When an anxiety attack strikes, it feels like all of the air has left your lungs and that the eyes of everyone within a one-mile radius are on you. Although it's difficult to break free from the thoughts that first triggered that feeling and it is something you may deal with for the rest of your life, there are some lifestyle changes that can help reduce anxiety.
When I first started to see a therapist to manage my drinking and the anxiety over my job that led to using alcohol as a coping mechanism, I learned that there are many toxic habits that are gradually increasing my anxiety. Addressing those toxic habits, however, isn't enough and it's important to seek medical help for anxiety. Once I did, I also learned that my doctor and I needed to come up with a treatment plan for my anxiety, and I committed to practicing other ways to calm down my naturally anxious self.
From learning proper deep breathing to the importance of a good night's sleep to keeping a journal, here are 21 small ways that you can relieve your anxiety. Try one, five, or all of these. Just do yourself a favor and don't let those anxious thoughts keep you from doing something that you know will better your life.
1. Practice Deep Breathing
One of the easiest ways to ease your anxiety is to start practicing slow, intentional belly-breathing, according to Psychology Today. Not only is it free and easy to implement, but you can also do it anywhere. Simply sit with your eyes closed and focus on breathing, preferably through your nostrils. Then place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest, take a deep breath for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of three, and exhale for a count of four. Concentrate on your breath and repeat this until your mind settles.
According to The New York Times, exercise is an essential lifestyle change to alleviate anxiety and stress. There are actually two reasons for this. First, it is a great distraction from stressful events. It also directly blunts the harmful effects of stress on blood pressure and the heart. If you're new to working out, start slowly and vary your exercise program. Try aerobic classes at the gym, do strength training, and don't forget about yoga. Even swimming can be an ideal exercise for many stressed people, including pregnant women, those with exercise-induced asthma, and anyone who has musculoskeletal problems.
3. Say "No" To Drugs And Alcohol
According to Mayo Clinic, it's best to avoid alcohol and recreational drugs if you want to help your anxiety since those substances can actually cause or worsen anxiety. During the height of my anxiety and stress a couple of years ago, I was using alcohol to manage my negative feelings. Since quitting drinking, I've found that it is much easier to stay calm and not spin out of control when anxiety inevitably hits.
4. Get A Good Night's Sleep
Going to bed early and getting a good night's sleep is one of the small steps you can take to improve anxiety. According to Psych Central, not getting enough sleep can actually trigger anxiety and make things worse. Instead, engage in a relaxing activity before bedtime, such as taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, or even just practicing that deep breathing from above. If your brain is buzzing just before bed, take 10 to 15 minutes to write down your thoughts, then go promptly to bed.
5. Practice Self-Care
According to the aforementioned Psychology Today article, practicing self-care is a quick tip that can change your anxiety forever. There's nothing quite like getting a massage, a mani-pedi, or even a haircut to make you look and feel a little more polished. If you can't afford the full treatment right now, head to a discount salon or training school for a quality service for those on a budget.
6. Challenge Anxious Thoughts
One of the hardest things about having anxiety is the constant flood of anxious thoughts. But you don't have to give in. Instead, the aforementioned Psych Central article suggested you work to change these thoughts. Your first step is to identify negative and anxious thoughts, then consider how they affect your feelings and behaviors, and finally ask yourself: Is it a helpful or unhelpful thought — one in which you're allowing yourself to believe an irrational thought that is far worse than it actually is.
7. Eat Healthy
Eating healthy, such as focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish, has been linked to reducing anxiety, according to the aforementioned Mayo Clinic article. Although there is still more research needed, there are some foods that are said to help your anxiety. According to Everyday Health, you should eat foods like turkey, beef, whole wheat bread, salmon, and Greek yogurt to ease anxiety symptoms.
8. Don't Drink Soda Or Smoke
Both nicotine and caffeine can worsen your anxiety, according to the aforementioned Mayo Clinic article. One of the reasons, according to the previously mentioned Psychology Today article, is that caffeine jacks up your central nervous system while soda depletes vitamins and minerals, then wreaks havoc on your teeth. All of this also won't help you sleep any better, either.
9. Use Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety, according to the previously mentioned The New York Times article. One of the main things that CBT focuses on is reversing negative ideas and learning how to focus on positive outcomes in order to reduce tension and achieve goals. Here is how it works: You identify the sources of anxiety, restructure your priorities, change your response to anxiety triggers, and finally find methods for reducing and managing anxiety.
10. Stick To Treatment (Like Therapy)
For some, managing anxiety includes medication and regular visits with a licensed therapist. The previously mentioned Mayo Clinic article stressed the importance of not only seeking treatment for your anxiety but also sticking to whatever treatment plan that you and your doctor have agreed on. Make sure that you keep taking medication as directed and keep those therapy appointments. Consistency makes a big difference when it comes to treating anxiety, so keep going.
11. Do Aromatherapy
If you haven't tried aromatherapy yet, what are you waiting for? According to the previously mentioned The New York Times article, the smell of lavender is associated with a calming effect, although there are other aromatherapies that are used for relaxation as well.
12. Limit Financial Stress
According to the same Psychology Today article, you also need to trim the fat from your budget in order to relieve anxiety. Financial stress can be very taxing on anxiety, and one of the ways to lower that anxiety is to cut debt that might be increasing those feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness. One way to do that is by taking charge of your finances to stop spending money on non-essentials. Do this by tracking your daily expenses for a week or two, then decide where you can cut back.
13. Keep A Journal
When my therapist first recommended keeping a journal, I thought it was silly. But keeping track of my personal life and feelings has helped me, and can even help a mental health professional identify what's causing your anxiety triggers, according to the previously mentioned Mayo Clinic article. Journaling can also be a good way to track what helps you to feel better, so that you can focus on those things instead.
14. Try Different Relaxation Methods
Along with aromatherapy, the previously mentioned The New York Times article recommended trying different relaxation methods in order to relieve anxiety and stress. Just remember that different things work differently for people, and a combination of relaxation methods may be best. You can try meditating with an app like Headspace, acupuncture to improve physical factors associated with stress, and hypnosis to relieve extreme stress.
15. Practice Positive Statements
According to the previously mentioned Psych Central article, engaging in positive, accurate statements can actually help to put things into perspective for yourself. Along with challenging negative thoughts, this is one of the bigger keys to overcoming anxiety. Remind yourself that anxiety is a feeling, just like any feeling, and you can practice positive statements in order to cope with it.
16. Get Rid Of Clutter Regularly
You can spend a lot of time looking for your lost car keys or worrying about when you'll have the time to tackle that pile of dirty laundry that has been stacking up. Getting rid of this clutter is a proven anxiety buster, according to the previously mentioned Psychology Today article. But it's not enough to clean your house regularly, you also haev to get rid of unnecessary stuff. According to Real Simple, clutter-busting secrets of the pros include acting like you're moving, going room-by-room, cleaning out for charity, and making organizing a team event with your family. Here's what you do to make your home tidier: Categorize your stuff into three piles. You'll want to either throw items away, donate items, or sell items. Do this regularly and your home will be clutter-free in no time.
17. Have A Support Group
One of the ways to cope with your anxiety is to find support, according to the aforementioned Mayo Clinic article. Joining a good support group can help to remind you that you aren't alone, and a support group can offer compassion, understanding, and shared experiences. Find a group through the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
18. Lean On Friends
Another way to find support for your anxiety is to socialize, according to the previous Psych Central article. A few ways to lean on others when anxiety strikes is to call a loved one, schedule a Skype or FaceTime date, or even go to lunch with a close friend. You can also get together to engage in an activity that will alleviate your anxiety, such as a mani-pedi date, heading to a yoga class together, or taking a walk outside.
19. Take Day Trips To Nature
According to the aforementioned Psychology Today article, planning a day trip to spend some time outside is a good way to give your mind and body a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle that causes your anxiety and stress in the first place. Even if you live in an urban environment, there is going to be some sort of quiet, serene, interesting, and charming place in nature within a couple of hours. Take a friend or a book, and head there for a day trip one weekend.
20. Pick Up A Book Occasionally
If you're taking a book on your day trip into nature, then why not just regularly pick up a book in general? According to the previously mentioned Psych Central article, not only is reading relaxing and one of the recommended activities to enjoy doing in order to alleviate your anxiety, but you can also read books that will help you learn more about your anxiety.
21. Accept Your Anxiety
Last but not least, the same Psych Central article recommended that you accept your anxiety. Although it may be easier said than done for those who have been dealing with anxiety for a long time, accepting it should come with some relief. However, accepting that you have anxiety doesn't mean resigning yourself to a life of misery. Instead, recognize that you have anxiety and observe it when it is triggered. Ride it like a wave of the ocean, closing your eyes to breathe as it comes in, experience it as you would the sea, and then ride it out. I know it can feel overwhelming, but taking all of these steps to alleviate your anxiety, and ultimately accepting it, can help you manage it in the long run.