Lifestyle

Originally written for
livestrong

Many people consider being anxious a weakness, which needs to be suppressed or conquered. They try to distract themselves from their anxiety and insecurity by staying busy, pushing themselves harder or by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Consequently these emotions don’t get adequately addressed and eventually cause greater emotional and physical challenges.

However, even if you don’t feel ready to take anti-anxiety medication or start psychotherapy, there are a number of lifestyle choices you can make, which can help you to reduce your anxiety levels.

Exercise:

Several studies clearly demonstrated that regular exercise reduces stress and anxiety, stimulates positive emotions and improves alertness and overall cognitive function. This can be in part explained by the release of the mood enhancing neurotransmitters serotonin and endorphins during exercise. In addition, regular physical work-outs build confidence and self-esteem and thus contribute to an overall feeling of empowerment.

Researchers found that a 10 minute walk can be as effective as a 45 minute work-out in the gym. When starting to get into an exercise routine, it appears more important to aim for daily consistency of moving the body for 10-20 minutes, rather than having a vigorous two hour workout on the weekends. Other helpful tips to get more physically active are to recruit an exercise buddy, to try out forms of exercises that may be fun (such as yoga, martial arts or dancing) and to be patient especially when establishing an exercise routine.

Nutrition:

It is well-established that certain dietary changes can reduce anxiety symptoms. This starts with limiting the consumption of caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar, which all can increase the risk of anxiety attacks. Equally important is to eat regularly, because low blood sugar can worsen anxiety symptoms.  On the other hand, a well-balanced diet, consisting of fresh vegetables, whole grains, chicken and fish has shown to be mood stabilizing. Since dehydration can trigger anxiety it is recommended to drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water.

Sleep and relaxation:

A healthy sleep routine can decrease the likelihood to experience anxiety. This includes keeping a consistent bedtime schedule, which should be early enough to get seven to eight hours rest, as well as avoiding unnecessary stimulation through watching TV, checking e-mails or surfing the internet at least 45 minutes before going to bed. Unwinding at the end of the day by reading an uplifting book, listening to relaxing music, journaling about the day or practicing a simple breathing meditation, can also improve sleep quality.

Work-life balance:

Being overwhelmed and overscheduled is one of the major triggers for stress and anxiety. Prioritizing and planning ahead, keeping healthy boundaries with work obligations, as well as creating enough space to pursue hobbies or spend time with friends and family are key components to establish a healthy work-life balance. Mini-vacations, unscheduled time during the week-ends and brief “power-naps” in the afternoon can also contribute to creating a greater sense of harmony and well-being.

Support:

People often feel embarrassed about their anxiety, which they perceive as a weakness or flaw. Consequently they try to hide their emotional struggles and tend to isolate themselves more, which only increases the sense of being “different”. The first step to healing is acknowledging the problem. Thus sharing the feelings and challenges with family members, friends or professionals, such as therapists or coaches, not only alleviates the loneliness it also can be the starting point to overcoming anxiety.

References:

Is it true that certain foods worsen anxiety and others have a calming effect?
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/expert-answers/coping-with-anxiety/faq-20057987

Association of Physical Exercise on Anxiety and Depression Amongst Adults
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26208566

Stress and anxiety interfere with sleep
http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/stress-and-anxiety-interfere

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