What exercises improve anxiety? Why the answer is unexpectedly simple – Inverse

For 12 weeks, 149 people ran around a fitness facility in Gothenburg, Sweden three times a week — not because they wanted to lose weight or attain some New Year’s resolution, but because they wanted to see how exercise changed their mental health.

Divided into two groups — one focused on low-intensity training and the other high-intensity — the participants went to the facility three times a week for an hour. They did circuits, going from cardiorespiratory exercises like step-ups and lunges to resistance training exercises like push-ups and crunches, ultimately moving through 12 stations along the circuit, twice. Then they did a 5-minute cool-down and stretching.

The people in the study range in age from 18 to 65 years old, but every one of these individuals is united by a commonality: each is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The most common diagnosis among the group is generalized anxiety disorder, followed by panic disorder. Anxiety, for many in this group, is chronic: Half have lived with anxiety for at least a decade.

In a study published in the January edition of the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers reveal how all of these individuals experienced a significant reduction in anxiety after completing the exercise program. Ultimately, the participants went from a baseline of moderate to high anxiety to low anxiety. Their experience was the opposite to that of a control group who was only given advice on physical activity from a physiotherapist, but who experienced little change in their anxiety (they also got a 3-month gym membership after the study was over).

The study participants who exercised moved from a baseline of moderate to high anxiety to low anxietyGetty Images

The results specifically speak to the influence of exercise on anxiety: It’s established that moving your body benefits mental health, especially depression, but the study authors say previous research on anxiety and exercise has been inconclusive.

And contrary to the initial hypothesis, changes in cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength did not significantly correlate to changes in anxiety symptoms. The intensity of a workout is not necessarily a game-changer either: The low-intensity group benefited almost as much as the high-intensity group, the difference being so slight that the first author, Malin Henriksson, says it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters is that exercise helped — and could be a new treatment for anxiety.

Henriksson is a doctoral student at the University of Gothenburg. She’s also a general practitioner, as is senior author Maria Åberg. Henriksson tells me she and Åberg have seen many patients with anxiety, and “seen a large need for more treatment alternatives.”

One alternative could be prescribed exercise.

Alternative treatments for anxiety

Today’s standard treatments for anxiety are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and drug medications. These treatments are helpful for many, but not for all.

“Despite notable pharmacological advances, treatment resistance, side-effects, and poor medication adherence are common among patients with anxiety disorders,” Henriksson says. “Long waiting lists, which is common for CBT, may worsen symptoms and long-term prognosis.”

General practitioners need treatments that are low on side effects and easily prescribed, she says. In Sweden, there are specific guidelines for treating depression with exercise. Henriksson says her team hopes this research can inform similar guidelines for treating anxiety.

But while exercise has a lower barrier to entry than therapy and medication, it’s not necessarily an easy additive. Cost, childcare, and a lack of time all keep people away, especially those in low-income groups. We know exercise is good for us, but regular exercise can be difficult to execute.

The study participants completed resistance training exercises like push-ups and crunches.Getty Images

This reality may, in part, explain some of the success seen in this study group: Many in the study group didn’t work out before participating; their cardiorespiratory fitness was considerably lower and their alcohol use was higher compared to the Swedish population. Twenty-seven of the participants were on sick leave. This may underlie why the low-intensity program resulted in “a significant increase in physical activity compared to their previously sedentary lifestyles,” the researchers write.

It’s also good news, demonstrating gains can be made by people who are physically capable. How frequently one needs to exercise to see these benefits, however, isn’t certain: Henriksson emphasizes her team can only say “you have to exercise 12 weeks, 3 times a week, 45 to 60 minutes per occasion to get the benefit.”

Work is underway to see if the changes last: The same team is analyzing the results from the one-year follow-up. For now, Henriksson’s advice is guided by her clinical observations: Patients who routinely exercise and then stop find they get anxious again quite quickly.

“Exercise can take many forms — for example, swimming, cycling, dancing; power-walking — but it’s important you do it regularly and you get the pulse to go up and start sweating,” Henriksson says.

How does exercise help mental health?

It’s not clear why exercise improves mental health, namely because it there may be several different mechanisms at play.

Regular fitness activity, for example, is known to enhance the creation of blood vessels, communication between nerve cells and brain synapses, and the new formation of nerve cells from stem cells, Henriksson says.

“… mental distraction and improved self-confidence can also be a part of the improvement.”

Research also suggests exercise stimulates the production of insulin-like growth factor 1, contributing to reduced anxiety-like behavior in mice and benefiting the brain’s ability to change and adapt.

Other studies suggest exercise can reduce levels of proinflammatory cytokines, increase levels of beta-endorphins, reduce response to stress through regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and increase levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream. This boost promotes relaxation.

“Psychological theories propose mental distraction and improved self-confidence can also be a part of the improvement,” Henriksson says. The study team believes — but can’t yet prove — exercising as a group also benefited the participants, and the presence of a supportive physiotherapist at the training sessions likely helped too.

These results seemingly counter objectives typically stressed over in the gym: you don’t need to get stronger, or get skinnier, or prove your ability to withstand fatigue to see benefits. You do need to sweat and you do need to show up. Your brain can take it from there.

How to Cope with Eco-Anxiety or Climate Anxiety, According to an Expert – Shape Magazine

How to Cope with Eco-Anxiety or Climate Anxiety, According to an Expert | Shape

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‘My Life Changed at 41, After a Lifetime of Anxiety’ – Newsweek

I think I am a self-actualized person. My mom is a therapist and, from the time I could speak, discussing and dissecting feelings were what we did at dinner. I have also spent the better part of my life in therapy. Yet, somehow, it wasn’t until six years ago, at the age of 41 that I finally acknowledged my clinical anxiety disorder.

It is likely that my anxiety grew over the years, compounded by the hormonal shifts of childbearing. Still, for as long as I can remember, I have been someone who anticipates things and considers worst case scenarios. I have, on occasion, been called an obsessive planner. When I travel, I make a packing list weeks in advance, leave for the airport a minimum of three hours before departure time and check the terminal map to see what food will be available; in spite of the fact that I always pack snacks.

Somewhere inside of me I knew that other people didn’t deliberate over every small detail of every aspect of their lives like I did. Still, I didn’t consider it a problem. It was just how I was wired. And it tended to serve me well. I anticipated everything so I was rarely caught off guard. I always had a plan. And a backup plan if that one didn’t work out. And a backup for the backup.

My childhood probably helped normalize my excessive anxiety. When I was a kid, my dad wouldn’t take me to the playground because he got too nervous watching other kids climb jungle gyms and swing from monkey bars. What if they fell and cracked their heads open? My mom, who always claimed to be cool and mellow, wouldn’t let me talk about anything I felt fortunate for, without wildly waving her hands and shouting “kinehora”—a Yiddish version of “knock on wood.” None of this was ever labeled as anxiety.

I’ve had multiple life moments that might have led me to a clinical diagnosis of my worries, the migraines that mysteriously started in college after my mom got a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis; after September 11, 2001 when, having seen first flaming hole in one of the twin towers as I got on the subway to go to work, I refused to take any form of public transportation in Manhattan for months; and, after I miscarried my first pregnancy at 33. Then, the panicked approach I took to conception, timing sex to ovulation sticks, and being so insistent meant that my husband lost interest in getting pregnant for nearly a year.

I was in therapy during these events, and it is possible that the idea of an actual anxiety disorder that might require medication was mentioned. But, if so, I dismissed it. As far as I was concerned, medicine was fine for other people, but I didn’t need it. I did yoga. I meditated. That should be enough. Except it wasn’t.

By my late 30s, I had two children, both have food allergies which became a major source of anxiety. I was living in the suburbs and had given up my corporate job in Manhattan. I never intended to be a stay-at-home mom, but my husband had a more demanding job, and I wanted one of us to be available to the kids. I had an MBA and a great resume, but nothing other than family life to structure my days. I spiraled. I put all my excess energy into exercising and watching what I ate. On the plus side, I fulfilled a decades-long desire to become a certified yoga teacher. On the downside, I became much too skinny and was frequently edgy and exhausted. Even with an almost daily yoga and meditation practice, my brain was in a constant whirl about every tiny detail of my life. I could not relax.

If I made plans with a friend to go to the city for dinner, I’d spend every quiet moment the week before consumed by doomsday questions: Should I take the train in and risk dying from a bomb in Grand Central station? Or take a car service where I could die in an accident? Typically, I would end up cancelling, too fearful to play the odds. I had always been a reliable friend, but anyone outside of the 10 miles radius of my house started to see me as a flake.

Still, somehow it never entered my mind that the way my brain processed concerns might not be healthy and, furthermore, might be an illness that medication could help.
I was on a family vacation in 2016 when I hit rock bottom. We had just finished eating at the breakfast buffet. Everyone was happy. Except me; I was completely overwhelmed. We needed to get to the pool to get chairs in both sun and shade so that the kids didn’t get sunburned. And was there anything on the menu for lunch that the kids could, or would, actually eat? And what time did we need to order to make sure they were fed before they got hangry? And what were we going to do when my son needed a nap?

Here I was, lucky to be on a gorgeous Caribbean island with my husband, my children, my mom and stepfather. My biggest concern could have been choosing between a daiquiri and a pina colada. Instead, I was perpetually tense. Actually, I was apoplectic. Why did no one else share my worries? How could they read their books in the shade when something was sure to go wrong soon?

At 41, Samantha Addressed Her Anxiety Disorder
Stock image.
Getty/iStock

I don’t know what made me open to observing how debilitating my anxiety was on this particular trip, but I do remember my mom saying, “This isn’t healthy. You are letting life pass you by and forgetting to enjoy it.” I decided to seek help.

When I returned from vacation, I confessed to my regular therapist, who I no longer saw in person because she was in the city, that I thought it was time to consider medication. Since she was not a psychiatrist and could not prescribe it, she referred me to someone local.

This psychiatrist was thoughtful and empathetic and asked questions that made me feel like she already knew me. Despite the entirely generic-sounding diagnosis she gave me—”anxiety disorder NOS (not otherwise specified)”—her approach was quite specific, tailored to my individual experience. She wasn’t looking to write me a prescription and send me on my merry way, instead she offered loads of cognitive behavioral techniques and insights into how the way I thought was driven by anxiety. I remember that she said something so simple: “part of anxiety is believing that by thinking about something you will make it true.” For me, this statement was life-changing. It turns out that we anxious people can trick ourselves into thinking that we can control things that are entirely beyond our control. It is a bit of a catch-22; we want to control to keep our anxiety in check but, often, the need to control is what creates the anxiety in the first place.

At 41, Samantha Addressed Her Anxiety Disorder
Samantha Greene Woodruff experienced debilitating anxiety throughout her life. She finally addressed it with professional help at the age of 41.
Samantha Greene Woodruff

My new psychiatrist was also a strong advocate for medicine, and even though this was why I went to her in the first place, I was still wary of the pharmaceuticals. What if they obliterated the me-ness of me? What if I became reliant on them to feel better? What if they didn’t work?

Fortunately, by then my fears paled in comparison to what I now understood as the obstacle in my brain that was short circuiting my happiness. She helped me to see that a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs) antidepressant for an anxious person is no different than, say, insulin for a diabetic. It is something that helps me to function better. I struggled to find the right medication and the right dose but when I did, I suddenly felt like me, only calmer. My mind was like an old manually tuned radio that had found the sweet spot where the static disappeared, and the sound was clear. Everything in me softened and brightened.

It didn’t happen all at once but, in small increments, I started to expand my world again. I saw friends in the city. I traveled more with my husband. We went to Japan and Hong Kong for three weeks without our children and I even told him when I was scared that we would die in a plane crash, instead of thinking that was a dirty secret I had to hide.

Acknowledging and treating my anxiety enabled me to make time for myself and prioritize my needs instead of always worrying about everyone else. It cleared the path for me to be a better mother and wife. And to sit down and write a novel.

Everyone is unique, but for me, medication was necessary to find my baseline. I am not “cured.” I still see the same psychiatrist. and I still worry. Sometimes I even ruminate. But now I can pause and break the cycle, observe myself long enough to disaggregate the thought and the feeling from reality. I remember that “just because I think something, doesn’t mean it is true.” And to accept that while I am not always perfectly ok, I am ok enough.

Samantha Greene Woodruff graduated with a degree in history from Wesleyan University and an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business. She is the author of The Lobotomist’s Wife, her first historical fiction novel. She lives in Connecticut with her family. You can find out more about her at samanthawoodruff.com.

All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

If you identify with the themes in this article, confidential help is available for free at the National Eating Disorders Association. Call (800) 931-2237 or text text “NEDA” to 741741. The line is available 24 hours, every day. You can also chat to them online here.
Specialists from the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation are also available via email. You can contact them here.

Parent Central: How to Speak with Your Kid About Anxiety – PsychCentral.com

Whether it’s you, your child, or a loved one experiencing anxiety, knowing how to explain it to your kid can help.

If you’ve ever felt the tightness in your chest of a worry you can’t seem to escape, you know the reality of anxiety. That pit in your stomach. The shortness of breath. An inability to sleep at night, as your brain whirs and whirs. A sense of dread or uneasiness — sometimes without a clear cause.

It’s a reality I’ve dealt with for most of my life. Only, when I was a kid, I didn’t know there was a word for it.

Even when I was finally given a diagnosis, it was handed to me with nothing more than a prescription for meds. No one took the time to help me understand what was going on or to assure me that I wasn’t as broken as I felt.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar. Or you have a child who seems to be dealing with anxiety. You want to help the little ones in your life understand what’s going on and provide them with vocabulary that can help them describe their experiences and ask for help when they need it. But you’re unsure of where to begin.

Perhaps you’re anxious just thinking about it.

We’re here to help. Why not start by taking three deep breaths? In through the nose and out through the mouth (smelling the flowers and blowing out the candles, if you will). And then… let’s begin.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes.”

If you have an anxiety disorder, you may experience frequent and recurring intrusive thoughts or worries that can be difficult to control. These thoughts usually don’t go away and may even get worse over time.

People with anxiety often fixate on their worries and have difficulty clearing their heads or focusing on other things to the point that the anxiety may affect their daily life. They may even begin to avoid activities or things they used to do or enjoy.

Anxiety can also manifest in physical symptoms, including:

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the United States today, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). It affects roughly 40 million adults and 4.4 million children between the ages of 7 and 17.

Anxiety can also occur alongside other conditions. For example, it’s common for those with depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to also be diagnosed with anxiety.

The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable and the more a person understands about their condition, the easier they can develop tools to help manage it.

This is true for both adults and children.

Given the prevalence of anxiety disorders, it’s likely your child knows someone who has experience with anxiety or they’re dealing with it themselves.

Your child doesn’t even necessarily have to have a personal connection to anxiety for them to have questions about it. The condition often shows up in television and movies, and they may hear celebrities they follow talking openly about their own experiences with anxiety.

This is one of the beautiful things about increased awareness.

The more people who support and speak up about mental health — either from their own personal experience or as an advocate — the easier it becomes for others to understand and talk about it.

Whether you, your child, or someone you love is dealing with anxiety, the conversation with your child can start by getting curious and exploring what they already know. From there, you can dispel potential misinformation and explore how to approach the topic further.

It’s a good idea to explain to them that just like our bodies sometimes get colds, our brains sometimes get sick as well.

Younger kids may already have an understanding of what worries are and that feeling worried or scared can affect people mentally and physically, but it may help them to learn more about the why.

You may want to talk about how anxiety happens when the brain starts working too hard and getting too protective, like a worker bee tasked with keeping the queen safe. It buzzes and buzzes and wears itself out.

For older children, you can talk about how that then impacts the mind and body, and some of the symptoms they or their loved ones may experience as a result of anxiety. You can also discuss different types of anxiety, such as related to school, the future, or other things.

It’s also important to talk to your kids about managing anxiety and to let them know that it’s helpful to share when they’re feeling anxious so they can get the support they need.

For starters, you can share and practice breathing techniques with them (like the one mentioned at the beginning of this article — smelling the flowers and blowing out the candles) that promote relaxation and calm.

Still, depending on the severity of your kid’s anxiety, it’s also a good idea to talk to them about getting help from a mental health professional and to normalize mental health treatment, including therapy and medications.

For younger children, you may want to say something like “Sometimes worries or fears get so big that it’s hard to deal with them on our own. Your anxiety has made it really hard for you to leave the house (or go to school or to the doctor or play with your friends). A therapist can help you and Mommy and Daddy learn how to make our worries a little less big and scary.”

Regardless of your child’s age, they will likely have questions when the topic of anxiety comes up. Here are some common ones you might want to prepare yourself for:

What if my brain isn’t wrong?

For a child who’s experiencing anxiety themselves, the worries they’re carrying are very real. It’s important you don’t minimize those worries by brushing them away as unlikely or saying their brain is overreacting.

Instead, you want to let them know that fears and concerns they have stem from real places and are valid. But the extent to which those fears and concerns are taking over their thoughts is where their brain may be struggling.

One helpful way to do this is to talk them through their fears and to point out possible solutions or ways to resolve those fears. Remember: the fear itself isn’t invalid — but the amount of brainpower being taken over by the fear may not be helpful.

Is something wrong with me?

Kids who experience persistent anxiety may also have difficulties with self-esteem and confidence. They may assume they’re bad or the “problem” in any given situation, or that they did something to cause their anxiety.

It’s important to remind kids that there’s nothing wrong with them or anyone who has anxiety.

They’re not broken or defective, they just have a health condition — like any common cold or sore throat, except it occurs in the brain. You can also explain that certain events like trauma, stress, or adversity may cause mental health conditions.

Try to make it clear to them that having anxiety isn’t their fault, and more importantly, it’s something they can get help for.

What does treatment involve?

When talking about getting help for anxiety, children may want to know what that looks like. Depending on the severity of their anxiety, therapy is often the first step in treatment. Research has found that therapy alone can often be very helpful.

Psych Central has a great child-friendly guide to therapy that may help your child prepare for that step.

You can also talk with your child about medications that may be available in addition to therapy, letting them know that just like taking antibiotics for an illness of the body, anti-anxiety medication can help with anxiety symptoms. Some research has shown that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is effective for some people.

Will I always feel this way?

For a child experiencing difficulties with anxiety, fears about the future can be a large part of their experience. It makes sense that a child with anxiety would be worried about always having those symptoms.

Now may be the right time to remind your child that help in the form of treatment is available and is very effective in helping with anxiety.

You can tell them that many people get treatment for mental health conditions and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you’ve had mental health treatment yourself, you can share with them what that experience was like for you and how it helped.

You can also practice deep breathing exercises with them and ask them to pay attention to how they feel before and after those exercises are complete. Chances are, they’ll feel much better after — and you can use this to show them that there are tools available that help.

Still, if they feel like the exercises are not helping, it’s good to acknowledge and validate that things may feel really bad right now, but that doesn’t mean they will feel that way forever.

I’m a mom with anxiety, raising several children with anxiety — books are great resources in our house! We love the following:

For my older child who has spent a lifetime in foster care and lives with separation anxiety as a result, “The Invisible String Workbook” has also been an incredible help.

Plus, Psych Central has put together a list of 18 books about anxiety for children and their parents, if the above suggestions don’t seem quite right for you.

Other resources to check out include:

If you and your child are talking about anxiety, it may mean your child or someone else in your home is dealing with it. This is a great opportunity to model for them what getting help looks like.

That’s right: the best next step, after a conversation, is to reach out for help. Your child’s pediatrician can provide resources for your child if they’re the ones experiencing anxiety. And your doctor can help if you are.

Either way, it’s good to remember for both you and your child that no one has to go through anxiety alone. Treatment is available, and it can make a huge difference.

Want to learn more about starting therapy? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.

The following section is intended to be read to or with your kid to help them better understand anxiety.


Photo Courtesy of Leah Campbell

Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. A single mother by choice, Leah is an adoptive and foster mom to four biological siblings who spent way too much of their life apart. She’s the author of the books “Single Infertile Female” and “The Story of My Open Adoption” and has written extensively on the topics of mental health, adoption, and parenting. You can connect with Leah via Facebook, her website, and Twitter.

How Exercise May Tame Our Anxiety – The New York Times

To better cope with all the dispiriting news this winter about rising Covid-19 cases and so much else, you might want to get out and play in the snow, according to a new report. The large-scale study of almost 200,000 cross-country skiers found that being physically active halves the risk of developing clinical anxiety over time. The study, from Sweden, focused on skiing, but the researchers said almost any kind of aerobic activity likely helps protect us against excessive worry and dread, a cheering thought as we face yet another grim pandemic season.

Science already offers plenty of encouraging evidence that exercise can lift our moods. Experiments show that when people (and lab animals) start working out, they typically grow calmer, more resilient, happier and less apt to feel unduly sad, nervous or angry than before. Epidemiological studies, which often focus on the links between one type of activity or behavior and various aspects of health or longevity, likewise find that more exercise is linked with substantially lower chances of developing severe depression; conversely, being sedentary increases the risk for depression. A remarkable neurological study from 2013 even found that exercise leads to reductions in twitchy, rodent anxiety, by prompting an increase in the production of specialized neurons that release a chemical that soothes over-activity in other parts of the brain.

But most of these studies were small, short term or mainly relevant to mice, leaving open many questions about what kinds of exercise might help our mental health, how long mood enhancements might potentially last, whether men and women benefit equally and whether it is possible to work out too much and perhaps increase your likelihood of feeling emotionally worse off.

So, for the new study, which was published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, exercise scientists at Lund University in Sweden and other institutions decided it would be worthwhile to look into the long-term mental health of the thousands upon thousands of men and women who have raced Sweden’s famous Vasaloppet cross-country skiing event over the years.

The Vasaloppet, which celebrates its centenary this winter, is the largest series of cross-country ski races in the world, with crowds of racers annually lining up in the woods of central Sweden to whoosh, glide and pant through races ranging in length from 30 kilometers, or almost 19 miles, to the showcase distance of 90K, about 56 miles. Because this kind of endurance event requires abundant health, stamina and training, researchers previously have used data about Vasaloppet racers to study how exercise influences heart health, cancer risks and longevity.

“We use participation in a Vasaloppet as a proxy for a physically active and healthy lifestyle,” said Tomas Deierborg, the director of the experimental medicine department at Lund University and senior author of the new study, who has twice completed the 90K race.

To start, he and his colleagues gathered finishing times and other information for 197,685 Swedish men and women who participated in one of the races between 1989 and 2010. They then crosschecked this information with data from a Swedish national registry of patients, looking for diagnoses of clinical anxiety disorder among the racers in the following 10 to 20 years. For comparison, they also checked anxiety diagnoses during the same time period for 197,684 of their randomly selected fellow citizens who had not participated in the race and were generally considered relatively inactive.

The skiers, the researchers found, proved to be considerably calmer over the decades after their race than the other Swedes, with more than 50 percent less risk of developing clinical anxiety. These good spirits tended to prevail among male and female skiers of almost any age — except, interestingly, the fastest female racers. The top female finishers from each year tended to be more likely afterward to develop anxiety disorders than other racers, although their risk overall remained lower than for women of the same age in the control group.

These results indicate “the link between exercise and reduced anxiety is strong,” said Dr. Lena Brundin, a lead investigator of neurodegenerative diseases at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., who was another author on the study.

And helpfully, you probably don’t need to cross-country ski for long distances in the snowy woods of Sweden to reap the rewards, Dr. Deierborg said. Earlier studies of exercise and mood suggest that following the World Health Organization’s recommendations of about 30 minutes of brisk walking or similar activities most days “has good effects on your mental health,” he said, and these benefits appear to apply to a “broader population” than just Swedes.

Still, it may be worthwhile to monitor your psychological response to intense training and competition, especially if you are a competitive woman, he said. The finding that the fastest women tended to develop anxiety more often than other racers surprised the researchers, he said, and suggests perhaps performance anxiety or other issues could be initiated or exacerbated in some people by racing.

“It is not necessary to complete extreme exercise to achieve the beneficial effects on anxiety,” Dr. Brundin said.

The findings have limitations, though. They cannot prove exercise causes people to enjoy better moods, only that highly active people tend to be less anxious than their more sedentary peers. The study also does not explain how skiing might reduce anxiety levels. The researchers suspect physical activity changes levels of brain chemicals related to mood, such as dopamine and serotonin, and reduces inflammation throughout the body and brain, contributing physiologically to stouter mental health. Getting outside among silent, snow-drenched pines and far from Zoom calls while training for a Vasaloppet probably does not hurt, either.

Any exercise in any setting likely should help us cope better this winter, the researchers said. “A physically active lifestyle seems to have a strong effect on reducing the chances of developing an anxiety disorder,” said Dr. Deierborg, who hopes to extend those benefits to the next generation. He plans to enter and train for another Vasaloppet in a few years, he said, when his young children are old enough to join him.

Study shows spike in COVID-related depression, anxiety among Israeli teens – JNS.org

There was a significant spike in mental health diagnoses and consumption of different types of psychiatric medications by Israeli adolescents during the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study has shown.

The data, released on Tuesday by Maccabi Healthcare Services and its KI Institute for research, showed an overall increase of 55 percent in the diagnoses of eating disorders, 38 percent of depression and 33 percent of anxiety.

It also found a 28 percent increase in the administration of anti-psychotic drugs.

The problem was even more acute among adolescent girls, according to the study, which showed a 68 percent increase in the diagnosis of depression, 67 percent of eating disorders, 42 percent of anxiety and 29 percent of general stress.

Researchers analyzed 200,000 medical records of teens between the ages of 12 to 17 from before and during the pandemic to reach their conclusions.

“The alarming findings once again indicate the need for national preparation, not only against the pandemic but also against its mental effects,” said Dr. Gilad Bodenheimer, head of mental-health services for Maccabi.

He called on the state to allocate a budget for a national program to respond to the mental state of children and youth.

“The program should focus on preventive care,” he said, “and integrating the arms of education, welfare, and, of course, health.”

This is not the first study to identify mental-health challenges in Israel as a result of the virus. A study released in August by scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science, for example, showed increased mental distress among Israelis, especially among women, young adults and people who became unemployed as a result of the crisis.

A report released in April by Professor Michal Grinstein-Weiss of Washington University and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, together with Professor Rami Benvenisti of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, showed that one in five children—21 percent and three times more than before the coronavirus crisis—were suffering from symptoms of anxiety.

The Health Benefits of Anxiety and Worry – Oprah Mag

Things that have been running through my head like a ticker tape when my eyes pop open at 3:30 a.m., as they have every morning for the past few months: How will I juggle Zoom learning and work if my sons’ school closes because of Covid? Should I press pause on my freelance writing career? But how will my husband and I pay the mortgage? Will we have money for retirement? What if the market crashes? Should I just hide our savings under a mattress in case our investments tank?


In the past, I might have thought this much worrying makes me abnormal. But I now know that similar middle-of-the-night spirals are probably happening in bedrooms across the world. Anxiety is the most common mental illness, affecting 40 million U.S. adults every year, with women twice as likely to experience it as men, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, you can experience situational episodes when under duress, like many of us are right now. Issues like social and racial injustice, the threat of increasing natural disasters, and the day-to-day angst that comes from being overworked and burned out can make waking up in the morning difficult for anyone in 2021. I went in search of ways to ratchet down my own worry and found hope in solutions that can benefit all of us.

Your early-warning system

Before we get to the surprising solutions, you need to know why worry even exists. Experts say worry serves an important purpose and can be harnessed to great benefit. Unless what you’re experiencing has been classified as an anxiety disorder by a doctor (see “When to Get Help,” below), feelings of anxiousness are normal, healthy, and part of an ancient biological system designed to keep us safe, says psychologist Lisa Damour, PhD, cohost of the Ask Lisa podcast and author of Under Pressure. Think of it this way: If you’re nervous about driving on the highway, that unease can remind you to keep your distance from other cars to avoid an accident. Protective parents have alarm bells to help them mobilize if, say, their 3-year-old is trying to scurry up a ladder.

Yet despite these benefits, we’ve been encouraged to view anxiety as problematic, says Damour. She attributes some of this programming to the commercial wellness industry, which has given rise to a proliferation of products promising to help squash these feelings. Anxious? Take a mood-boosting supplement. Crack open an adult coloring book. Do anything but dwell. “But a big part of getting a handle on your anxiety is understanding it can be a useful thing,” Damour says.

Make anxiety your ally

The first step is to identify that you’re experiencing an anxious episode. While we typically think of anxiety as constant worry, it’s far more wide-reaching. “Anxiety is an umbrella term that encompasses emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physical reactions,” says Damour. “Those range from nervousness and irritability to rumination and the heart pounding, muscle tension, and quick breathing we associate with the fight-or-flight response.” Once you’re able to identify these feelings, take stock of what you’re experiencing. Are you frightened because there’s a true threat, or because something challenging or even exciting is coming your way? Often, it’s the latter, which is why Damour suggests pausing to breathe deeply. This activates stretch receptors on your lungs, triggering nerves that can counteract your brain’s acute anxiety response; you can then think more clearly to see if you can make those feelings work for you.

How? By taking action. “The healthy function of anxiety is to stimulate preparatory behavior,” explains Manhattan psychologist Chloe Carmichael, PhD, author of Nervous Energy. Transform that energy into productivity. Fire off a few emails or make some exploratory calls. Start a project instead of procrastinating.

“A big part of getting a handle on your anxiety is understanding it can be a useful thing.”

Anxiety over bigger issues—poverty, climate change, racism, sexism—can certainly feel different. After all, you alone can’t fix them. But you’re not powerless: Redirect these feelings and use them to help better the community around you, says Carmichael. Can you attend a rally? Help people register to vote? Gather your friends or family to collect supplies for people affected by natural disasters? I’ve been dealing with some major eco-anxiety lately. (I’d like the planet to still be around when my children grow up.) So I joined a local solar and wind farm to support renewable sources of energy. And when it was time for us to get a second car, I purchased the smallest electric vehicle I could find (a two-door red Mini Cooper that’s also dealt handily with my budding midlife crisis). These small steps have helped stop me from lingering in a state of helplessness, which only exacerbates worry and fear.

Flip the internal script

It’s also important to manage the catastrophizing inner monologue that can make threats appear bigger than they are, says Carmichael. Let’s say you messed up at work. Make sure your self-talk is similar to a chat you’d have with a dear friend. You’d never tell her the screw-up happened because she’s stupid or that her career is over. You’d say “It was a mistake, and you’re smart and resourceful, and I know you’ll fix it.” Why not have the same kind of chat with yourself instead of being your own harshest critic?

Personally, I’ve come to welcome parts of my anxious tendencies and have begun to listen to what my anxiety is telling me I need. That might be connecting to a financial planner to give me a better idea of how to shape my career. My father has been living with cancer for more than two years: I try to use my worry for him to push me to make more plans together as a family. These actions, I find, are not just productive—but life-giving.


WHEN TO GET HELP

Typically, when what’s causing feelings of anxiety goes away, so does the anxiety. If not, or if these feelings are cutting into your sleep significantly, affecting your desire to connect with others, making it difficult to concentrate, or causing physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and stomachaches, it’s time to see a professional. You may be dealing with an anxiety disorder, a diagnosis that encompasses several conditions, from generalized anxiety to panic- and phobia-related disorders. The good news: There are many excellent, effective treatment options, including therapy, medications, and relaxation strategies, or a combo of all three.

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Anxious or Anxiety Disorder? Here’s How to Tell the Difference – Everyday Health

Are you unsure whether your anxiety is normal or if it has escalated to unhealthy levels? Knowing the difference between healthy anxiety and a clinical anxiety disorder can help you sort out what kind of professional help you might need and which coping strategies are most likely to bring relief.

What Does It Mean to Be Anxious?

Although anxiety is often an unpleasant feeling, it’s actually a healthy response to certain triggers.

“There are many situations that come up in everyday life when it is appropriate and reasonable to react with some anxiety,” says Edmund Bourne, PhD, a former director of the Anxiety Treatment Center in San Jose and Santa Rosa, California, and the author of The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook.

That’s because anxiety — as in day-to-day worrying about say, crossing a busy street or about a persistent toothache — helps keep us safe. It’s also a natural response to stressors. As Dr. Bourne explains, “If you didn’t feel anxiety in response to everyday challenges involving personal loss or failure, something would be wrong.”

“Normal” anxiety is proportionally related to a specific situation or problem and lasts only as long as the situation or problem does, says Sarah Gundle, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City and a teacher at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center at Mount Sinai Hospital. For example, it’s completely normal to feel anxious about speaking in front of a large group of people or meeting an important deadline at work.

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

According to Bourne, while people may experience anxiety in different ways, in many cases it affects a person’s entire being — psychologically, physically, and behaviorally — and it crosses over into something truly distressing.

Psychologically, anxiety involves subjective feelings of uneasiness or apprehension, he says. Physically, anxiety might include bodily sensations such as rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, dry mouth, or sweating. And behaviorally, it could lead a person to avoid ordinary situations, stop communicating about feelings, or fail to make decisions.

In its most extreme form, anxiety can cause you to feel detached from yourself or even fearful of dying, going crazy, or thinking irrationally, Bourne adds.

What Does It Mean to Have an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders are diagnosed by a mental health professional on the basis of specific criteria. These criteria have been established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) — in general, to qualify as disordered, a person’s anxiety or fear must be age inappropriate, out of proportion to the situation, and interfere with the ability to go about daily life.

“The other key difference is that the anxiety lasts for a long time, even when the situation or problem has been resolved,” Dr. Gundle explains.

For someone with an anxiety disorder, the worrying may feel impossible to control or manage and may lead the person to avoid other people, situations, or things that they believe will trigger anxiety symptoms, Gundle says.

For instance, a person may have an anxiety disorder if they experience significant distress or fear about an unrealistic scenario that likely will never happen, Gundle explains. Or a person who has a fear of heights and feels anxious driving over bridges may have an anxiety disorder if they are no longer able to cross bridges at all.

Anxiety among people with a disorder can come up unexpectedly and seemingly without reason. “People with an anxiety disorder feel worry and fear constantly. The feelings of distress can be crippling,” Gundle says.

According to the APA, specific types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Agoraphobia, or a fear of situations that are difficult or embarrassing to escape from
  • Generalized anxiety disorder, ongoing and excessive worry that interferes with daily life
  • Panic disorder, a condition involving repeated panic attacks
  • Separation anxiety disorder, a condition in which someone is overly fearful of being separated from another person to whom they feel attached
  • Specific phobias: excessive fears of objects, activities, or situations that are typically not harmful
  • Social anxiety disorder, a condition in which someone has excessive fears of embarrassment, humiliation, or rejection in social situations

RELATED: Panic Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

How to Tell the Difference Between an Anxious Feeling and an Anxiety Disorder

How can you tell if your anxiety has surpassed normal levels and crossed into anxiety disorder territory? According to Bourne, you may have a disorder if your anxiety is intense, long lasting, and leads to phobias or severe fear that disrupts your life.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that, in addition to a feeling of distress, symptoms of the most common anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), may include:

  • Feeling restless, on edge, or wound-up
  • Becoming fatigued very easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems, such as trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, feeling restless, or having unsatisfying sleep

Seek professional help if your anxiety is interfering with your relationships, work, or school life, or if it is causing you significant distress, Bourne advises. That said, you don’t have to have a disorder to seek professional help for anxiety. If you’d like to be able to better manage everyday anxieties, a mental health professional could be very helpful.

Also, consider speaking with your primary care doctor to rule out underlying conditions that may be contributing to or even triggering anxiety symptoms.

According to the Mayo Clinic, medical problems that can be linked to anxiety include:

Coping Strategies That Can Help You Manage ‘Normal’ Anxiety or a Disorder

Whether your anxiety is situational or stems from a disorder, a few healthy coping strategies may help restore your sense of calm, says Bourne.

One oft-recommended technique is deep breathing, in which you slowly inhale through your nose so that your chest and belly expand and then slowly exhale through your mouth, according to Harvard Health. Repeat for a period of two to three minutes or longer.

Deep breathing helps relieve anxiety by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces the overall stress and anxiety you may be experiencing, explain Mayo Clinic experts. This, in turn, typically slows your heartbeat and stabilizes blood pressure. A focus on your breathing can help you let go of distracting thoughts or feelings, Harvard Health says.

Another common technique for reducing anxiety, notes Bourne, is to identify and replace fearful self-talk.

First, Bourne says, identify any fearful thoughts going through your head. Many of these thoughts are “What if?” statements, with examples including, “What if I stutter?” or “What if they see me sweating?”

Try replacing the fearful self-talk with calming and constructive statements, such as, “I’ve handled this before and can handle it again,” or “I can be anxious and still deal with this situation,” he suggests.

Foundational strategies such as a healthy diet, avoiding stimulants like caffeine that are known to worsen anxiety, regular exercise, and creative projects that divert your mind from anxious thoughts and help you build a sense of purpose also help, Bourne says.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, other ways to manage anxiety are:

  • Identify your personal triggers.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Limit alcohol consumption, which can trigger anxiety or panic attacks.
  • Volunteer or become more active in your community to take a break from personal everyday stress.

Anxiety and PTSD linked to increased myelin in brain’s gray matter: Resilience to stress and differential symptoms correlate with regional changes in the brain – Science Daily

A recent study links anxiety behavior in rats, as well as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military veterans, to increased myelin — a substance that expedites communication between neurons — in areas of the brain associated with emotions and memory.

The results, reported by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and UC San Francisco (UCSF), provide a possible explanation for why some people are resilient and others vulnerable to traumatic stress, and for the varied symptoms — avoidance behavior, anxiety and fear, for example — triggered by the memory of such stress.

If, as the researchers suspect, extreme trauma causes the increased myelination, the findings could lead to treatments — drugs or behavioral interventions — that prevent or reverse the myelin production and lessen the aftereffects of extreme trauma.

Myelin is a layer of fatty substances and proteins that wraps around the axons of neurons — essentially, the insulation around the brain’s wiring — to facilitate long-distance transmission of signals and, thus, communication between distant areas of the brain. The inner regions of the brain look white — in fact, they are referred to as “white matter” — because of the myelin encasing the many large bundles of axons there.

But the new study finds increased myelination of axons in so-called “gray matter,” where most of the cell bodies of neurons reside and most of the wiring is less insulated with myelin. The extra myelination was found primarily in areas associated with memory.

Researchers at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center conducted brain MRI scans of 38 veterans — half with PTSD, half without — and found an increase in myelination in the gray matter of those with PTSD compared to that seen in the brains of those not suffering from PTSD.

Colleagues at UC Berkeley, meanwhile, discovered a similar increase in myelination in the gray matter of adult rats subjected to an acute stressful event. While not all rats showed long-term effects from the stress — just as not all traumatized veterans develop PTSD — those that did had increased myelination in specific areas of the brain associated with particular symptoms of stress that was identical to what UCSF physicians found in veterans with PTSD.

Both veterans with PTSD and stressed rats that exhibited avoidance behavior, for example, had increased myelination in the hippocampus, often thought of as the seat of memory. Those exhibiting a fear response had increased myelination in the amygdala, which plays a key role in our response to strong emotions, such as fear or pleasure. Those suffering from anxiety had increased myelination in the dentate gyrus, a region critical to learning and memory.

“The combination of these studies in rats with our population of veterans with post traumatic stress disorders is, to me, really exciting,” said senior author Dr. Thomas Neylan, director of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) Clinic and the Stress and Health Research Program at the San Francisco VA. “At least it’s another mechanism to think about as we develop new treatments. If we see enduring ability to shape myelin content in an adult brain, maybe treatments will help reverse this. That’s where we want to go next with this.”

People — and rats — vary in their response to stress

The correlation between the symptoms and the region of myelination was discovered because UC Berkeley researchers subjected the rats to a battery of more than a dozen tests to assess their specific behavioral response to acute stress.

“We understand that there’s a lot of individual variation in humans, but with rats, they’re genetically identical, so you think when you expose them to stress you’re going to get the same response,” said senior author Daniela Kaufer, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. “But the response is extremely variable. They sort of fall into groups, such that some are really resilient, and some are vulnerable. And the ones that are vulnerable are vulnerable in different ways: Some show avoidance behavior, and some show fear learning problems, and some show startle responses that are exaggerated.”

According to Neylan, similar individuality is seen in people with PTSD. The new study suggests that the specific symptoms are related to which areas of the brain are being newly myelinated.

“There’s a lot of heterogeneity across different people with PTSD; it’s not one size fits all. Every PTSD patient generally has a mix of different symptoms,” said Neylan, professor-in-residence in psychiatry at the UC San Francisco Weill Institute for Neurosciences. “Some people are very avoidant. Some people are very hyperreactive. The idea is that if you can show that these different symptom clusters have different neural circuitry, it might actually lead us closer to subtyping people in a way that we could be more targeted in our treatment.”

The researchers, who published their results in December 2021 in the journal Translational Psychiatry, show that stress produces more of the brain’s glial cells, called oligodendrocytes, which wrap around the axons of neurons and make the myelin. The increased myelin produced by these new oligodendrocytes could affect the speed of connections between neurons, making some connections hyperresponsive.

“In the gray matter of your cortex, most of the dendrites and axons — the projections that come out of the neurons that help establish communications with other neurons — can form thousands of connections, and most of them are unmyelinated,” Neylan said. “But if experience leads you to start to lay down myelin to strengthen certain connections, let’s say your ability to respond quickly to a fearful stimulus, you can speed up that circuit, but you lose the kind of broader adaptive flexibility that you normally would have with mostly unmyelinated axons and dendrites. People with PTSD become almost like a one-note musician — they really know how to respond to fear. But that enhanced, quick response to fear may diminish their adaptive flexibility for non-fear-type behavior.”

Acute stress boosts oligodendrocytes

In 2014, Kaufer and her UC Berkeley colleagues discovered that rats subjected to acute stress produced more oligodendrocytes in the brain’s gray matter — specifically, in the hippocampus. She proposed that this led to increased myelination of axons, potentially interfering with the speed at which signals traveled between different areas of the gray matter of the brain, such as the hippocampus and the amygdala. The new study bolsters that theory.

Neylan was intrigued by the 2014 findings and contacted Kaufer, and they’ve been collaborating ever since. Neylan teamed up with Linda Chao, UCSF professor of radiology, who developed a way to image myelin in the gray matter of the brain, and several years ago scanned the brains of 38 veterans who had experienced severe trauma, some with and some without PTSD.

At the time, scientists looking for changes in myelination related to brain disorders were focused on the cortex’s white matter, which is mostly myelinated. In multiple sclerosis, for example, an autoimmune attack destroys myelin in the white matter. Kaufer was perhaps the first to find evidence of increased myelination in the gray matter associated with disease.

Chao and Neylan did find increased myelination of neurons in the gray matter of veterans with PTSD, but not in those without PTSD. The worse the symptoms, the greater the myelination.

This led Kaufer and first author Kimberly Long, now a UCSF postdoctoral fellow, to see if they could also find increased myelin in gray matter after acute trauma in rats. After they focused on the specific symptoms of individual rats with PTSD, they found a correlation between symptoms and myelination in specific regions of the gray matter.

Chao subsequently reanalyzed the brain scans of her earlier group of 38 veterans and found the same correlation: Specific symptoms were associated with myelination in one region of gray matter, but not others.

Long and Kaufer then employed a type of viral gene therapy to rev up a transcription factor, called olig1, that increases the production of oligodendrocytes from stem cells in the gray matter. When Long injected the virus into the dentate gyrus of rats, the researchers found that this boosted the number of oligodendrocytes and generated symptoms of avoidance, even without any stress.

“The next question was, ‘If I change oligodendrocyte genesis, am I going to change behavior?” Kaufer said. “The beginning of an answer is here in this paper — it’s yes. And now, there’s a lot more to do to really understand that.”

Neylan, Chao and Kaufer are collaborating on further studies, including looking for increased myelin in the brains of PTSD patients who have died, improving fMRI imaging of myelin in the brain, investigating the effects of chronic stress on the brain connections of rats, and using new high-resolution imaging to study the myelin deposition in gray matter.

The work was supported by a grant from National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health (R01MH115020).

Other co-authors of the paper were undergraduates Yurika Kazama, Vivian Roan, Rhea Misra, Anjile An, Kelsey Hu, and Claire Toth and doctoral student Jocelyn Breton of UC Berkeley; UCLA undergraduate Lior Peretz; University of Arizona undergraduate Dyana Muller; University of British Columbia (UBC) doctoral student William Casazza; UBC professor Sara Mostafavi; Boston University neurologist Dr. Bertrand Huber; and researcher Steven Woodward of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.