Worry is a natural part of life. It helps us prepare for the future and avoid harm. By considering what we worry most about, we can even use worry to help us define our values and achieve our goals. But for some, too much worrying can hijack our brains make us feel, well…out of whack. Instead of keeping us in line, we become over-stressed and anxious.
Nearly 42 million Americans experience some form of this ongoing, heightened state of worry: anxiety. This may show up in different ways for different people – while some may have racing thoughts or a fear of the future, others may notice a tight chest, changes in heart rhythm, or digestive issues. In most cases, whatever the symptoms, this anxiety negatively affects the individual’s everyday life.
Anxiety can stem from any combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and developmental factors. Medications are available to mute the symptoms of anxiety, but there is no pharmaceutical cure.
But there is good news! Whether you experience mild, occasional bouts of anxiety or are suffering from a more chronic anxiety disorder, there are several natural tools you can start using today to manage your symptoms, address the root of the problem, and restore your calm.
1. Use Food as Medicine
- Include a healthy source of protein in your breakfast. This will keep your blood-sugar levels balanced (i.e. less mood swings) and prevent that “hangry” feeling.
- Remember to drink water throughout the day as dehydration can cause mood imbalances.
- Get your fair share of zinc, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, B Vitamins, and folic acid.
- Incorporate probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kefir, miso, or pickles. These may be particularly helpful for social anxiety.
2. Find Your Rhythm
One of the easiest ways to start to manage your anxiety is through diet. Food can be amazing medicine and by taking a closer look at what we’re putting in our mouths, we can start to choose foods that will improve our lives – rather than impede them.
Once you’ve got your diet cleaned up a bit, get your routine in order. Stress and anxiety are often triggered by feeling overwhelmed, out of control, unprepared, or lost. When we are unsure of the next day’s tasks or don’t have the flexibility in our schedules to allow for change, anxiety about our capability to take on these challenges arises. Take back your control and get into a comfortable rhythm with your daily habits so that you can rest easy.
Routine in the bedroom: Maintain healthy sleeping patterns by going to bed about the same time every night, and waking about the same time every morning. Eliminate any unnecessary lighting in your room (glare from street lights or digital clocks), refrain from using your phone, tablet, or computer an hour before bed. Start a nighttime routine and perhaps factor in some meditation time.
Routine in the kitchen: At meal times, focus on your delicious food and try to stay away from your various screens here as well. Taking time to enjoy your meals and eat with a clear mind has a bigger impact on health and digestion than you may think. The gut is a major influencer on our emotions through what is called the enteric nervous system. Over 500 million neurons make up this system that links our digestive system to the brain.
Ever have a “gut feeling” or felt sick to your stomach after hearing unpleasant news? Get in a fight over dinner and lose your appetite? Then you have experienced this amazing neural connection. Use this system to your advantage by making meal time a positive, focused priority. Your mind (and gut) will thank you.
3. Get Moving
We often think of the physical body when we consider the benefits of exercise; weight loss, strength building, muscle toning all come to mind. But that’s just the beginning. Regular exercise can transform a hectic headspace and put you on the path to presence, clarity, and an anxiety-free life. Like acupuncture, laughing, and sunshine, exercise releases the body’s feel-good endorphins and calms the nervous system.
Exercise is one of your best allies and does not have to involve hefty gym fees or a brand new activewear wardrobe. Even a few minutes of brisk walking, gentle stretching, or – if you really want to get out of an anxiety rut – dancing around the house can be enough to reduce anxiety and prevent future attacks.
Getting regular exercise might not be just another way to fight anxiety – it might even be crucial. Studies find that inactivity is strongly correlated with the development of anxiety disorders. Pent-up energy, high concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, and a weakened immune system are all side effects of a sedentary lifestyle – and precursors to anxiety, depression, and other mood imbalances. The take-away lesson here: move your body, free your mind.
4. Find Your Zen
Meditation is a secret weapon when it comes to anxiety management. Alongside acupuncture and exercise, it can have an immediate effect on your mental state as well as a long-term effect to help treat chronic anxiety. It only take a few minutes of breathing exercises and meditation techniques to lower your heart rate and relax the mind.
Meditation helps you return to the moment. Much of our depression and anxiety come from either rehearsing the past or forecasting the future. When you stop to meditate on the present moment and focus your breathing, you consciously decide to jump off of that anxious hamster-wheel and relish in the serenity of the now.
Practice meditation regularly and you will change the way your brain reacts to stress. By default, you greatly reduce your susceptibility to anxiety and panic attacks and have power over your mental atmosphere. Meditation can be done anywhere, whenever, and without spending a dime.
5. Salute the Sun
The sun is a powerful thing. Humans have relied upon if from the dawn of time, and it can be a pretty great mood booster to boot. It calls us out of our hibernation and into the great outdoors to reconnect with nature.
Sunshine also provides us with much needed Vitamin D. When considering mood and mental health, Vitamin D is responsible for regulating the genes that release serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
These two neurotransmitters put you at ease and make you feel happy. Without sufficient Vitamin D, these will out of balance and cause changes in the brain tending towards depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a common example of how the lack of sun and vitamin D can cause depression and mood swings. Having adequate exposure to the sun’s glorious rays will keep our circadian rhythms in check and help us to better manage sleep, stress, and mood.
6. Make Time to Gather
People are not meant to live in isolation, yet so many of us do in our modern age. Families are often scattered across the country, and many of us talk to a computer screen all day rather than other living, breathing people.
Unfortunately, anxiety often makes it even harder to get out and meet with others. Some may suffer from social anxiety, while others may find it too hard to manage their other anxieties to even think about socializing. Whatever camp you may fall into, it is a good practice to make time for a community you feel comfortable with.
If the thought of going out with friends or spending time with family makes your heart flutter, try volunteering for a cause you believe in. There is an immense power in devoting your time to help others; you can let go of the anxious banter in your head to focus on those in need. Plus, you will meet other like-minded individuals that share your passions and grow your own sense of community.
7. Deploy the Tiny Needles
People all over the world are turning to acupuncture to manage their anxiety. Acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating anxiety has gotten a lot of press lately and there is always new research being done on the subject. Acupuncture is free of side-effects and helps to balance the whole individual to treat their anxiety.
During an acupuncture treatment, endorphins are released as a result of the insertion of the needles. These endorphins immediately relax your nervous system and put a damper on anxiety. This feel-good effect can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. With regular treatment, the body is constantly coaxed into relaxing and eventually learns to self-soothe. We are re-wiring the brain to respond, rather than react, to our triggers in a mindful way. Thus, less anxiety and happier days.
No acupuncture treatment is solely focused on any one symptom. Acupuncturists view the body as a huge collaborative network and we are always seeking out the root of the problem. While anxiety may seem like a general term, people actually experience it in varying ways and two cases are exactly the same. The beauty of acupuncture and herbal medicine is that they can dig deep to treat the unique cause of anxiety in each person.
An acupuncture treatment will effect your whole body. This means that while you are seeking help for anxiety, you might also find that other seemingly unrelated issues disappear. It also means that your body is learning how to prevent anxiety in the first place, rather than just cover it up.
Well, friends, there you have it. Seven attainable lifestyle practices to ditch your anxiety and start living in the moment. If anxiety is affecting your quality of life, work these natural habits into your daily schedule. It might be easier than you think, and you can start right away.