Though I’ve lived with anxiety for my entire life, it’s only during the past few years that I’ve taken the reigns and made a concentrated effort to keep it from taking over. I’ve taken the big steps — such as taking medication and seeing a therapist — but I’ve also focused on quite a few smaller things that make living with anxiety a little easier. These “small” acts are surprisingly helpful, making normal days a breeze and difficult days a bit more bearable.
If you have anxiety and are looking for a way to take control of everyday life, consider the following five methods:
1. Be Predictable
A solid routine establishes a rhythm to day-to-day life, making it one of the most important things you can do to reduce anxiety and obtain stability. Both our bodies and our minds function better when eating, sleeping, and periods of extended activity take place at regular intervals. These patterns and habits help our brains to regulate daily processes. Since it can be extremely difficult to make even the simplest of decisions when anxiety kicks into overdrive, the existence of a basic structure to the day cuts down on the need to make decisions about what to do next.
You can lessen feelings of uncertainty and doubt by developing a regular routine. Start small and build up to a point where you are sleeping, getting out of bed, eating, and exercising at roughly the same time each day. While you can’t plan for everything, you can take care of the basics, making it far easier to handle changes and challenges when they do crop up.
2. Be Mindful
Mindfulness is one of the quickest ways to alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety. This remarkably simple form of meditation lowers anxiety levels and prevents panic attacks by helping you to let go of troubling ruminations and achieve a deep, healing meditative state. Try the following meditation technique the next time you feel overly anxious or panicked:
- Close your eyes.
- Take a deep breath in while counting to four.
- Slowly exhale through your nose for a count of eight.
- As you inhale, visualize the flow of oxygen through your respiratory system.
- As you exhale, picture the stress you feel drifting away.
- Repeat five times.
By exhaling longer than you inhale, you signal your body to go into “rest and digest” mode (an antithesis to “fight or flight”), allowing you to reach a state of relaxation. Another tool you can use while practicing mindfulness is music. A 2013 study found that listening to soothing music can decrease the levels of stress hormones in the body. In fact, the stress-relieving quality of music is so powerful that it’s often used in medical settings to promote healing and well-being.
3. Be Grateful
Humans are programmed to remember the bad things that happen to us over the good. It’s a survival thing, a sort of safeguard to keep us from repeating life-threatening mistakes. Unfortunately, this makes it hard to recognize that even on the worst of days, there are good things happening all around us. It’s all the more difficult to see the wonderful things in life when dealing with anxiety. That’s where gratitude comes in.
Spend a few minutes each day writing about three things you’re thankful for. The big things are a given — family, friends, and so on — so focus instead on being the smaller things in life that you would miss if they were gone. The smell of your favorite food, the comfort of your bed, the joy you find in a beloved book. Make a conscious effort to exercise this gratitude every day. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day and skip your journaling, but get back on the horse as soon as possible.
Gratitude journaling helps ease anxiety by allowing you to recall a more balanced picture of your day and revel in the warmth of the good things in life. What’s more, it teaches you to live in the moment and search for the silver linings in every cloud. Another fantastic way to practice gratitude is to volunteer or donate to charity (just make sure it’s a reputable one!) You’ll find each day is better when you’re actively looking for the good things in every situation.
4. Be Rested
You know what’s absolutely terrible for people with anxiety? Sleep deprivation. Our nervous system needs rest to repair and restore itself, making sleep one of the most important means to moderate the negative effects of stress.
It’s incredibly important to make time in your schedule for 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night. Do your best to get to bed between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. (or a little earlier) as there is a natural lull in energy levels between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. If you remain active past this timeframe, you may find yourself getting a “second wind.” As hard as it is, try to avoid bright screens within 1 to 2 hours of bedtime. Finally, make sure your room is dark and cool to encourage deep sleep.
5. Be Careful
For those of you using medication to control your anxiety, there are certain precautions you must take to remain healthy. If you take benzodiazepines (such as Xanax) or anti-depressants (such as Zoloft), it’s incredibly important you never mix them with alcohol. Though these drugs are relatively safe on their own, combining them with alcohol can cause exacerbate side effects or cause over-sedation (which can be fatal). A happy, healthy body should always come before alcohol.
Living with anxiety isn’t easy, so be sure to give yourself a break. The best advice I can give is to treat yourself as you would a close friend going through a difficult time. Focus on self-care and look for the good in life, but don’t rake yourself over the coals if you slip up now and again. Make a little time in your day for mindfulness and gratitude, get lots of sleep, and stick to a routine. You got this!
Do you live with anxiety? How do you stay healthy?
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