Wednesday, October 22, 2014

20 Tips for Reducing Anxiety

Photo by Mariana Zanatta -
 licensed through Creative Commons
Tip#1: Exercise
Tip#2: Hydrate
Tip#4: Your Caffeine Intake
Tip#5: Monitor Alcohol Intake
Tip#6: Monitor Refined Sugar
Tip#7: Plan Your Menu
Tip#8: Work with Your Mind
Tip#9: Scan your Body
Tip#10: Complete Unfinished Emotional Business
Tip#11: Meditation Practice
Tip#12: Get Massage or Body Work Done
Tip#13: Relax Your Body through Heat
Tip#14: Talk to a Professional
Tip#15: Emote!!
Tip#16: Are you an introvert or extrovert?
Tip#17: Anxiety and Young Children
Tip#18: Get Outside!
Tip#19: Get Distracted
Tip#20: Less Screen Time
Through my own experience, anxiety can be very debilitating. At first I didn't even realize what was happening. I was overwhelmed with nausea, insomnia, hot flashes. I thought it was my hormones even though I'm nowhere near peri-menopausal. I went through hormone and thyroid testing until my doctor suggested I take an anxiety workshop. The workshop itself was only the beginning of my journey around anxiety. Over the past two years, I've uncovered many tidbits that have not only had me feel less anxious, but virtually eliminated my anxiety altogether. Whenever I start to get a tinge of it in my body, I immediately turn to the tips below and am able to work through my tension without it escalating.
Throughout my journey, I also knew I wanted to work through my own anxiety without any sort of medications. My discoveries took a few years, but over time, I've realized that they work. I'd love for others to benefit from my hard-earned tips. Please let me know if they do.
Lastly, I am certainly not a doctor or therapist. I'm a working mother, wife, and friend who has gone down into the hells of anxiety and returned to tell the tale.
Photo by Mariana Zanatta - licensed through Creative Commons
Do at least 15-20 minutes of sweat-inducing exercise each day. You don't need to get to the gym; sometimes that's even more stress-inducing. You can find a short amount of time to walk - perhaps from your car to work or work to your car. You can put on music and boogie wildly around your house. You could do yoga or jump rope, find stairs to climb up and down.
I discovered a fabulous app called You are Your Own Gym. Sometimes I do 16 minute sweat-inducing workouts that require ZERO gym equipment. My 3 year old sometimes tries to get in on the action, too! There's not yet the toddler or preschooler version of You Are Your Own Gym, but I hope Mark Lauren creates those.
Photo by The Shopping Sherpa - licensed through Creative Commons
I've found that hydration is really important for my body. When I'm not hydrated, my body simply doesn't function as well, and that means it's more receptive to stress in my life.
I know everyone is different, so I don't have specific quantities to recommend. I truly think it relates to your physical constitution, time of year, and how much exercise you're getting. Instead, I recommend drinking enough water (not herbal teas or other drinks) to feel well-hydrated (pee should be clear or light straw-colored).
If you are feeling dehyrdated, add emergen-c or nuun electrolytes (no sugar in these). I always try to keep the sugar content down, so double check sugar quantities on drinks like gatorade.
The second piece of this is that when I don't sleep well, I find I want to reach for more caffeine. If I still limit caffeine but hydrate really well, I find I actually have more energy. It's definitely something for you to experiment with.
Tip#3: Sleep!
Get enough sleep. How do you gauge that? I find if I'm constantly waking tired, then I look at my sleep. If I'm constantly getting six hours a night, then I know it's not enough. Chronic sleep stresses out my body and makes everything more difficult.
If I'm suffering from insomnia, then I look at a few things. First, how much caffeine am I drinking and when was my last caffeine intake? Secondly, am I getting exercise? Exercise almost always makes me sleep better. Thirdly, am I hydrated? Again, my body can't relax well when I am not hydrated. Next, I look at what's going on in my life. See my tip below about unfinished business. What conversations do I need to have? Lastly, if I can't actually sleep, then I focus on relaxing my body. Look at my meditation tip. I absolutely love the free iPhone Yoga Nidra Lite app. Sometimes I plug myself into it and listen to it over and over - which usually has me fall asleep. At the very least, it relaxes my body.
How much caffeine do you drink? If you're feeling anxious, slowly wean yourself off of caffeine. Move from coffee to black tea to green tea to white tea. Each incremental change will lessen your caffeine intake. If you're looking for good substantive substitutes, try Rooibos (red tea) or Revolution Tea's Honeybush Caramel. Both are delicious and full-bodied.
Photo by Toshiyuki IMAI licensed through Creative Commons
How much alcohol do you drink each day? International drinking guidelines suggest drinking no more than one serving of alcohol a day and two servings for a special occasion. In addition, alcohol and anxiety have been linked in many studies. So, while you might think that 3-4 beers is going to help you out, it does backfire in the long run. In addition, as I see it, drinking alcohol doesn't actually mean you've done the work you need to do in order to work through your anxiety. The real work is around taking care of your body, monitoring your stress, and guiding your mind out of negative ruts.
Check labels whenever possible and monitor your refined sugar intake. You'd be surprised at how much sugar is in processed foods! While you can get immediate short-term energy from sugar, you also get the backlash - fatigue and sluggishness post-sugar. When your sugar levels skyrocket and plummet, your body can release adrenaline and cortisol which cause anxiety. So, as much as possible, stay away from sugar. Notice when you are craving it, and try to fill in the gaps with fruit (which also contains natural sugar, but is still a far sight better than refined sugar).
A little bit of menu-planning can provide many rewards. First, by planning 5-6 dinners in advance, you can make a grocery list, buy ALL of the ingredients, then know you have everything to make what you need. Secondly, you can actually make sure you have fresh food in your house. Thirdly, when your body is in a state of stress, it is always helpful to put healthy food into it. On the one hand, fast food is fast. On the other hand, it's not nearly as healthy as the food you can make at home. I personally love to visit Skinny Taste and Epicurious for simple recipes. When I eat better, I feel better, and that always helps with my anxiety.

Where do your thoughts go? Notice if you are looping on something that stresses you out. This means, are you having the same thoughts over and over and over again? Consider memorizing a short mantra (expression) that you can run through your mind instead of focusing on something that is stressful for you. I find a short mantra derails the negative thoughts and makes me feel a lot better.
A mantra can be something simple like a phrase from the bible or a short poem that you find inspiring. It could be an inspiring quote from someone you know or a famous person. Whatever it is, start reciting it silently (or out loud, if you need to!) when you find your brain is on the hamster wheel again.
Here's a great page with complete instructions in passage meditation and some sample passages. Some of the passages are pretty long. I find that 2-3 regular length lines are a good start. If a passage is too short, your mind can get bored and multi-task. If it's too long, it can be burdensome.
Throughout the day, do body scans. Where is your tension? Breathe into it deeply. Several times. Allow your body to let go. Don't be paranoid about the stress, instead be grateful. Your body is giving you important information about the world outside and inside of you. Perhaps you find certain situations or people stressful. Now is the time to breathe into that tension and then let it go.
Throughout the day, I take a look at where I have stress in my body and when it happens. Does it happen when I'm speaking to specific people? Do I need to resolve anything with them? Does it happen in certain locations? What are my associations there? Where is the tension in my body? What does it feel like? Tight? Tingly? Hot? I put my attention there, try not to resist anything, and then breathe and let go. With each millimeter of stress I release, I congratulate myself for letting go.

Here is a method for letting go of stress. Take a deep breath and fill your lungs. Hold for 2-3 seconds, then slowly exhale. At the bottom of the breath, hold for 2-3 seconds, then slowly inhale. This is one cycle. Do 20-40 cycles, and I guarantee you will feel more relaxed and grounded afterwards.
What conversations and unfinished business do you have with people around you? I often feel that "unfinished business" weighs us down and stresses us out. Take time to make a list and see what people you need to talk to. See what conversations approaches you must have and where you are nitpicking. If you are unable to talk to that person, then write him/her a letter. Let go of what isn't serving you!
Consider a meditation practice. Some meditations are minutes long (like passage meditation) whereas others could last 30 minutes or more. One meditation practice I like is an iPhone app called Yoga Nidra Lite. It's free and contains a 10 minute meditation. In fact, I liked it so much, I actually bought the full version which has 30, 20, and 10 minute variations. Check it out:Yoga Nidra App
Photo by spookytw licensed through Creative Commons
Get some massage, bodywork, or acupuncture done. For discounted bodywork, check out:
*Community acupuncture for dirt cheap.
*Massage schools for discount massage.
*Look at groupon/google/Amazon local deals for discounted bodywork.
If you can't afford it, create your own massager! Use two tennis balls taped together. Put them side by side and tape together with duct tape or filament string tape to make a tennis ball back massager. Here's a great tutorial on how to make a tennis ball back massager. After it's made, Lie on the ground on top of the balls and run the balls up and down your spine (alongside your spine). The balls have perfect placement to release stress. A single tennis ball used between you and a wall can also be great for working out knots.
If you can't get to a hot tub or take a bath, use a hot water bottle or heating pad. Sit down and use this on your back to help you relax. The name of the game is letting go of stress. I find it really helps me to unwind. Sometimes the heat also has me ONLY focus on the heat and nothing else that's going on in my mind.
This is also a great way of doing a meditation. The heat is relaxing, your mind is focused on it, and you are able to actually let go of the outside world. This is really key in working through anxiety.
Consider talking to a therapist/counselor/social worker. I found it invaluable to work with a social worker throughout my anxiety. She was absolutely amazing in listening and reframing my challenges. I no longer felt so alone, plus I got some good tips about working through my busy life as a full-time working mother, wife, friend, and daughter.
Many cities have low-income counseling available if your funds are limited. Also check your insurance to see what they offer. At the very least, check out this anxiety handbook. It has many great exercises for you to pinpoint what's going on in your life and why you are experiencing anxiety.

Cry. Yell. Scream. Let go of stress. Don't hold it in. This all burrows down into your body and stays there . . . until you are willing to let it out. Find a place to let go, be that in your car, into your pillow, or outdoors in some remote spot. When you are there, let 'er rip. Don't be shy. Likely, no one is watching you.
Do social activities leave you feeling energized or depleted? Add or take away as needed. Sometimes we feel totally obligated to attend events, see people, and socialize. For some of us (like me), I can come away feeling depleted and overwhelmed. For others, NOT getting out means feeling lackluster and anxious. If you're not sure where you stand, check out a Myers-Briggs test online.
Having young children can be amazing and exhausting. If they are just learning to crawl or walk, you're on the go as much as they are. As another mother said to me, "So much joy; so tiring." If you have young children, consider books like The Preschooler's Busy Book or The Toddler's Busy Book to help keep your children occupied when you need a break. Also consider - if you can afford it - helpers like you might find through Urban Sitter and for odd jobs, Task Rabbit. Lastly, find out where the closest parks and playground are, so you all can get outside.
Photo by Sweetplove
Get outside and if possible, go to nature. Check out the parks in your neighborhood. See where the closest lake, stream, river is. Are there trees nearby? Go to them. At the very least, feel the wind on your face instead of being inside all day. I find if I can get away from the craziness of the city, my whole body relaxes. If it's possible to take my shoes off and walk on the earth or grass, then I try to do that, too.
This may sound like a strange suggestion, but sometimes we are so caught up in our anxiety that it's hard to snap out of it. In these cases, I find that watching an uplifting movie like Up can actually be helpful. That movie in particular has always left me feeling better than when I started watching it.
Another possibility is getting out and seeing some live performance. Goldstar has some great discounts and a weekly email.
Screen time is stimulating, there's no doubt about it, and these days, we spend a lot of time checking our phones and tablets and computers.  There's less down time.  Take some time to become conscious of how much you're checking your screen, then make some choices.  Start with meal times.  Stop checking your phone then.  Think about bedtime.  At least an hour before sleep, turn off the screen.  Take a bath.  Stretch.  Read a book.  Journal.  Find something else to do that just isn't so "on."

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