Anxiety is different to depression or stress (although they can often appear alongside each other); it is a fear about what is going to happen or what someone thinks is about to happen. This fear can cause physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, sweating or trembling. Anxiety is a natural reaction to certain situations in life such as a job interview or when competing and can even help to improve our performance, but anxiety which occurs too often or too intensely can make day-to-day life incredibly challenging. Here are some simple lifestyle changes which can have a positive effect when trying to ease anxiety.
- Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
Some people mistakenly believe that alcohol will help their anxiety; it could be making things worse. Although it can act as a sedative initially making you feel more confident or relaxed, this effect wears off quickly. Alcohol has a depressive effect on our brains which can amplify our original negative feelings and if you turn to alcohol on a regular basis you may become dependent on it.
Substances with a short-term stimulant effect such as cocaine can cause anxiety. The Recovery Village (a network of rehabilitation centers which offers support for people with substance use disorders and addiction) lists paranoia, emotional swings, hyperstimulation and anxiety as side-effects of cocaine use. Click here to visit The Recovery Village’s website for more information on how drugs and alcohol can impact anxiety.
- Be More Active
Putting your body under physical stress is an effective way to reduce mental stress. Exercise lowers the body’s stress hormones and releases endorphins which are our natural painkillers and mood-enhancers. Exercise can also help us sleep better which helps alleviate stress and anxiety, strengthen our bodies and improve self-confidence and self-image. The exercise can be anything you enjoy such as walking, dancing, running or yoga.
- Eat the Right Foods and Supplements
Reducing how often you have stimulants coffee or energy drinks will lower the levels of caffeine in your system which is linked to anxiety. Studies have also shown that eating certain foods can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety when incorporated into a balanced diet such as salmon, dark chocolate and yogurt. There are also lots of supplements such as lemon balm, Kava Kava, chamomile, peppermint Valerian root or St. John’s Wort.
- Spend Time with Friends and Family
A social support network can be invaluable when you’re going through a stressful time; it can give you a sense of belonging and increased self-worth. Some studies have even shown that spending time with friends or children promotes the release of the stress-relieving hormone oxytocin in women. Spending more time with others could often open more opportunities for laughter which counteracts our response and relaxing our muscles.
Physical contact such as cuddling, kissing and sex can also release oxytocin and lower cortisol. Pets also provide companionship and studies have even shown that the physical act of cuddling or stroking a pet can help to lower blood pressure. A pet can also give you a sense of purpose and routine which can take your mind away you’re your stresses and worries
- Prioritize What Really Matters in Your Life
We can’t always get rid of the source of stress and anxiety in our lives, but we can choose what we allow to overwhelm us. If there are parts of your life which are causing you anxiety on a regular basis, consider acting to change things. Don’t take on unnecessary responsibilities and try to avoid procrastination; make to-do lists in order of what really matters and tackle them one by one as soon as you can. Ignoring problems is never a good tactic in the long-run.
- Listen to Music
Slow-tempo music and certain sounds from nature like birdsong can have a very soothing effect on the body and can even help to lower blood pressure and stress hormones like cortisol. Breathing deeply and breathing exercises activate your parasympathetic nervous system which slows your heart rate and induces a feeling of relaxation.
Anxiety disorders affect around 40 million adults in the U.S., making them the most common mental health illness in the country. If you or someone close to you is experiencing anxiety on a regular basis or has an anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek the right professional support and treatment to ensure it doesn’t dominate your life.
References and Resources
Webmd.com. “6 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health”. Accessed February 24 2019.
Adaa.org. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Facts and Statistics.” Accessed February 24 2019.