Experiencing anxiety seems to be so commonplace nowadays. Sure, it’s normal to feel stress or worry from time to time. But it’s not normal to perpetually suffer from these emotions.
Unfortunately, many in our society do live with day-to-day unease. According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders are now the most common mental illness in the US. It’s not completely surprising, considering how many people I know who have dealt with constant anxiety at some point (myself included).
I made the decision to “de-stress” my life as much as possible when I realized just how dangerous anxiety could be. Uncontrolled stress levels can bring on panic attacks and in extreme cases, even heart attacks.
Maybe you’ve been experiencing general anxiety. Maybe you suffer from one of its subsets (like eating disorders, OCD, or PTSD.) Or maybe you just want your life to be a little more relaxed.
Whatever the case may be, the following tips should aid you in becoming freer from worry.
Deep breathing is my favorite way to combat anxiety. As a yogi, I’ve done my fair share of breath work. All that practice has shown me that some pranayama can fix just about anything, anxiety included.
The key to calming down is long, full breaths. This is what will kick-start the parasympathetic nervous system. Whatever you do, avoid quick, shallow breathing. This will engage your “fight or flight” response system, ultimately increasing your anxiety. Instead, extend the breath. Try to keep your inhales as long as your exhales.
Think: In (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) Out (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). You only need to repeat this pattern a couple times to feel the effects. It’s quick, easy and efficient.
Oh, and by the way, don’t smoke. Not only will it make it harder to practice your pranayama, but it’ll also increase stress.
2. Get Moving
This is one of the quickest ways to free your mind from obsessive, anxiety-ridden thoughts. When you exercise, your brain becomes acutely focused on your body, which takes focus of whatever you happen to be worrying about.
Endorphins are released during exercise that instantly create a positive outlook. (Ever heard of a “runner’s high”? That’s what is happening here.) Activity also triggers the release of three neurotransmitters: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These three increase alertness, concentration and satisfaction, leading to an overall more balanced mood.
One thing to be wary of is over-exercising, which can actually cause the loss of neurotransmitters. Pushing ourselves too hard is depleting and stressful to the body, so be sure to give yourself sufficient rest between workouts, or stick with walking, dancing, yoga or other gentle forms of movement.
5. Write it out
When you’re feeling worried, write down exactly what you’re afraid of. I do this all the time- it helps me to take the power away from the fears that are oh-so-easy to rationalize in my mind. More often than not, the things we feel anxious about are not likely to actually happen.
When we see our anticipated outcomes on paper, it is easier for us to realize when we’re being silly. We can logically differentiate between “possible” and “probable” and determine how to deal with each accordingly.
If there is a high chance of your fears becoming reality, journaling can organize your thoughts and help you plan to avoid the potential outcome (or deal with it’s consequences).
4. Watch what you eat
No, I’m not telling you to diet. Be conscious of the food you put into your body and how it affects you. Those vegan cupcakes you love? Believe it or not, they might be affecting your anxiety levels, if they are made with refined flour and sugar. Certain foods can increase cortisol levels, and these guys are two major culprits, along with alcohol and caffeine. Sorry, but you should probably limit those too.
Nutrient deficiencies can also cause stress, so make sure you get plenty of mood-boosting micronutrients. Munch on some pumpkin seeds (magnesium/zinc), brazil nuts (selenium), or prunes (potassium) which all have anxiety-reducing properties and which are necessary for maintaining mental health. As far as general nutrition, whole grains, vegetables, healthy fats and low-sugar fruits are good choices for keeping your brain chemistry stable.
Try this Serotonin boosting recipe: Happy Banana Almond Milkshake
Aside from food, there are also a variety of supplements that are terrific to take when you’re feeling anxious. The nervous system requires sufficient Vitamin B to function at its optimal level, so adding that to your pillbox might help.
Believe it or not, popping a probiotic could also alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Your gut is very closely linked to your brain, and when your digestion’s out of whack, your emotions are going to be as well.
Several herbs have been proven to treat anxiety just as well as (if not better than) other drugs. Kava Kava, for example, is a root considered to be an alternative to Valium. You can find it in pill form at most grocery or health food stores. St. John’s Wort is another option found in this form. It is suitable for anxiety because it increases the uptake of neurotransmitters. If you prefer a tea, passionflower is for you. It is a non-addictive sedative that has a calming effect on both the mind and body.
6. Stop It Before It Happens
The most effective way to treat anxiety is to inhibit it before it even begins. Treating the underlying issue will be more long lasting than simply treating the symptoms. However, this entails that you know yourself very well.
Start by pinpointing your triggers and your red flags. If you are conscious enough to pick up on these things then it will be much easier to control your anxiety. Next, get to the root of your fears. All fears come down to not getting what you want or losing what you have (health, money, family, etc). Break down the fear until you know exactly what you’re afraid of–which will help you to overcome it.
And lastly, practice some acceptance. Realizing what you can and can’t control will help you to let go of your straggling fears and live a more peaceful life.
More by Quincy: Hidden Veggie Superfood Porridge
Meditation techniques: On Being Gentle
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling/James Wheeler