Anxiety disorders are most common in teens. Approximately 38% of teenage girls¹ and 26% of teenage boys experience an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is the result of your body activating your built-in fight or flight response when there is no ‘real’ physical threat. Anxiety starts in the brain, specifically in the amygdala. The amygdala sends danger signals to your body and initiates the fight or flight response. This prepares your body for physical danger and releases a molecule called adrenaline, which causes a number of the common anxiety symptoms.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will be able to eliminate your anxiety forever. Anxious feelings are a normal part of life. However, with treatment, you can significantly reduce and manage your symptoms, and you may even have long periods where you don’t experience any significant anxiety.
There are several treatments provided by mental health professionals that can help to alleviate your anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to significantly improve² symptoms of anxiety. In CBT sessions, you work on changing your thought patterns about certain events that may cause your anxiety, which enables you to change how your body responds.
This treatment can help you to gain confidence and control over your anxiety.
Exposure therapy is essentially facing your fears with guidance from mental health professionals. When you experience anxiety around a certain event, it is often because your brain has a negative image of this event, whether you have experienced it yourself or just thought about it.
Exposure therapy has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety³ by slowly replacing this negative image with positive memories, with the effect of reducing your body’s anxious response to the event.
Doctors often prescribe anti-anxiety medication if your anxiety is disrupting your daily life. There are different kinds of medications you can take for anxiety, some of which you take everyday and others you only take when you start to feel anxious.
If you are interested in trying medication, talk to your doctor about whether it is right for you. Some medications come with negative side effects so it is important to discuss with your doctor before taking any medication.
Whether you are receiving treatment for your anxiety or not, there are a range of techniques you can use to help manage your symptoms when they flare up.
One of the most important things to remember when you start to feel anxious is to breathe. When you feel anxious, you tend to take rapid, short, shallow breaths, which make you feel even more anxious. Taking a few minutes to take some deep, slow breaths will calm your central nervous system and reduce anxiety.
Try the following steps:
Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
Take a slow breath in, feeling the air fill your diaphragm — you will feel your stomach push out — and then your chest .
Take a slow breath out, emptying the air from your diaphragm and your chest.
Repeat these steps for a few minutes. Remember that you should feel your stomach moving in and out as you breathe. This indicates that you are correctly using your diaphragm to breathe.
Aromatherapy is an excellent way to help reduce anxiety. Essential oils like sweet orange,⁴ ylang-ylang, and grapefruit have anti-anxiety properties that can help to relieve anxiety symptoms.
Applying a cosmetic product like a hand or face cream containing essential oils may help to relieve anxiety. Alternatively, you could place a few drops of an essential oil into a steam diffuser to fill your space with the relaxing scent.
Research⁵ has shown that your brain is influenced by the bacteria in your gut, which are largely determined by your diet. This means your diet affects how you respond to fear and anxiety. To maintain healthy gut bacteria to reduce your anxiety, take a look at what you are currently consuming.
Processed vegetable oils
Omega-3 fatty acids
Reducing the amount of caffeine you consume can help to eliminate your anxiety. Caffeine is known to be anxiogenic⁶ — meaning it can cause anxiety. If you regularly consume caffeine, try reducing your intake and see if you feel the difference.
Research⁷ has shown that spending time outdoors can lead to lower levels of anxiety and reduce sympathetic nervous system activity. The sympathetic nervous system regulates the fight-or-flight response. Lessening the activity of this system can reduce anxiety symptoms. Being out in nature can also reduce cortisol levels — the main stress hormone — and blood pressure.
Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce levels of anxiety⁸ because it triggers the release of endorphins, which are ‘feel-good’ hormones that signal to your body that you are not in danger. To help eliminate your anxiety, you could try taking up running, swimming, or cycling a few times a week.
Yoga and meditation
Yogic breathing, called pranayama, is a core concept in both yoga and meditation practices. Pranayama can assist in the regulation of your nervous system⁹, reducing the likelihood of activating the sympathetic nervous system, which causes anxiety symptoms. Research has also shown that meditation can reduce cortisol, thereby reducing your heart rate and blood pressure and alleviating anxiety symptoms.
There are many online tutorials and apps you can try out if you would like to practice meditation or yoga but don’t know where to start. You could also try going to an in-person meditation or yoga class.
Research¹⁰ shows that receiving a massage can help to reduce the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your body, which lessens anxiety. You could start having massages to see how you feel. If you don’t want to go to a massage therapist, you could ask a friend or family member nicely if they could give you a massage.
Taking a warm bath
Having a warm bath¹¹ can help to relieve anxiety. When you submerge your body in warm water, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated, which lessens the dominance of the sympathetic nervous system. This can stop the fight or flight response that causes your anxiety symptoms.
A study¹² found that people who journaled about their feelings, emotions, and trauma had significantly better mental well-being than those who wrote about neutral topics, like the types of shoes they wore. To assist in eliminating your anxiety, try writing for just a few minutes a day. Slowly increase it until you’re writing for about 15 to 20 minutes – or even longer if you want to. If you are struggling with what to write about, there are lots of great journaling prompts online.
Listen to relaxing music
Listening to relaxing music has a positive effect on your psychological stress response. When you start to feel anxious, try putting on some headphones and listening to some soothing music, like classical, LoFi beats, or acoustic music.
Anxiety is a common mental health condition. While it’s unlikely that you will be able to completely eliminate your anxiety forever, you can treat its symptoms with help from a mental health professional as well as taking steps yourself. Treatments and management techniques can help to significantly reduce your anxiety, and you may find you are able to go long periods without experiencing any anxiety at all.
Any anxiety disorder | National Institute of Mental Health
Clinical aromatherapy (2020)
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