Is it in the stress you may feel about having to interact with someone who drives you up the wall? Does it occur when you have a big project, public speaking engagement or event to prepare for? Do you feel it when you step in a room full of people you don’t know and are expected to network? We hear so much about anxiety (not anxiety disorders in this case, but the general feeling). But how do you know when you’re dealing with it?
To gain some clarity, ESSENCE quizzed author, celebrated psychiatrist and YouTuber Tracey Marks, MD. She’s releasing a new book on the topic titled Why Am I So Anxious? Powerful Tools for Recognizing Anxiety and Restoring Your Peace (August 16). She breaks down the signs of anxiety, if it’s more common today due to stressors from COVID-19 and more, and how we can keep those feelings of great fear, dread and uneasiness at bay.
ESSENCE: What are signs that someone is dealing with anxiety? Can it be something as simple as feeling nervous or stressed about an upcoming event?
Tracey Marks, MD: Sometimes the signs aren’t obvious because some people will suffer silently. For example, people with social anxiety can fear being judged by others but may be too ashamed to admit it to people. They deal with these fears by avoiding social situations or overusing substances like alcohol to cope with their anxiety and appear “normal” in front of others.
Feeling nervous or stressed about an upcoming event is a normal emotional reaction. It becomes an anxiety problem when you can’t find ways to soothe yourself, and the nervousness has negative consequences for you (e.g., can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t think straight, etc.). More obvious signs that someone struggles with anxiety are excessive hair pulling, nail-biting, or asking for reassurances about the things they worry about.
Do you believe people are dealing with anxiety now more than in the past? If so, why is that?
I don’t believe the overall incidence of anxiety has increased significantly. Every generation has had to deal with national and world events that caused distress to society at large. However, what we have now that we didn’t have 30 years ago is the impact of social media. Social media has had a positive effect of creating an open dialogue about our psychological experiences. Demystifying and destigmatizing anxiety removes some of the barriers to seeking help.
On the flip side, overconsumption of social media has introduced mental health problems by shortening our attention spans, creating unrealistic life expectations, and subjecting vulnerable people to cyberbullying.
What are ways we can cope with anxiety if it doesn’t seem to be completely debilitating to our day to day?
I would focus on optimizing your lifestyle to reduce your anxiety level. These lifestyle interventions would be:
- Prioritizing your sleep to get seven to nine hours a night
- Minimizing or eliminating processed food and taking probiotics
- Getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise each week
These three things work together in the background to reduce your anxiety, increase your resilience, and lessen the effects of stress. Then, in addition to these foundational habits, spend 30 minutes to one hour a day doing something pleasurable and mentally soothing, preferably at the end of your day, to help you prepare for bed. I teach several ways you can unwind using meditation or journaling. But this time can also include reading or engaging in a hobby you enjoy.
What inspired you to write Why Am I So Anxious? and what do you hope people take from this work?
I’ve been motivated to educate people on mental health issues for the past 10 years through my website, then a podcast, and more recently through my YouTube channel. In my clinical practice, I’ve always found anxiety difficult to manage. I knew there were many non-medication options, but when you have too many choices, you can become paralyzed with indecision and do nothing.
With this book, I want people to have a resource they can reference anytime to create a personal collection of tools they know how and when to use effectively.
Why Am I So Anxious? Powerful Tools for Recognizing Anxiety and Restoring Your Peace will be available August 16 wherever books are sold.