Do you feel like you are constantly overwhelmed by life? Are you worried about every little thing that might go wrong? Do you start your days already in panic mode before you even leave your home? Anxiety and other stress-related disorders are one of the biggest threats to health today. Stress causes or contributes to nearly every major disease. Doctors around the world are imploring people to calm down before they literally stress themselves to death.
But anxiety does not seem to come with an off switch. Even being concerned about your anxiety can cause more anxiety! While many people are resorting to pharmaceutical intervention to deal with anxiety and panic attacks, most people can manage and lessen anxiety with a change in their lifestyle habits and self-care routines.
Move It, Don’t Lose It
One of the simplest and quickest ways to transform anxiety is exercise. Exercise zaps anxiety because it activates the feel-good brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals reduce the chemical associated with anxiety and depression, and cause us to feel rewarded, relaxed, and more excited about life. Exercise also increases production of a brain growth hormone that keeps our learning and memory functions sharp.
When you start to feel overwhelmed by life, start moving your body before you lose your mind. Even a five minute brisk walk can help, though 30 to 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise is ideal. Often anxiety is caused by feeling powerless against life’s looming uncertainty. Exercise gives us a concrete way to move energy and get past vague fears of the unknown. It also clears the mind enough that there is more space for creative solutions to emerge. Aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days per week to help keep your anxiety in check.
Know Your Anxiety Type
Some anxiety is natural. In certain situations, anxiety can give you the necessary edge to complete a task or come up with a solution. If your anxiety is related to a specific cause, you can actually use it to help you be more focused and productive. Channel the energy into whatever you need to do or create.
But if your anxiety is a vague, irrational fear of what might go wrong in the future, or if it keeps you from living your life, then you may need support to address it. If you are overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and worry that are totally unrelated to an actual event, or much bigger than the situation warrants, you may need to treat your anxiety as a disorder and get support from a mental health professional.
Remember That You Are Not Your Thoughts
Like so much else in life, anxiety can be helped by practicing mindfulness. Creating space in our minds, observing our thoughts rather than reacting, can help prevent us from getting caught up in destructive mental loops.
Anxiety is a throwback to our primal instincts. When we were often in danger from wild animals and other aspects of primitive living, we needed the mental reactions coded into the reptilian part of the brain, the amygdala, to ensure our survival. But most anxiety today is based on social, work, and familial pressures, not the need to outsmart a bear or survive a storm. Practicing mindfulness helps us turn off this reptilian brain reactivity and returns our ability to choose how we respond to life.
In addition to mindfulness meditation, non-verbal, right brain activities like listening to music, drawing, and dancing can help shift you out of reactive thinking and into higher cognitive functioning.
Eat to Thrive
Diet is also a big factor in managing anxiety. Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods all stimulate the nervous system in the same way that stress does. The foods we promote the most on MHLC, fresh veggies and especially greens, whole fruits, nuts, seeds, and sprouted legumes all build a foundation of health that is more supportive for a relaxed and well-functioning brain and nervous system. What you eat matters all the time, and especially if you are managing significant anxiety.
It All Comes Back to Breath
Breathing deeply is a requirement for managing anxiety. Shallow breathing triggers and perpetuates the jacked-up nervous system “flight or fight” response, a component of anxiety. Deep breathing pacifies the nervous system, and gives our brains the necessary oxygen to think clearly and effectively. If you take only one thing away from this article, remember to breathe deeply the next time you feel anxious.
Anxiety is a part of life. In most cases it is a natural response to the pressures and challenges of being mortal humans with deadlines and responsibilities. But sometimes anxiety become irrational or overwhelming, and interferes with our ability to lead productive lives. If you experience anxiety that keeps you from functioning in healthy ways, remember to breathe deeply, eat nourishing whole foods, practice mindfulness, and find perspective. With dedication it is possible to handle anxiety so that you can be more easeful and responsive to the true beauty of life.