. Psychotherapy, 51, 148-158. doi: 10.1037/a0036026
Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Marques, L., Metcalf, C. A., Morris, L. K., Robinaugh, D. J., Worthington, J. J., Pollack, M. H., & Simon, N. M. (2013). Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: Effects on anxiety and stress reactivity. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74, 786-792. doi: 10.4088/JCP.12m08083
Khng, K. H. (2017). A better state-of-mind: Deep breathing reduces state anxiety and enhances test performance through regulating test cognitions in children. Cognition and Emotion, 31, 1502-1510. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2016.1233095
Knekt, P., Virtala, E., Härkänen, T., Vaarama, M., Lehtonen, J., & Lindfors, O. (2016). The outcome of short- and long-term psychotherapy 10 years after start of treatment. Psychological Medicine, 46, 1175-1188. doi: 10.1017/S0033291715002718
Lee, S. H., Ahn, S. C., Lee, Y. J., Choi, T. K., Yook, K. H., & Suh, S. Y. (2007). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress management program as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy in patients with anxiety disorder. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 62, 189-195. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2006.09.009
Mundo, E. & O’Neil, J. A. (2017). Symptom patterns: The subjective experience – S axis. In V. Lingiardi & N. McWilliams (Eds.), Psychodynamic diagnostic manual: Second edition (pp.134-259). The Guilford Press.
Serafim, S. D., da Ponte, F. D. R., Lima, F. M., Martins, D. S., Rosa, A. R., & Kunz, M. (2019). Effects of deep breathing in patients with bipolar disorder. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 55, 119-125. doi: 10.1111/ppc.12325
Wergeland, G. J. H., Fjermestad, K. W., Marin, C. E., Haugland, B. S. M., Bjaastad, J. F., Oeding, K., Bjelland, I., Silberman, W. K., Öst, L. G., Havik, O. E., & Heiervang, E. R. (2014). An effectiveness study of individual vs. group cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders in youth. Behavioral Research and Therapy, 57, 1-12. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2014.03.007
Zeidan, F., Martucci, K. T., Kraft, R. A., McHaffie, J. G., & Coghill, R. C. (2014). Neural correlates of mindfulness meditation-related anxiety relief. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9, 751-759. Doi: 10.1093/scan/nst041