What Is It and How Can You Handle It?

Anxiety is a normal reaction to the stresses we all experience in life. What? Yes, it’s normal to feel that racing heartbeat, catch in your breath, and overall oddness that can feel like panic. Short responses to external circumstances can help you make the right decision. It is when anxious feelings and obsessive thoughts control emotions and interfere with your life that anxiety becomes a problem. Sometimes, after you learn how to handle your anxiety, it may disappear, but in certain cases, there it is again wanting to take over, like a long-lost boomerang coming back to you after you thought you had thrown it away. 

Sometimes called anxiety relapse, this troublesome kind of worry is often difficult to handle to begin with, but if it returns after months or years, you may wonder “why now?” or think nothing can be done. Not quite. Using coping strategies, perhaps the ones you used the first time, can help, but examining what is causing this recurrence can give you an even better outcome.

The cause may be obvious. Sensory input can make it happen. Sights, scents, sounds, tastes, and even something we touch might trigger the same memories or emotional state experienced earlier. Were you going through a traumatic event at that time? Did you lose someone you loved? Things that happen regularly year after year, such as holidays, are apt to bring back some of the pain and confusion you felt when you first struggled with anxious feelings because they are full of sensory stimulus and stored memories.

Other causes include low resistance from illness, not taking care of yourself properly, or taking on too much. There could be events that seem perfectly normal and even positive that trigger warnings throughout your nervous system, such as an unpleasant work situation or your child taking a great job that moves her far away. With so many things going on in life, writing down each one and examining your feelings toward each item on the list might help you pinpoint the issue. Look for new or unexpected experiences that may be threatening your old routine.

But what if it seems nothing is wrong? You have stabilized your mental health and feel this new “attack” is senseless. Before anything else, check with your doctor. The human body is very complex and is made up of a network of systems that depend on each other. Make sure everything from bloodwork to your diet is on track and agree to tests that would rule out problems with your heart, gut, or lungs if those are requested. Talk honestly with your medical professional about the symptoms you have, when they occur, and how frequently. Clues to many health issues lie in the details. And what looks like one ailment can often be caused by another.  

In fact, illnesses of many kinds can have anxiety as a side effect, so the real cause may not be connected to earlier experiences at all. Medication may help but is not always necessary, or it may be helpful to treat a specific problem or for the short-term. If you want to try alternative products, discuss your options with your doctor to make sure there will be no interactions.

Once you have the all-clear, consider talking with a counselor and finding or returning to a support group. Rather than trying to “tough it out” alone, these strategies are worthwhile and do not mean you have made no progress. Rather, they indicate you are in tune with your body and mind and aware of your needs. Many times, anxiety will resolve when the current problem or stress resolves or lessons, but it may be that a recurrence is possible and will need to be handled each time. 

If you cannot find a resolution to a situation that causes you stress — you don’t really want your children to put their lives on hold just to stay near you — you can find ways to minimize the worry. Schedule something you look forward to and do it at the same time each week. Write letters or chat online with those you love but can’t be near. Stay active and focus on doing the things that keep your body strong and in balance each day. Meditate. Pray. 

Regular meditation and therapy practices like Tai Chi, Yoga, and Qigong can be very effective in lowering your anxiety threshold and giving you ways to calm yourself during anxious times by using your breath. They can also release emotions as energy moves throughout the body. If you find this happening and suddenly start crying, don’t feel embarrassed. This can be a cleansing experience. Take a break and come back to continue your practice.

Whatever is causing your anxiety to boomerang, the cause can be determined and help can be found.