Anxiety — It Isn't Just a Camper Thing

Marcia Ellett
May 2020

While you may be called upon to help one or more campers in the throes of anxiety this summer, chances are they aren't the only ones feeling anxious. Whether it's graduating from one phase of your life to the next, starting a new job, experiencing a new environment, or the worldwide spread of a new virus, this year has held plenty of causes for anxiety. Unchecked, anxiety has a way of taking on a life of its own, which can have serious health and life consequences for sufferers. 

According to Jessica Maples-Keller, PhD, and Vasiliki Michopoulos, PhD, of Anxiety.org, "It's important to note that everyone feels anxiety to some degree regularly throughout their life. Fear and anxiety are helpful emotions that can function to help us notice danger or threats that keep us safe and help us adapt to our environment." Disorders come into play and issues arise "when significant distress impairs your ability to function in important facets of life, such as work, school, or relationships" (Maples-Keller & Michopoulos, n.d.).

"Doctors don't completely understand what causes anxiety disorders," said Healthline writer Erica Cirino. "It's currently believed certain traumatic experiences can trigger anxiety in people who are prone to it. Genetics may also play a role in anxiety. In some cases, anxiety may be caused by an underlying health issue and could be the first signs of a physical, rather than mental, illness."

While anxiety symptoms can vary from person to person, some common symptoms include (Cirino, 2016):

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
  • Feelings of danger, panic, or dread
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Weakness and listlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty focusing on anything other than what you're worried about

How you respond to anxiety when it strikes has a lot to do with your overall happiness and well-being, and taking small, deliberate steps can be the key to overcoming those feelings of unease and panic. Following are a handful of techniques (you'll find many more online) you can practice right now to gain control of your anxiety.

Avoid Avoidance

"Bouts of anxiety usually don't last very long, so try not to fight off your feelings of anxiety, but accept it and say to yourself that it's OK to be anxious," said Graham Davey, PhD (2018), in a Psychology Today article. 

"Avoidance is arguably the main factor that allows anxiety to develop and propagate," Davey said. So, while avoiding things that are clearly dangerous, such as swimming in alligator-infested water, is good and sensible, avoiding experiences that most other individuals believe are safe may indicate you are giving in to anxiety (Davey, 2018).

"Avoiding the things that make you anxious never allows you to find out the reality of the threat — it may not be a threat at all. But you don't discover there's no monster in the closet if you continue to avoid opening the closet door," said Davey (2018).

Don't Live on the Dark Side

Negativity abounds in traditional media and social media alike. If you already have anxiety, "your thoughts are more prone to being negative and fearful," said CalmClinic writer Micah Abraham. It's easy to get sucked into the mindset of always thinking about the worst-case scenario, but this is a slippery slope that often leads straight to flop sweat and dread. 

"It's important to be in the know. But you don't need to obsess over the news," said NPR reporter Allison Aubrey (2020).

Psychologist Tamar Chansky, PhD, suggests you can combat worst-case-scenario thoughts by examining how realistic they are (Hughes, n.d.). For example, if you're nervous about being a first-time camp counselor, rather than think, "I'm going to be bad at this," say, "I'm nervous, but I went through staff training, so I'm prepared for this." 

"Getting into a pattern of rethinking your fears helps train your brain to come up with a rational way to deal with your anxious thoughts," said WebMD author Locke Hughes (n.d.).

Steady Your Breathing

"Anxiety can actually alter the way you breathe," said Abraham. "Those with anxiety tend to take faster breaths, often taking in more oxygen than they need. This is called ‘hyperventilation' and it's responsible for many of the physical symptoms of anxiety attacks" (2018).

On the other hand, some people have a tendency to hold their breath when they're anxious. Neither breathing extreme will help calm you down. But taking deep, measured breaths will. Try inhaling slowly through your nose, holding your breath for about 10 seconds, and then slowly exhaling through your mouth.

Bernard Vittone, MD, said, "To make sure you're breathing correctly, place your hand on your diaphragm, just below your rib cage. Feel it rise with each inhalation and fall with each exhalation. Practice this technique regularly throughout the day for about a minute at a time, or any time you're feeling anxious" (Prevention.com, 2014).

Put Pen to Paper

Consider keeping a journal. According to PositivePsychology.com, journaling "is a form of self-expression that can lift and empower people to understand their complex feelings and find humor with it" (Ackerman, 2020).

Overall, journaling has been found to (Ackerman, 2020):

  • Boost your mood
  • Enhance your sense of well-being
  • Reduce symptoms of depression before an important event
  • Reduce intrusion and avoidance symptoms post-trauma
  • Improve your working memory

According to Healthline, "Writing down what's making you anxious gets it out of your head and can make it less daunting" (Hirschlag, 2018).

Furthermore, journaling can "make us more aware (and self-aware!) and help us detect sneaky, unhealthy patterns in our thoughts and behaviors," according to PositivePsychology.com. "It allows us to take more control over our lives and puts things in perspective" (Ackerman, 2020).

Practice Good Posture

Believe it or not, good posture can help relieve anxiety. Chansky said, "When we are anxious, we protect our upper body — where our heart and lungs are located — by hunching over." If you want to send your body the message that it is back in control, you can do so by pulling your shoulders back, standing or sitting with your feet apart, and opening your chest (Hughes, n.d.).

When It's More Than a Temporary Uneasy Feeling

"It's not always easy to tell when anxiety is a serious medical problem versus a bad day causing you to feel upset or worried," said Cirino, but consider a visit to your doctor if you feel (2016):

  • You are worrying so much that it's interfering with your daily life.
  • Your anxiety, fear, or worry is difficult to control and an ongoing source of distress.
  • You are using alcohol or drugs to cope and are depressed.
  • The cause of your anxiety is an underlying mental health problem.

Remember, a little bit of anxiety can be a good thing. According to Prevention.com (2014), "It helps motivate you . . .. It also keeps you from meeting danger head-on. As part of the fight-or-flight response, anxiety causes your heart rate to increase and your muscles to tense should you need to act." However, if anxiety becomes a constant in your life and undermines your ability to function, then seek the help of a medical professional.

References

  • Abraham, M. (2018, October 27). 7 tips how to fight anxiety. CalmClinic. Retrieved from calmclinic.com/anxiety/treatment/how-to-fight-anxiety
  • Ackerman, C. E. (2020, February 11). 83 benefits of journaling for depression, anxiety and stress. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/
  • Aubrey, A. (2020, March 3). Pandemic panic? These five tips can help you regain your calm. NPR. Retrieved from npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/03/811656226/pandemic-panic-these-5-tips-can-help-you-regain-your-calm
  • Cirino, E. (2016, September 8). Everything you need to know about anxiety. Healthline. Retrieved from healthline.com/health/anxiety-symptoms#symptoms
  • Davey, G. (2018, February 1). 10 tips for managing your anxiety. Psychology Today. Retrieved from psychologytoday.com/us/blog/why-we-worry/201802/10-tips-managing-your-anxiety
  • Hirschlag, A. (2018, December 17). Do you live with anxiety? Here are 11 ways to cope. Healthline. Retrieved from healthline.com/health/mental-health/how-to-cope-with-anxiety#long-term-strategies
  • Hughes, L. (n.d.). How to stop feeling anxious right now. WebMD. Retrieved from webmd.com/mental-health/features/ways-to-reduce-anxiety
  • Maples-Keller, J. & Michopoulos, V. (n.d.). Causes and risk factors. Anxiety.org. Retrieved from anxiety.org/what-is-anxiety
  • Prevention.com. (2014, June 22). 20 tips for dealing with anxiety. Retrieved from prevention.com/health/a20429061/20-tips-for-dealing-with-anxiety/

Marcia Ellett is the editor-in-chief of Camping Magazine.


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