I’ve wanted to talk about anxiety on here for a long time, not only because of my personal experience with it, but also because I want to end the stigma around mental health and for this and other mental health topics to be talked about openly. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Although they are highly treatable, only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
I’ve personally suffered from anxiety my entire life as far back as I can remember, to the point where I genuinely believed that it was genetic because nothing I did helped and even if it did I always had a light lingering anxiety in the background all the time. Finally, after years of dealing with anxiety and trying everything I could, I had the most difficult year of my life when everything changed for me, but it’s actually the first time I can say I’m free of that anxiety. In this post, I’m going to share ten tips on how to relieve or reduce anxiety.
So first, what causes anxiety? Anxiety is literally the effect of our body’s sympathetic nervous system (SNS), specifically the fight-or-flight response when our minds are trying to warn us of imminent danger. For our ancestors, this was useful because if, for example, they were being chased by a tiger, they need that SNS to alert them and bring them enough fear to run! The thing is, our minds do not know the difference between real or imagined danger. So even in a situation where a tiger is not chasing you, if you’re just imagining the worst-case scenario of your life, your mind will trigger that same SNS response and cause anxiety.
My first tip for dealing with anxiety is to pay attention to the cause. Any time you notice that a certain thought causes you to have anxiety, follow the thought through until you find the cause. This doesn’t mean to let yourself get consumed by that thought and imagine it like it’s happening and get anxiety…but just to notice and be aware of what really is causing it. This may seem easier said than done, and I know it is because I’ve tried it, but if you’re able to do this it’ll be one of the best things you’ve ever done for your anxiety.
This kind of ties in to my second tip, which is mindfulness, or awareness of the present moment without judging or resisting it. Focus on sensations in the present and find peace in presence. Look around and see that nothing is happening and that you are safe, and acknowledge that it is a temporary emotion that will pass. And then remember that whatever worst-case scenario occurs, you will still be in the moment, with yourself. If you can find peace in this moment, after all the worrying you’ve done in your life thus far, you can find peace in any moment in the future too.
My third tip for relieving anxiety is really the first thing you should do and the most well-known anxiety advice, and that is deep breathing and relaxation. When you’re anxious, your breathing may get quick and shallow, but if you pay attention to it you can take slow, deep breaths through your diaphragm until you’re able to focus on the cause of that anxiety and become present. You can also try progressive muscle relaxation, where you tense and relax each part of your body from your head to your toes, paying attention to how it feels until your entire body is relaxed.
Another thing that can help is imagery. Whether it’s guided imagery of a relaxing scene like being at the beach, or self-guided imagery like having fun with loved ones or imagining a situation in which you feel calm and peaceful, this technique can work wonders. In my video, I explain how you can even imagine your worst-case scenario turning into your best case scenario. Doing this easy little practice can help you detach from the situation, turn your negative fears into a positive hope, and even uplift your mood and make you feel more relaxed and hopeful.
My next tip is self-love. This is because sometimes anxiety also occurs when we care too much about what other people think. Remember that we are all doing our best and that no matter what you do there will always be people who disagree. If they’ll talk no matter what then you might as well do what is most authentic for you and once you are raw and real with yourself then you will not care what others think. Don’t be too hard on yourself, because self-love isn’t just physical like taking a bath or getting pampered. It’s loving yourself for trying your best even when you make mistakes and being gentle with yourself.
The next tip for anxiety relief is exercise. Exercises like yoga and stretching are great and relaxing, but something that makes a huge difference in people with anxiety is cardio and resistance training. Higher intensity workouts that raise your heart rate can help release the anxious energy and make you feel a lot less anxious in stressful situation. Regardless of what exercise you choose, make sure it’s consistent so you can reduce your overall anxiety level over time. The recommended time to exercise is 150 minutes per week, which can be divided up into 30 min/5x week or however you want to divide it up. The point is to not live a sedentary life, which can make mental health concerns like anxiety and depression even worse.
You may have heard of the saying, your gut determines your health. And that’s true, because the foods you eat and how your body digests them has a lot to do with your mood and ability to handle stress. Foods high in omega-3’s like salmon and avocados, yogurt which can hep with gut health, and herbal teas like green tea, lemon balm tea or chamomile tea can help specifically with anxiety. But overall, eating a healthy diet can help with long-term anxiety. This means plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes and lean proteins and whole grains. Reduce your intake of processed sugar, deep fried or other junk foods which can make your anxiety worse.
Do something. Sitting around and dwelling on anxiety is the best way to make anxiety worse! Recognize that anxiety is caused by thoughts in your mind, and then do something to distract yourself, and get out of your mind. Whether it’s meeting a friend, writing in your journal, partaking in a hobby or just spend time in nature, make sure you take action to help yourself feel better instead of letting the anxious feelings consume you. Getting up and doing something may be the last thing you want to do, but most of the time you’ll feel a lot more clarity and less anxious after you’re done.
You are not alone. Anxiety rates are higher than ever before, and a lot of anxiety these days comes from expecting perfection and seeing others on social media assuming they are living a better, happier or more successful life than you. But the truth is, people only post what they choose to show, which is usually the highlights of their life. Everyone has their own journey and there is not a single person who doesn’t have their own struggles.
If you’re always expecting perfection, or for some outward circumstance to bring you peace, then chances are you’re going to always have some level of anxiety. And if you’re someone who always avoids any and all negativity whatsoever completely, you’ll never learn how to face, process and successfully deal with challenges of life. But if you acknowledge that negativity, and anxiety, exists, then you’re more likely to accept it as part of life and actually feel less anxious over time.
My final tip is to seek professional help. Mental health has such a negative stigma attached to it that people are afraid of admitting they are anxious, and worried what other people may think if they see a therapist. But asking for help is not a sign of weakness- it’s actually a sign of strength. Getting professional help will provide you with more insight as to what exactly is going on and how you can develop the tools to effectively handle anxiety the next time you’re faced with a stressful situation.
I hope these tips were as helpful for you as they were for me. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these and if they work for you. What are some techniques you use to lower your anxiety that I didn’t mention? Talking about anxiety and other mental health topics can hopefully help us spread the knowledge and reduce complications secondary to mental illness…and maybe make us all a little bit happier.