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  • Writer's pictureDr. Cassandra Paiano, ND

Understanding Anxiety

What is anxiety? How is it diagnosed? What can I do?

Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric illnesses, with a lifetime prevalence of 31%, and more common in women than men. Despite the significant prevalence, anxiety disorders remain undiagnosed and untreated in 40% of people. It is normal to experience anxiety the day before that big presentation at work, but it becomes a problem when it starts to interfere with all other aspects of your life. The diagnosis of anxiety is: excessive worry and anxiety over a number of events or activities on more days than not for 6 months, with at least 3 of the following symptoms:

  • restlessness

  • easily fatigued

  • difficulty concentrating

  • irritability

  • muscle tension

  • sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep)

How is anxiety diagnosed?

One of the best tools for diagnosing anxiety is called the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Assessment, or GAD-7. It is a simple, seven question survey that takes about one minute to complete. The total score indicates normal, mild, moderate or severe anxiety. It can also be used to monitor the efficacy of anxiety treatment(s) over time.

What can I do?

Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) is a type of meditation technique, that involves paying close attention to small details in everyday life that usually go unnoticed. It's about turning down the volume dial in your mind, and coming back to the body. Research has shown that mindfulness-based exercises are effective at reducing anxiety and stress. Here are six mindfulness based practices to help reduce anxiety: 1. Set an intention. Setting an intention helps you focus and remind you why you are doing something. Intentions don't have to be anything fancy. It could be as simple as setting an intention to have positive thoughts for the day. 2. Go for a walk. Nature and physical activity are both great at reducing anxiety and stress. Next time you go for a walk, pay very close attention to everything around you. What sounds do you hear? What smells do you smell? What do you see as you gaze around? What does the wind feel like against your skin?

3. Focus on one thing at a time. To-do lists can be long and overwhelming. However, there's a way to transform that long and exhausting to-do list into a form of mindfulness; give each task your full and undivided attention for a specified period of time. 4. Turn household chores into a mental break. Washing the dishes? Listen to your favourite song and have a little dance party while you wash and rinse. Waiting for the water to boil? Use those few moments to focus on your breaths. 5. Leave your phone behind. Take time to yourself when you take a trip to the washroom, sit down to eat, or walk to over to another room. Focus on being present in the moment, and on what you are doing - whatever that is. Your phone will be waiting for you when you come back, I promise. 6. Journal. Find a few minutes each day to jot down some thoughts. Don't overthink it. You can choose to write down one thing you are grateful for, or one great thing that happened that day. The most important takeaway is that you are consistent. Set aside five minutes each day this month, and choose a mindfulness practice from the list above that resonates with you most.

Reach out for support

If you are experiencing anxiety, it's important to seek out support. Your Naturopathic Doctor has a variety of techniques and treatment options to improve your mental health. Your Registered Massage Therapist can also treat anxiety-induced pain and tension, and promote relaxation during your next massage. We're here to help!

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