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Summit Medical Group of Oak Ridge

Identifying & Coping with Anxiety

Anxiety can cause different symptoms for different people. Knowing how your body handles this issue and using de-stressing techniques can help to cope with anxiety issues.

Relief Through Knowledge

By Dr. Greta Smith

Anxiety is the most common behavioral health condition, affecting 40 million adults in the United States alone, but only about one-third of people experiencing anxiety receive any form of treatment for it. Anxiety can take many different forms. If you have unexplained physical symptoms that have been evaluated by your provider and other causes have been ruled out, stress and anxiety may be the reason. Physical symptoms such as feeling on edge, trembling, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, tingling, numbness, nausea, chills, hot flashes, and chest pain, headaches and various aches and pains can all be related to anxiety. Of course, fear and nervousness are emotional symptoms of anxiety, but so are feelings of dread and immobility—feeling paralyzed, like you don’t know what to do next. Anxious worry, worst case scenario thinking, specific fears, and negative thoughts about yourself or others are some of the repetitive thought patterns associated with anxiety.

In whatever way it affects you, the anxiety response is something we’re all hard-wired with. Its purpose is to protect you if you are faced with a real physical danger or threat. It’s the fight-or-flight response, activating your body so that you can fight back or run away if needed.

First of all, remember that your body is trying to keep you safe, and respond with self-compassion. Treat yourself with care. Eat well. Exercise. Prioritize getting enough sleep. Do things you enjoy with people you care about. These acts of self-care build an overall foundation that improves both physical and emotional health.

Second, remember that anxiety tends to come in waves. Although it may feel like that nervous energy will just keep climbing, and we may fear getting stuck in it, when we watch it, we find that anxiety tends to wash over us in waves.

Increasing our awareness of the subtle ups and downs helps us ride out the waves of anxiety rather than getting swept away by them. Notice where in your body you tend to feel anxiety first. Ask yourself, what are the first signs of stress for you?

Finally, when we observe how the anxiety response comes in waves, we can more effectively use other anxiety management strategies such as deep breathing and relaxation exercises to calm it. Relaxation is a skill that can be learned. It takes practice, but just like anything else you want to learn to do with your body, you can improve this skill. You will be much more effective at calming yourself down if you try to use relaxation skills at the first sign of anxiety going up, or after the wave has peaked and it starts to come down. Trying to relax at the peak of that curve is likely to cause frustration. It’s not going to be effective. Here is a quick breathing exercise for relaxation:

Sit or lie comfortably with one hand on your abdomen, below your ribcage and above your belly button. Take a slow, deep breath in for a count of three. Feel the gentle pressure against your hand moving it away from your ribs. Exhale even more slowly for a count of five, feeling your hand move gently back in towards your ribs. Repeat 5-10 times.


  • Show compassion for yourself and treat yourself with care by eating well, exercising, prioritizing sleep, and doing things you love with people you care about.
  • Observe how anxiety tends to come in waves so that you can better ride them out.
  • Use relaxation strategies more effectively by starting them at the first signs of anxiety or after your level of anxiety is starting to come down, but not at the peak. Practice when your anxiety level is low so you can better relax when that anxiety level starts to rise.
  • Remember, relaxation is a skill and you can improve.

I hope these general tips about anxiety management have been helpful. If you would like additional help with managing anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue, come see me at Summit Medical Group of Oak Ridge. Through referral from, and in consultation and collaboration with, your Summit primary care provider you and I will work to develop goals and a treatment plan to improve both mental and overall health and wellbeing.

Take care and stay well!

Greta Smith received her B.S. in Psychology from the College of William and Mary and her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has been a licensed psychologist in the state of Tennessee for 20 years, working in community mental health, private practice, and integrated care settings. Currently, she works as a behavioral health psychologist at Summit Medical Group of Oak Ridge. She also completed an M.A. United Theological Seminary and is the author of Out of the Depths: Your Companion Through Grief, and co-author of Out of the Depths: Your Companion after Sexual Assault, pastoral resources from Abingdon Press. Greta lives in East Tennessee with her husband and two children.

If you, or someone you know is struggling with the symptoms of anxiety and would like to make an appointment to see Dr. Smith, give us a call at (865) 483-3172.