Have you ever felt anxious? From butterflies in your stomach and sweaty palms to a racing heart and shortness of breath, most everyone has felt anxiety symptoms to one degree or another. And while many of the symptoms commonly associated with anxiety are helpful in certain dangerous situations, for millions of Americans these unwanted feelings become part of their daily or weekly life—and are unhealthy for the body, mind, and soul.
In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), there are 40 million individuals over the age of 18 in the United States who have anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the nation. They are also treatable disorders, yet only 36.9% of those suffering from anxiety get professional treatment.
So what do the remaining 63.1% do? For some, they live on a daily basis with the crippling impact of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and it worsens. For others, they don’t seek professional help but turn to self-medicating through a number of different substances to help ease the discomfort they face. Often, those who choose to self-medicate, then find themselves with a dependency on alcohol or another substance. However, there are those too who first had the alcohol or substance use disorder and this brought on the GAD.
And as the causes of anxiety are similar to those precursors for alcohol and substance abuse, it can be difficult to determine which disorder came first. In some cases it is clear but in others, it is not. No matter which of the co-occurring disorders came first, there is help and anyone suffering from anxiety with or without a co-occurring substance abuse issue can recover. If you or a loved one is living in the pain, isolation, and hopelessness from a co-occurring disorder, it’s vital to seek treatment at an addiction treatment center with expertise in treating co-occurring disorders.
Do You Have a GAD? Understanding the Symptoms of Anxiety
Many have experienced feelings of anxiety in life. On the way to an interview for a job, before a big test, boarding an airplane are all common times when individuals experience feelings of anxiety. However for those with generalized anxiety disorders, panic disorders, or phobia-related disorders these ‘feelings’ remain after the event has passed and often continue on a daily basis.
The National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) describes people with GAD as exhibiting excessive nervousness or worry for almost every day for six months or more. The nervousness or worry can be about work, personal life, daily situations, social interactions, health, school, and more.
If you think you may have GAD, review these symptoms of anxiety from NIMH:
- Muscle tension
- Fatigued regularly and easily
- Restlessness and feeling on edge
- Problems with focus or maintaining attention
- Inability to control worrisome feelings and thoughts
- Sleep issues such as insomnia, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up feeling unrefreshed
Do any of these sound familiar? If they do and you or your loved one has been experiencing these on a regular basis, you may be suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder. There are also panic disorders and phobia-related disorders which are considered to be anxiety disorders as well.
Panic disorders are characterized by panic attacks which are periods of acute fear which come on abruptly. These attacks can be brought on by ‘triggers’ or for no reason at all. Regardless of the reason, individuals who have panic disorders tend to avoid certain people, places, and situations for fear of another attack. Because of this, often those with panic disorders can find significant problems in their lives as they understandably try to avoid the return of a panic attack.
When it comes to phobia-related disorders an individual experiences a strong and powerful aversion to specific situations or things. Examples are phobias to flying snakes or spiders, heights, the sight of blood, and more.
No matter what type of anxiety disorder you or a loved one has you may have found yourself (or still find yourself) self-medicating with alcohol or another substance in attempts to find relief from these often debilitating feelings.
Self-medicating for Anxiety
It’s no wonder alcohol and other substances are turned to in order to find relief from anxiety. Alcohol, in particular, is socially accepted, easy to get, and for many can mask underlying issues such as anxiety. However, using alcohol to help ease the symptoms of anxiety can be a slippery slope. For so many who find themselves in addiction treatment centers, what started as a way to feel better or cope with difficult feelings or life situations turns on them and they become dependent on that substance. And in many cases of co-occurring disorders, continued use of the substance can actually worsen the mental health disorder.
Very often, alcohol or drug issues can be masking underlying mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, trauma, eating disorders, mood disorders, and more. However, thousands of people who have these co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders find the help they need and places to get help for alcohol abuse and drug abuse. These people, who take the first brave step towards recovery, go on to reclaim their lives and enjoy daily life free from addiction.
When you seek treatment at an addiction treatment center that utilizes evidence-based medicine to treat both the addiction and the co-occurring mental health disorder, such as anxiety disorders, you too can begin to live a life in joy and peace of mind. Futures Recovery Healthcare knows that addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders are complex, chronic conditions that need comprehensive and coordinated care. At Futures, we are committed to every patient who walks through our doors not only while they are in treatment but long after they leave.
If you are in recovery now and still experiencing anxiety, you aren’t alone. Just because a person gets sober doesn’t mean that life will be perfect and not throw any curveballs. In addition, when it comes to alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and anxiety, it takes daily work as well as development and maintenance of new habits and coping skills so you don’t revert to old ways of life. From feeling anxious to reaching for a substance to cope, leaning on new skills and habits will help you to combat these former unhealthy coping skills.
Five Healthy Coping Skills for Anxiety in Recovery
For many in recovery, anxiety, although to a much lesser degree, can continue. However, there are many healthy coping skills that not only ease the immediate symptoms of anxiety but also help the anxiety eventually go away altogether.
Here are a few healthy ways to deal with the feelings and symptoms associated with anxiety:
Mindful breathing and deep breathing are ways to ward off anxiety as soon as you begin to feel it. There are a variety of techniques to use but often the most simple is the best particularly in the beginning. Dr. Andrew Weil promotes the 4-7-8 breathing technique. For this approach, you breathe in deeply to the count of four, hold it to the count of seven, then exhale strongly to the count of eight. This technique is used not only to help with anxiety but to promote sleep. For mindful breathing, simply pay attention to your breath as you inhale and as you exhale. Feel your belly rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale. Repeat this mindful breathing until you begin to feel calmer.
Meditation has long been touted across the globe for delivering feelings of calm, clarity, and joy. There are various types of meditations such as guided meditations, mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, yoga meditation, chakra meditation, and more. Within each of these types of meditations are options for each person’s individual needs and wants not only at that particular moment but long term as well.
There’s no doubt that moving the body, whether it be a walk, mountain climbing, or aerobic exercise, can make you feel better. But according to research, exercise is directly linked to the improvement of mental health including anxiety and depression. According to a research study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming, walking, cycling, and gardening have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. Recovery is the time to discover new passions and activities you like. Finding an addiction treatment center that supports this can give you a head start on this self-discovery journey. An experiential and adventure-based treatment program at Futures provides opportunities for patients to learn new activities and hobbies as well as build their self-confidence through activities like scuba diving, paddle boarding, fishing, and more.
For those in recovery, many became accustomed to lives with high adrenaline that ranged from very chaotic to mildly chaotic. Depending on how long the alcohol or substance use issue lasted, it is easy to be used to that type of life and the associated feelings. Some of these feelings are actually also common with anxiety. In order to experience long-lasting recovery, it’s important to leave these chaotic behaviors behind. However, discovering creative hobbies such as painting, writing, music, and more can help to fulfill this craving for ‘excitement’. In addition, seeking adventures has also been found by many in recovery to be a healthy outlet. From traveling to trying a new cuisine or hiking somewhere new, discover the creativity and drive for adventure you may not know you have.
You are what you eat is an age-old adage that holds true today. What you eat not only impacts your physical health but your mental health as well. When it comes to anxiety, consuming too much caffeine, processed foods, sugary foods, foods with trans fats, alcohol, and more can make your anxiety worse. If you want to feel better and less anxious eat fresh produce, whole grains, water, and fish instead. It’s important for anyone recovering from an alcohol or substance use issue to pay special attention to their diet. When you search for places to get help for alcohol abuse or substance abuse, be sure they are dedicated to your overall wellness and nutrition.
Anxiety and addiction are both debilitating diseases to live with if you don’t seek help. And while life in active addiction and with untreated anxiety can be hopeless it’s important to know that thousands of people get help every day and go on to live happy, vibrant lives free from both anxiety and addiction. If you or someone you love needs help for an alcohol or substance problem or a co-occurring disorder, Futures is here for you. Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 561-475-1804.