Anxiety affects nearly twenty percent of the U.S. population. Yet, as common as it is, anxiety also highly treatable. In fact, there are many simple ways for you to feel more relaxed, starting now. Try these tried-and-true methods for a calmer life:
1. Get Up, Stand Up
Research shows that sitting can increase anxiety. Sedentary activities such as watching television, using a computer, and playing electronic games can make you particularly vulnerable. The more you sit, the more likely you are to feel anxious.
Disturbed sleep patterns, social withdrawal, and poor metabolic health that result from sedentary behavior may seriously impact anxiety. Researchers suspect that the rise in sedentary behavior may be in part to blame for the high rates of anxiety in our society .
Reducing the time you spend sitting can help reduce your anxiety. It’s worth the try!
2. Get Off the Couch, Potato
Extreme couch potato behavior ramps up anxiety. In my private practice, I often ask clients what coping skills they consider most helpful. Watching TV is one of the most popular. TV gives the impression of a helpful coping skill because it pulls our attention away from stress. The problem is that TV watching does not move us forward in dealing with our stress. It just postpones it.
It should come as no surprise then, that one of the strongest antidotes to anxiety is the opposite of sitting on one’s duff—exercise. Researchers who’ve studied the effects of exercise on mood and anxiety are so convinced of its power that they recommend prescribing exercise for people with anxiety and depression.
What’s the best form of exercise? The kind you enjoy and will keep doing. You may start by taking a walk around the block or sign up to a Zumba class near you. Chose a type of exercise that won’t feel like a chore, rather something fun to look forward to.
3. Go Yoga
What’s the best kind of exercise for anxiety? Studies show that for improving mood and anxiety, yoga beats all other forms of exercise. Yoga increases levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a nerve-regulating brain chemical. Low levels of GABA are associated with anxiety and depression.
Because I see most of my counseling clients in Richmond, VA, I often recommend Project Yoga Richmond as an affordable resource for yoga classes.They welcome beginners!
4. Breathe Easy
“Take a deep breath” is common advice. It’s only half right, though. Take a deep breath, yes, but exhale deeply too—ideally, for about twice as long as you have inhaled. Why? Inhalation stimulates the body’s sympathetic system, which prepares the body for physical activity. Exhalation, on the other hand, does the opposite—it stimulates the parasympathetic system, and calms the body. Longer exhalations can equal less anxiety.
Practice longer exhalations several times daily and you will notice the difference. During my work at a juvenile detention center, I practiced deep breathing anytime I was called to an emergency. Of course this didn’t mean I stopped everything just to breathe! You can take deep breaths anytime, anywhere. Even while running when you are being called to respond to life threatening situations. Before I realized, I was taking deep breaths automatically when confronted with a stressful circumstance.
5. Get Yourself to Bed
Short on sleep? Lack of shut-eye can contribute to anxiety.
The “worry wart” central of your brain —the amygdala and insular cortex— dials up in reaction to sleep deprivation. If you are naturally the more anxious sort, you’re even more susceptible to increased anxiety without enough sleep.
Of course, the sleep deprivation/anxiety cycle can work both ways —while insufficient sleep can trigger anxiety, anxiety can disrupt sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, seek help. Not only can therapy help reduce your anxiety, but also improve your life in a host of other ways.
At LaunchPad Counseling, we work with clients on overcoming insomnia by using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. However, if you are not the victim of insomnia, and you simply can’t find the time to sleep, I challenge you to ask yourself if you have time for your anxiety. These two are hard to separate, but it may be worth taking a closer look at your sleeping habits.
6. Say “Ohm”
Mindfulness is all the rage these days, and for good reason. Numerous studies have confirmed what Buddhist monks and other faithful meditators have known for years: regular mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety.
There are several forms of mindfulness meditation, but most of them involve quietly observing one’s breath, bodily sensations, and thoughts. The nonprofit organization “Mindful” offers this beginner’s guide to mindfulness. I also share this video with my clients often. It provides a simple explanation of how mindfulness works, and how you can make it work for you!
7. Waiter, I’ll Have the Bacteria
Probiotics, fermented foods, and the “brain-gut connection” have all gotten a lot of press lately. That’s because scientists are discovering more about the benefits of probiotics — bacteria that’s present in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and miso. Why are these “good” bacteria so important? Among other things, regular consumption of them keeps our guts—as well as our brains—healthy. And what’s more, they show promise in decreasing anxiety, especially social anxiety.
Your eating habits in general have a great deal of influence over your mood. Researchers are just now proving links between our food intake and anxiety or depression. But the research is quickly building up. A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables that provides a steady stream of healthy nutrients to your body will have a balancing effect on your anxiety. Foods that spike your blood sugar, like sweets, carbs, and coffee, will also spike your anxiety.
Last but not least: Find an anxiety therapist
Anxiety can have a crippling effect on anyone, whether you are a child or an adult. At our counseling practice in Richmond VA, we take all the factors above in consideration. We help clients of all ages overcome anxiety and live more peaceful and balanced lives. Counseling is effective! If you are looking for help, please contact us. We will connect you to the therapist who will best match your needs!