A lot is going on the world right now, to say the least. We are still facing the threat of a global pandemic that has taken over 100,000 lives unexpectedly. Unprecedented international protests are calling for an end to systemic racism. And there is an economic recession that we have yet to realize its full effects because we have not yet fully gone back to “normal”–if we ever will. All against the backdrop of the looming climate crisis. It can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, even for those who have never experienced anxiety before.
Despite all of the external factors, and everything that is going on in our individual lives, we must find a way to hang on and see the brighter future that lies ahead of us. Because only after we have confronted our deepest divides and broken down barriers can we rebuild a better future.
As individuals, we must protect our holistic health so that we can be the best versions of ourselves. Caring for our mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual health is the most effective way to reduce anxiety and stress that we are experiencing today.
Anxiety relief cannot be found in a pill or one solution. There are no quick fixes because as soon as that “fix” wears off, you’ll be right back where you were. Life is a journey–and a complex one at that. To reduce anxiety and stress, we must think of our whole organism and everything that is affecting it. By taking measured steps, you can create sustainable anxiety relief.
Meditation is the gateway to mindfulness. As we become more aware of our thoughts and actions, we can be thoughtful instead of reactive. Practicing meditation can help to hone your decision-making skills and eventually they will become natural. The anxiety that surrounds certain people and situations can be reduced because you will become more objective in your thinking.
Meditation is like exercise for the brain; it can benefit your overall physical and mental wellbeing. Mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety and stress, improve sleep and your ability to focus, increase empathy and feelings of self-worth, minimize aggression, and improve your mood.
2. Eat Whole Foods
Food has a profound effect on our thoughts, actions, and moods. Our enteric nervous system, the part of the nervous system that is responsible for controlling the gastrointestinal system, is even known as our body’s Second Brain. It’s the primal connection–a superhighway of chemicals and hormones, and an extensive network of neurons– that enables us to do a “gut check.”
Trillions of microbes residing in our gut tell our brain what’s going on with our body. So, it’s best to eat hormone- and body-happy foods that give us the energy to do all of the other activities on this list to reduce anxiety and stress.
Foods such as processed foods, grains, and sugars increase inflammation in the body and overall anxiety. And when we lack certain nutrients, the body can enter a stressed state, amplifying our anxiety. Consider trying the ketogenic diet combined with therapeutic fasting for maximum benefits.
3. Prioritize Sleep
Sleep is an integral part of our health. Without sleep, humans are known to make poorer decisions, have grumpy attitudes, impaired cognitive abilities, and a slew of other negative side effects. Having adequate sleep can lead to making good choices in one’s nutrition, giving you the energy to exercise, and think clearer throughout your day.
Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night. You may experience improved immunity, higher sex drive, less weight gain, better memory, and fewer mood swings. Ultimately, with other parts of your life and body in good health, you’ll also experience a reduction in anxiety.
Exercise can give you that boost of endorphins that your body–and brain–needs. Engaging in physical activity can get your mind off what you’re anxious about and it can decrease muscle tension, lowering the physical response of stress. Regular exercise can build up resources to help with future situations that may make you anxious.
“Getting your heart rate up changes brain chemistry, increasing the availability of important anti-anxiety neurochemicals, including serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and endocannabinoids,” John Ratey, MD wrote in a Harvard Medical School article discussing how exercise can help treat anxiety. His advice to maximize the benefits is to choose something enjoyable, so you’ll do it repeatedly, work toward getting your heart rate up, and work out with a friend or in a group to get the benefits of social support. Finally, he suggests exercising in nature or green space, which further lowers stress and anxiety.
You can go out for a walk to enjoy the sunshine, do an online class in your home or backyard, or play in the park with your kids. The benefits of exercise will stay around for hours.
5. Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries can help you build better self-esteem and reduce stress, conserve emotional energy, and create healthy relationships with friends, partners, and family. Boundaries aren’t always as clear as lines in the sand, but they can be defined by what you accept into your life and what you reject. This applies to our physical, sexual, and emotional boundaries.
“Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. Violations include taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for theirs,” according to Stephanie Camins MA, LPC. Her advice to setting boundaries starts with knowing and understanding what your limits are. Then, stay tuned into your feelings to identify when your boundaries are being crossed.
6. Practice Breathwork
Breathwork is a powerful and simple stress-management tool to reduce anxiety. Do you ever catch yourself holding your breath when you’re in a stressful situation? You’re not the only one. That’s why you often hear people say “breathe” or see a brown paper bag being held by someone having a panic attack.
“For hundreds of years, Buddhists, yoga practitioners, and eastern healers have believed that the breath is the foundation of our life force and energy — which is why many meditation practices and yoga classes include a strong focus on deep breathing techniques,” meditation app Headspace writes on their website.
Breathwork coupled with meditation can help you start your day off from a place of confidence and calm. Your heart rate will slow, blood pressure decreases, cortisol drops, the immune system improves, and we can become more in touch with our surroundings.
There’s something magical about caring for a garden and watching it grow. In a meta-analysis of 21 studies investigating the effect of gardening on physical or psychological well-being, results indicated that “gardening has a positive overall effect on health and wellbeing, and that gardening was particularly effective in decreasing depression and anxiety.”
Gardening provides the opportunity to connect with nature, which increases one’s ability to regulate emotion and decreases neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (the area associated with rumination), and lessens feelings of anxiety. It allows you time to practice mindfulness without necessarily sitting on a chair with your eyes closed meditating.
Similarly to how we need to start thinking about our health, gardening is a long-term game. As time goes by, and you see the fruits of your labor, you’ll be increasingly encouraged to keep up the good work.
8. Avoid Mind-Altering Substances
Mind-altering substances such as alcohol, marijuana, benzodiazepines, etc. are short-term fixes that can have long-term consequences. While the high may feel good for an hour or two, it can exacerbate your anxiety and lead to substance abuse behaviors. They can also have terrible effects on your physical health including reduced gray matter in the brain, heart problems, and more.
Excessive use of substances can make existing conditions worse or they can cause the development of stress and anxiety disorders. Stimulant drug use is “linked with both the onset and exacerbation of anxiety, as they lead to a rapid excitement of neurotransmitters in the brain.”
9. Cut the Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant and it is not your friend if you are experiencing anxiety. It can lead to jitters, increased brain chatter, and erratic behavior. If you’re a five-cups-of-coffee-a-day type of person, consider tapering down the number of cups you consume per day and not consuming any coffee in the afternoon. If you’re worried about the afternoon slump, you may want to reconsider what you’re eating as carbohydrates can cause that crash, leading to your next cup. And be careful of other sports drinks and sodas as they can have caffeine in them, too.
Coffee’s half-life is about five to six hours in healthy adults, which can inhibit your ability to hit REM in your sleep. This is an endless cycle of needing caffeine to feel awake. Excessive caffeine use can lead to anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness, and more negative side effects.
10. Limit Screen Time
Technology has allowed our society to advance more quickly than ever before. It also causes anxiety, self-destructive behaviors on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and lowered feelings of self-worth. The comparative nature of these visual platforms tells a false story of other people’s lives, which can lead to detrimental thoughts about one’s own life. The algorithms also work against people in that they only show certain points of view that align with your own. This degrades our empathy for one another.
Physically speaking, exposure to blue light from screens can disrupt the circadian rhythm by inhibiting the normal production of melatonin. In children, “Regular, frequent screen time can overstimulate and hyper-arouse the developing child’s brain, effectively short-circuiting the frontal lobe,” according to an article by MCHC Health Centers.
Keep your bedroom free of technology, be aware of how much time you’re spending on your phone by using the Screen Time app on your smartphone, and prioritize in-person social interactions when possible.
11. Use Aromatherapy
Certain scents can transport people to places of calm and trigger fond memories. They can also reduce stress and anxiety, and improve emotional and spiritual conditions. Calming scents such as lavender and eucalyptus can be used in an essential oil diffuser or the bath/shower. Combine oils with a carrier oil and lather on after your shower so it follows you around all day. Or put 20 drops in a spray bottle and use it as a relaxing room spray before you meditate or go to sleep.
Journaling–being alone with one’s thoughts and feeling safe expressing them–can be an empowering method of anxiety relief. There’s no one to judge you for how you’re thinking or what you say. It’s a safe space to be exactly who you are, and no one else. It can help you make sense of your thoughts and feelings, and provide a space for positive self-talk. Journaling also gives you a record to understand your self-development over certain periods, learning what works and what doesn’t to reduce anxiety and stress.
13. Learn How to Say “No”
Oftentimes, we can find ourselves doing things for others in hopes that it will help make them feel good or positively favor us whether that’s consciously or subconsciously. Ultimately that prioritizes their health and happiness, and we sacrifice our needs for others. Learning how to say no isn’t about being selfish–it’s about making sure you’re taken care of so that you can take care of others the best you can.
Saying yes when you know that you don’t have the time or you just don’t want to do it can lead to you feeling rushed in your commitment and wanting to leave instead of being present. Or feeling regretful of saying yes and having those feelings of annoyance come out in other ways. Avoid those feelings altogether by saying you’ll have to respectfully decline, but would appreciate if they kept you in mind for future opportunities.
14. Drink Chamomile Tea
It might as well be called calmomile tea because of the relaxing properties this herb holds. A small study showed that it can help reduce moderate-to-severe generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) with sustained use. And it is a great step to add to your nightly ritual. Steep fresh chamomile that you grew in your garden for about three minutes or find a prepackaged tea that suits your needs.
15. Stay Hydrated
Dehydration puts the body in a stressed state, which can exacerbate the effects of anxiety and stress. To know if you’re dehydrated, first try to remember the last time you drank water. You might think to yourself, “Ah! That’s why I’m feeling hungry or irritated.” Feelings of thirst and hunger come from the same part of the brain, so if you’re feeling pains in your belly try drinking a glass of water first. If you have a headache, bad breath, are experiencing rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing, or cloudy thinking, grab that glass of water.
As with all of the above tips, increasing your self-awareness can often lead your body to the right answer. Listen to what your body is telling you it needs and act accordingly–with love.
DISCLAIMER: THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN REVIEWED BY THE FDA. YOU SHOULD CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN BEFORE STARTING ANY OTHER FITNESS PROGRAM TO DETERMINE IF IT IS RIGHT FOR YOUR NEEDS. DO NOT START ANY NEW DIET OR ROUTINE IF YOUR PHYSICIAN OR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER ADVISES AGAINST IT. IF YOU EXPERIENCE FAINTNESS, DIZZINESS, PAIN OR SHORTNESS OF BREATH AT ANY TIME WHILE EXERCISING YOU SHOULD STOP IMMEDIATELY.