When a person suffers from anxiety, it is important to have an understanding of how the anxiety is triggered and ways to reduce the feelings to make the symptoms less intense. Anxiety is a feeling all people experience, but in more severe cases it is considered a mental health disorder. Anxiety is uncomfortable and upsetting, and can lead people to become hopeless in learning how to control the symptoms. However, it is possible for these people to successfully live with anxiety without allowing its symptoms to have a major impact on their lives. It may be hard to believe at first, but with some simple lifestyle modifications it is possible to reduce the common symptoms of anxiety, like:
- Racing negative thoughts
- Catastrophizing (expecting the worst from every situation),
- Difficulty focusing
- Insomnia and related sleep issues
- Muscle tension
Mood and Self-Image Symptoms:
- Low confidence
- Low self-esteem
- Depressed mood
- Mood swings
If you suffer from anxiety and are ready take back control from your anxiety, consider making changes in the following areas of your life: exercise, meditation, diet, and lifestyle.
It is important for a person who suffers from anxiety to get sufficient amounts of exercise during the week. Exercise relieves anxiety because it helps reduce several different symptoms like:
- Muscle tension
It also improves cognitive function and the thinking process by increasing alertness and focus. Exercise helps relieve the following symptoms of anxiety:
Exercise improves the patient’s self-esteem and confidence. A patient’s confidence and self-image grows as he or she learns more about his or her physical strength and abilities. With a stronger sense of confidence, the patient will see a reduction in their anxiety, especially in terms of performance and success. With this improved confidence the patient will see a decrease in overthinking and catastrophizing.
Exercise is excellent for stabilizing mood because it causes the brain to release endorphins. Endorphins are a chemical in the brain that give the patient a ‘feel good’ sensation by reducing overall pain in the body, relaxing muscles, and providing a euphoric sensation that reduces anxiety and lifts spirits. Endorphins not only help improve mood, but they also release muscle tension in the body.
Exercise helps improve sleep. The amount of anxiety a patient feels relies heavily on the overall quality of sleep he or she gets each night. If a patient is sleeping restlessly or is suffering from insomnia, his or her anxiety will be more severe than a person whose sleep is of good quality. Exercise helps a person get better sleep by causing the body to release endorphins, ease anxiety symptoms, and exhaust the restless energy the nerves and the muscles hold. The positive effects exercise has on the patient’s self-image and overall mood help reduce racing thoughts, helping him or her fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Meditation plays a critical role in managing symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety causes a person to feel out of control and creates chaos within the mind, which eventually causes the body to be negatively affected by resulting physical symptoms. Meditation helps by providing the patient with a sense of control and calm. It also teaches the patient how to be aware and accepting of his or her environment without feeling anxious or out of control.
Two common meditation practices are Tai Chi and Yoga. Each practice incorporates breathing exercises and body awareness practices that help the patient to feel grounded and secure in his or her own skin. These meditative practices have been found to relieve the following anxiety symptoms:
Racing Thoughts and Concentration Issues
Meditation is excellent for cognitive symptoms of anxiety. Meditative practices help a person learn how to stay in a present moment without allowing himself or herself to become too overwhelmed by external influences and racing thoughts. Meditation helps the patient become more introspective and aware of how racing negative thoughts affect his or her own concentration. Meditation teaches skills to reduce the prevalence of negative thoughts. It also teaches the patient how to slow down the thought process and be less reactive to triggers for stress and anxiety. Meditation helps relax the mind, allowing it to rejuvenate and produce less anxious stimulation.
By reducing the prevalence of racing negative thoughts, the patient is able to be more aware of how his or her thinking affects his or her overall mood. By slowing down the racing thoughts the brain is able to slow down the reactivity of the patient. This means that the brain allows more time to process information before reacting. This extra time to process thoughts and emotions helps the patient be less emotionally reactive.
Reducing The Need To Be In Control
Meditation also helps facilitate acceptance for the things the patient cannot control. Patients who suffer from anxiety tend to try to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety by trying to control not only themselves, but also the environment and people around them. This fixation with control ultimately causes more stress on the patient, because it makes them too preoccupied with controlling the elements that are affecting them. This prevents them from finding peace in the things they cannot control. Meditation helps facilitate acceptance by helping patients learn that although they cannot control the environment around them, they can control their mental and emotional wellbeing, and what parts of the environment affects them. Accepting things the patient cannot control takes away the anxiety of losing control over the environment or situation. The acceptance of not having control helps them find peace.
Physical Pain and Tension
A major component of meditation is deep breathing. Deep breathing is important for meditation because it teaches the patient control, patience, and how to get in touch with his or her body and mind. Deep breathing is also helpful in reducing physical pain and tension caused by anxiety. Deep breathing helps the patient’s body experience less pain and tension by:
- Delivering fresh oxygen to the brain and muscles. Oxygen is pivotal not only for survival, but also for wellness. Delivering oxygen to the brain creates a blissful sensation that relaxes the mind and muscles of the body. The oxygen also helps relax the muscles as they are supplied with fresh oxygen that nourishes them.
- Removing dead oxygen from the lungs. Our natural breathing is relatively shallow when compared to the capacity the lungs can hold. The shallow breathing causes dead air to sit in the bottom of the lungs, creating a toxin. While this toxin is not dangerous, it does negatively impact the body’s ability to provide fresh air to the muscles. This deprivation of fresh oxygen causes muscle tension and resulting muscle and joint pain. With deep breathing, the lungs are not only filled with fresh oxygen, but it also expands the lungs enough to expel the dead air that is sitting at the bottom of the lungs.
It is sometimes easy to underestimate how much a patient’s overall anxiety and mental health is affected by his or her diet. It can be difficult to gauge what helps and hinders anxiety. Eating food that tastes good and is enjoyable may seem like it relieves anxiety, but this is not always the case. Meals, snacks and beverages that have caffeine, sugars, and processed foods do taste good, and that good taste results in a release of dopamine, which gives a temporary feel-good sensation throughout the body. While this may seem to help for relieving ‘in the moment’ anxiety, it may actually be causing more harm than good in the long run. The sensations felt from dopamine are temporary, and the food consumed has a long-term effect on the body. For example, many of the foods eaten that are highly satisfying are also high in sugar, which causes an imbalance in the levels of sugar in the blood. Such imbalances can result in restlessness, sleep issues, stomach sensitivity, and mood swings.
Consider making the following modifications to your diet to reduce anxiety symptoms:
Quit Caffeine And Switch To Water
Caffeine has a negative impact on anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means that it makes people hyper-alert, hypersensitive, and hyperactive. This causes:
- Sleep issues
- Muscle tension
- Racing thoughts
Reducing or eliminating the amount of caffeine consumed on a daily basis will reduce the sensitivity that caffeine creates, which will reduce the day-to-day jitters caused by anxiety. Drink water instead. Drinking water nourishes the muscles, body and mind, which reduces muscle tension and fatigue.
Incorporate Vitamins And Natural Carbohydrates
A diet high in natural carbohydrates will help maintain a healthy blood sugar. A healthy blood sugar level will reduce restlessness, fatigue, and concentration problems. Replacing processed carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice with natural carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help stabilize blood sugar levels, which will improve overall energy levels during the day and prevent depressed mood and distractibility.
Research has also found that a diet rich in vitamins like Zinc, Magnesium, antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce symptoms of day-to-day anxiety. The following are foods that are rich in these vitamins:
- Magnesium: Leafy greens, Legumes, Nuts, Yogurt, Bananas, Avocados
- Zinc: Cashews, Beef, Eggs, Spinach, Oysters, Legumes
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fish, Walnuts, Spinach, Soy, Flaxseed
- Antioxidants: Berries, Pecans, Legumes, Dark Chocolate
Along with modifications to diet, exercise, and meditation practices, there are two major lifestyle changes that will help reduce symptoms of anxiety: adopting a sober lifestyle, and creating structure in your day-to-day life.
Having a chaotic daily structure can negatively impact a patient’s overall anxiety. The unpredictability of each day will aggravate symptoms of anxiety because it causes the person to be in a constant state of alertness. A disorganized lifestyle will become especially chaotic when under the influence of substances. This is because active substance use puts both the environment and internal self (mind and body) in a chaotic and unbalanced state. Addressing these two issues by adopting a structured, sober lifestyle can help a great deal in managing symptoms of anxiety.
Adopt A Sober Lifestyle
Actively using drugs and alcohol will affect a patient’s internal balance and have a negative impact on his or her overall anxiety. Every kind of mood-altering substance will cause both a shift in a person’s behavior, and a crash once sobering up from the drug consumed. Drugs and alcohol affect the brain’s levels of dopamine, which is the rewarding ‘feel good’ sensation felt when a person performs a life-sustaining or enjoyable task. Active drug use, regardless of the amount or frequency, will use up all of a patient’s dopamine, leaving him or her in a depressed mood that worsens anxiety. This will increase mood swings, muscle tension, fatigue, and racing thoughts.
Many people argue that drugs or alcohol help them feel less anxious and more confident. While drugs and alcohol may relieve symptoms of anxiety in the moment, it will worsen long-term symptoms of anxiety. The reason drugs and alcohol may help in the moment is because they are releasing copious amounts of dopamine, which will mask the anxious symptoms. However, eventually that dopamine supply will drain, causing the person feeling more anxious and depressed than before.
Structure is a key tool in reducing anxiety. When a daily routine lacks structure it creates anxiety because the patient is not prepared for his or her day. Taking a few minutes to prepare for the events and responsibilities of the day will reduce anxiety because it leaves less room for error, surprises, and forgetfulness. Making an effort to create a structured routine will create predictability, consistency, and organization. This will make the patient’s external environment easier to manage, which will reduce racing thoughts and anticipatory anxiety. Consider the following tips in creating a daily structure:
- Create a To-Do list for each morning
- Create a daily schedule
- Keep a calendar of important times and dates
- Keep a consistent bed and wake time
- Prepare for the next day by preparing meals, laying out clothes, and packing up needed items the night before
- Confirm appointment times 24 hours before appointments