Anxiety is an emotion we all experience from time to time. It is natural to feel stressedout before an upcoming performance or during a particularly busy or overstimulating period. However, if you experience a stretch of anxiety that you can’t seem to kick, a closer examination of your habits may be in order. When you are struggling with anxiety, it can seem impossible to overcome. Taking the following measures can help reduce your anxiety level, both in the heat of the moment and on a long-term basis.
Examine Your Anxiety
Identify the source of your anxiety. Whether you have a panic attack or a sudden bout of worry and fear, it is important to determine what is causing your anxiety. Is something in your environment the primary source? Is a possible mishap the origin? Is an impending activity, meeting, or event the cause? You can handle a fear much easier when you are clear about what it is.
Consider the worst. If your fear is mind-consuming, take a moment to think about the honest and absolute worse thing that could happen as a result of it. Perhaps you’re getting ready to do a huge presentation, and you begin to panic. Stop and think “what is the worst that could happen?” No matter how creative your response may be, thinking critically will lead to to find that should it occur, there are few endings that can’t be dealt with in a reasonable manner.
Determine if your worry is solvable. If you know what your fear is, the next step is to determine if it is something you can deal with, or something that only time (or your imagination) can manage. If your fear is largely imagination or can’t be dealt with now, then make the conscious effort to put it out of your mind. If your worry is something that needs to be dealt with, then take steps to create a course of action.
What can you do to lessen this fear or worry?
Is this a long term or a short term fix?
What can I do to prevent this worry or fear from recurring?
Consider the use of your worry. You are worried for a reason – anxiety is a fear response to a real or imagined scenario. Problems arise when we begin worrying about things that don’t actually cause us danger. So, think about the purpose of your worry. Is it helpful? If you’re afraid of a legitimately dangerous situation, then your worry is being put to good use. If however, you are anxious without a purpose, then your worry has the best of you. Remembering that can help to bring you down off of an anxiety high.
Accept uncertainty. It can be tough to stop worrying when you’re never quite sure how a scenario will play out. At this point, it is important to simply accept the ever-present fact of uncertainty. We can’t know how something will go, or what the ending may be; worrying about the unknown is an unnecessary source of fear that can be avoided with the simple acceptance of chance.
Change Your Lifestyle
Incorporate mood-enhancing foods into your diet. Keeping yourself healthy with a balanced diet can go a long way toward stabilizing your mood. If you’re getting the right nutrients, your body will be better able to ward off anxiety during stressful situations.
Consume more foods high in antioxidants such as blueberries and acai berries. These help to raise mood levels and lower the hormones responsible for stress.
Foods high in minerals like magnesium and potassium, such as bran, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, fish, and almonds work wonders for stress. Most people do not get the recommended amount of magnesium which results in a variety of symptoms including anxiety.
Foods and drinks that have GAMA, a type of neurotransmitter that increases sleep and relaxation, should be consumed on a regular basis. Some of these include kefir (a cultured dairy product), kimchee, and oolong tea.
Eliminate anxiety-inducing foods from your diet. It sounds almost too simple, but changing what you ingest on a daily basis can have a huge impact on your anxiety level. Rethink your consumption of the following common anxiety provokers:
Coffee. The most popular “energy drink” of all time may also be one of the leading causes of anxiety. If you drink coffee every morning, try switching to decaffeinated tea or just water for a few weeks. It may be hard to give up, but chances are you’ll see a reduction in your stress levels over this period of time.
Sugar and starch. People often see eating sugary and starchy treats as an option for stress reduction, since comfort foods like ice cream and cookies provide a momentary sense of, well, comfort. However, the rise and fall of blood sugar that occurs after eating these foods can actually make your emotions yo-yo even more. Try replacing these foods with fruits and vegetables to avoid sugar highs and lows.
Alcohol. After a stressful day at work, many unwind over a few drinks. Alcohol makes stress feel far away in the moment, but the after-effect cancels out the temporary sense of relaxation. Drink sparingly, and when you do drink, make sure to hydrate to reduce the chance of getting a very stressful hangover.
Use deep breathing exercises. Breathing deeply and slowly has immediate effects on your stress level. Most people practice shallow chest breathing, drawing breath into the upper portions of their lungs and exhaling at a rapid rate. When we’re feeling stressed, we tend to breathe even more quickly, which stresses us out even more. Instead, focus on bringing air into the lower portion of your lungs, breathing as deeply as possible. This helps decrease your blood pressure, relax your muscles, and calm you down.
Try to be mindful of your breathing even when you aren’t feeling anxious. Deep breathing is important no matter what your state of mind.
Try breathing in for a count of 4, holding for a count of 3, and breathing out for a count of 4. Keeping your total number of breaths to 8 or less in one minute will help to immediately reduce anxiety levels.
Try exercises that relieve anxiety. Studies have shown that regular exercise relieves symptoms of everyday anxiety and also helps to treat anxiety disorders. It improves feelings of well-being both in the moment and for hours afterward.
Cardiovascular exercises such as running or biking as well as weight training and other muscle-building exercises all serve the purpose of reducing anxiety.
Consider giving yoga a try. The soothing atmosphere of yoga studios, and the chance to be quiet and internally-focused for an hour or so, make this physical activity particularly conducive to calming anxiety.
If the thought of exercising itself makes you anxious, try incorporating low-impact physical activity into your routines. You don’t have to play a team sport or join a gym to get enough exercise; simply walking around your neighborhood can go a long way toward boosting your mood every day.
Induce relaxation at home. When you’re at home you should be totally anxiety free; your home should be your sanctuary. When you are dealing with a lot of anxiety, take some time and relax at home. Take a hot bath, listen to calming music, and avoid anything that might worsen your anxiety. Make sure that you give yourself ample time to enjoy these things throughout your day or week.
Do something you love. Often times anxiety builds up when you don’t get a chance to detox from life’s problems. Take at least ten minutes during your day to practice a hobby or past time which brings you peace. This may be reading, sports, playing music, art, anything really. Giving yourself an outlet will help to remove the anxiety from your mind both immediately and in the long run.
Try taking a new class in a field of interest to you. If you love jewelry, look into a local ring making class. If you’ve always wanted to learn a new language, start taking lessons from a local teacher or audit a language class at a local community college.
During the times that you are doing your favorite things, make a conscious decision to avoid thinking about your stressors. Removing them from your thoughts will allow you to enjoy your activity much more, and help prevent future ruminations.
Get lots of sleep. Lack of sleep prevents your body from clearing out excess cortisol from your system. Cortisol is a hormone, which in high levels, is responsible for causing anxiety and stress. Make sure that you’re getting between 8-9 hours of good sleep every night.
Try going to bed and waking up at the same times every day. This will help to regulate your sleep cycle, which will help you to get better nights of sleep.
If you’re having a hard time falling or staying asleep, try using melatonin supplements. Melatonin is a hormone your body creates to help you fall asleep. You can buy the hormone in low dose pills from most health food stores.
Avoid your phone, laptop, and television in the hour before you go to bed. These are often sources of anxiety, but also prevent proper melatonin production in your body because of the bright light they put off.
Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you keep a busy schedule, bring work back with you from the office, and stress about perfecting your school papers, you’re likely often overwhelming yourself and creating more anxiety than is necessary. Keep a schedule of your necessary activities and cut everything else out for a bit. Giving yourself alone time to deal with your anxiety will help you to overcome it in the long run.
Although getting together with friends regularly is always nice, doing it too often can cause anxiety about letting them down and not having time to yourself. Spread out friend dates with plenty of time for yourself in between.
Learn to say “no” to some requests. Whether it be another commitment from work or piling on errands, turning down invites is okay from time to time.
Deal With Anxiety Using Mental Tactics
Try not to jump to conclusions. If you lack facts and have yet to experience your worry or fear, then jumping to conclusions about what might happen will do you no good. If an uncertainty lays before you, you can reduce your anxiety by realizing (and admitting) that you don’t know what may happen. Consider all possible outcomes, rather than jumping to the most morbid or unlikely.
Focus on both the positive and the negative. When you are anxious about something, it can be incredibly easy to see only the negative aspects of it. As with all things though, there must be a positive facet to your fear-filled situation as well. Don’t focus on a single negative event while completely ignoring other related positives ones at the same time.
Don’t make it into a catastrophe. If your fear is of something non-dangerous and possibly even imagined, one of the surefire ways to make it worse is to turn it into a catastrophe. If you’re anxious about flying on a plane, and at the first sign of turbulence turn it into a crash, you are making your anxiety worse. See every situation as it really is, rather than what it could be.
Avoid thinking in terms of “all or nothing.“ No matter what situation is about to go down, it’s unlikely that the outcome is completely black or white. Don’t allow yourself to ignore gray areas and overdramatize something. For example, assuming that if you don’t get accepted to a particular college, you’re a total failure and nobody will want you. This type of thinking is common with anxiety, but is also totally irrational.
Avoid making everything personal. When anxiety strikes, don’t allow it to force you to take blame for a situation outside of your control. If you’re anxious and scared because your house was broken into, it may be easy to take it personally and blame yourself for the break-in. This type of thinking is illogical though, and will make you feel worse. Unless you invited thieves knowingly into your home, you can’t be held accountable for the robbing they did.
Avoid sources of anxiety you can’t control. If a certain type of situation makes you feel anxious, it’s OK to simply avoid it. If you hate flying, and don’t feel this fear is ever going to abate, it’s OK to drive. Know your limits, and practice self preservation.
If certain people in your life cause you anxiety and you don’t feel comfortable/can’t confront them, make changes so that you don’t have to be around them.
If your work or school is stressing you out, take a time during the day where you turn off your cellphone and laptop to remove yourself from the anxiety they cause. If you know you get anxious being glued to your email because of work, take it out of your life for a bit.
Confront sources of anxiety you can control. There are many different situations that induce anxiety, and it’s helpful to pinpoint exactly what might be making you anxious and take steps to confront it. If you’re behind on doing your taxes, for example, you may feel like you’ve got a yoke around your shoulders until the chore is finally done.
Keep a journal to help you figure out what exactly is making your mood dip. Writing down your thoughts can often reveal sources of stress you hadn’t yet acknowledged to yourself.
Even if a particular source of anxiety feels as though it is out of your control, you may be able to change something about the situation to make it feel less stressful to you. For example, if you feel anxious about the holidays months before the time to visit with family actually rolls around, figure out a way to approach the situation differently. Try hosting your extended family at your house so you won’t have to travel, or holding your celebration at a restaurant so you don’t have to host. Look at the flexible side of stressful situations.
Meditate or pray. Consciously taking your thoughts off of your stressor and focusing them inwards on something peaceful will reduce your anxiety and fear immensely. When anxious thoughts start to hit, retreat inwards and repeat a positive mantra to yourself or pray. Focus entirely on this, and eventually your anxiety will evaporate on its own.
Try visualization. This is a process of clearing your mind of anxiety-inducing thoughts and images and replacing them with peaceful thoughts and pictures. Try using guided imagery to picture a place that you feel relaxed and safe in. As you picture the scene, focus on the details so that your mind is fully immersed in the place of your imagination. Forcing your thoughts away from your anxiety will calm both your body and your mind, and prepare your for dealing with whatever is causing you your anxiety.
Ask for help. For many people, talking about anxiety is a very helpful release. If you need to vent, ask your spouse or a friend for advice and tell them how you feel. Sometimes just putting your feelings into words can take a lot of stress away.
If you lean on the same person for advice too often, your problems may overburden someone else. If you have a lot of anxiety to work through, consider seeing a therapist. You’ll be free to discuss your problems as much as you need to in the knowledge that a trained professional is there to help.
See a therapist. Know when it’s time to get a doctor involved. If you are experiencing chronic anxiety and feel you may have an anxiety disorder, make an appointment with a psychologist or a psychiatrist. It’s very difficult to treat anxiety disorders without the help of a doctor, and the sooner you see one, the faster you’ll feel better.
Try a natural remedy. Certain herbs, teas, and supplements are said to decrease symptoms of anxiety. Try the following options:
The chamomile flower is traditionally used to treat anxiety, stress, and an upset stomach. It has properties that are similar to anti-depressant drugs. It can be brewed into tea or taken as a supplement.
Ginseng is said to help the body reduce stress. Try taking a ginseng supplement daily for its anxiety-fighting effects.
Kava kava is a Polynesian plant said to have a sedative effect that relieves anxiety. See if your local health foods store carries this supplement, or order it online.
Valerian root is popular in Europe for its sedative properties. Take it when you are experiencing difficult bouts of anxiety that you can’t seem to overcome.
Consider anti-anxiety drugs. If you experience prolonged anxiety that affects your ability to sleep and go about your day for an extended period of time, it’s time to schedule an appointment with a doctor. Panic attacks, extreme social anxiety, and other symptoms can be effectively treated with a prescription drug that suits your needs.
Don’t take herbal supplements without first talking to your doctor.
Severe anxiety and depression should be treated by a health professional. Please see your doctor if you are worried about your condition.
Be kind to yourself. Anxiety is a very common emotion, and you do not have to face it alone.
Most importantly remember that anxiety is just all in the head. Be yourself and don’t care what others think about you. You’ve got to be confident so others will see the light also.
Realize that your anxiety will not disappear instantly. It takes a long time to retrain your body and mind to cope with the feelings of anxiety.
Don’t hide your anxiety from others. Share with those you trust and work through it together not alone.