Occasional anxiety is normal and part of everyone’s life. The anxious feeling you get before giving a presentation at school or work, the butterflies-in-the-stomach when you head to a first date, or the trembling of hands when you head to a job interview, they are signs of occasional anxiety. Thankfully, these episodes quickly subside, and your life goes as usual, cheerfully and without worries.
However, when you suffer from an anxiety disorder, the constant nagging feeling of fear and worry doesn’t go away even when you’re at home surrounded by people who love you. It’s hard to control your emotions, and in time the sinking feeling you get grows worse. The emotions are so overwhelming and intense; it’s difficult to function in social settings.
40 million American adults (18% of people in this age group) have an anxiety disorder. The condition is treatable once diagnosed, but most times, therapists recommend medication and psychotherapy. But anxiety symptoms differ from a patient to another, and for many, some life adjustments can treat or reduce their anxiety without medication.
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This piece of news isn’t surprising; everyone knows exercise is a fantastic stress reliever. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America released a couple of studies that revealed that regular participation in group exercise (something like aerobic, Pilates, yoga, Kangoo jumps) could decrease the overall levels of tension, improve the mood, improve sleep, and grow self-esteem.
Your anxiety makes your mind jump to all the reasons why you shouldn’t join a group class at the gym, but your body needs physical activity, and you should listen to it and get out of the house.
When you exercise, your body releases serotonin and endorphins (natural mood-boosting chemicals). During training, you also breathe deeper, causing more oxygen to get into your bloodstream and travel to your brain. Your brain needs oxygen to function, and when it receives a boost of oxygen, it brings your mood to a calmer state. Whenever you feel down, listen to your body, it will guide you to leave the house and move. Even a mild 20-minute walk can impact your mood and help you feel calmer.
During anxiety episodes, you may notice some common symptoms like tensed muscles, shallow and rapid breathing, and quick heartbeats. Why? Your adrenal glands release adrenaline in your system, and your body perceives the reaction as a sign to get ready for danger. It doesn’t know it’s imagined. Therapists call it the fight or flight response, which is helpful if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, and you have to run for your life. Unfortunately, when you have anxiety, your body overreacts and produces this response daily, so it overwhelms your body and mind.
Deep breathing exercises can tell your body there is no real danger it should get ready for. Use your diaphragm to take deep, slow belly breaths, to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and relax. Yoga teaches you deep breathing to manipulate your energy and mood levels. They often use a method called the three-part breath that asks you to find a relaxed position, inhale deeply and softly, first in your belly, then in the ribcage, and last in the chest. Exhale in the reverse order and repeat until you calm your anxiety.
Therapists also promote the 4-7-8 breath method that doesn’t focus on the location of the breath, but on its timing. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds.
Pay more attention to what you eat
Research shows there’s a direct connection between your diet and mental health. Studies link specific foods to anxiety and other mental states. You can manage your anxiety by altering your diet. A plant-based diet, rich in seafood, and omega-3s can help you control anxiety. Adopting a healthy diet that provides your body with the right vitamins and foods can prevent anxiety.
It would help if you also tried to include in your diet the amino acid called tryptophan that plays a crucial role in your brain chemistry and influences depression and anxiety. Eggs, oats, poultry, soybeans, codfish and spirulina pasta are rich in tryptophan.
Lately, researchers have started to explore the connection between mental health and healthy gut flora. Some studies point out that healthy gut bacteria can prevent anxiety. A study from the Oxford University states that after taking probiotics for three weeks, the patients found it easier to ignore some negative stimuli and focus on the bright side. It looks like the people who take probiotics are less likely to deal with anxiety episodes.
Also, some natural remedies like herbs and spices can impact your mental health. Ginkgo biloba, valerian, skullcap, and ashwagandha are only some of the natural remedies known for treating anxiety. Chamomile tea and passionflower tea also have a positive effect on some anxiety symptoms. Cannabidiol can help with relieving mental health issues because it impacts the receptors of the endocannabinoid system. Hemp flower as a treatment for anxiety isn’t a new idea; researchers study its effects for some years and determined it has therapeutic potential. Some stores provide hemp products online to make purchasing CBD easier during social distancing. Be sure to talk to your therapist before using any of the above natural supplements.
Mindfulness and meditation
Meditation is one of the best ways to manage stress, and scientific studies back up its effectiveness. Brain imaging shows that meditation changes brain chemistry for the better. Dr Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School conducted a study that asked subjects to meditate 40 minutes per day, for eight weeks. At the end of the trial, they altered their brains and specific portions of their brain associated with emotional regulation, memory, and learning grew.
You need to meditate for 20 minutes daily to keep your anxiety symptoms under control. After a week you’ll register a response. YouTube videos can teach you the basics of meditation. If you suffer from severe anxiety, it’s best to enrol in a course of mindfulness for stress and anxiety reduction through your healthcare provider.