8 unexpected things you should and shouldn’t do if you live with anxiety

July 25, 2023 0 Comments

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You’re feeling stressed about a presentation at work and can’t seem to shake the imposter syndrome. Your friend blew up your phone looking for reassurance about their relationship. Your mom hasn’t slept properly for weeks because she can’t stop worrying.

As a general rule, excitement does not discriminate. But how it happens depends on each of us. “Stress tends to be more specific to external pressures that you’re aware of, and they’re short-lived,” says Juliet Lam Kuhnle, a clinical mental health counselor and author of Who are you calling crazy?! A journey from stigma to therapy. Although stress can sometimes cause feelings of anxiety, Kühle continues, anxiety tends to last longer and usually involves “anticipated anxiety about some future event”.

The experience of anxiety may be related to a specific identifiable situation or may be more generalized. But one constant is the fear response to uncertainty, says Robin McKay, Ph.D., a psychologist and coach in Scottsdale, Arizona.

While occasional anxiety happens to most of us, chronic anxiety is less common but more debilitating, causing you to be so preoccupied with the future that you can’t feel what’s happening in the present. At work, for example, you may find that you are less focused, less productive, and less creative. Anxiety can also make it difficult to connect with friends and family, develop intimate relationships, and appreciate life, McKay says.

Although you can’t control what happens to you, there are some everyday factors that contribute to anxiety that you can influence in an effort to calm your emotional state. If you think you may be suffering from chronic anxiety, finding a certified therapist can provide helpful information and ensure that you are not facing your fears alone.

8 Surprising Dos and Don’ts to Reduce Anxiety

1. Stay hydrated

You already know (and have been told many times) that drinking enough water is essential to your physical well-being. But calming anxiety can be another good reason to grab a water bottle.

According to the study in World Journal of Psychiatry, subjects who drank five or more glasses of water per day reported lower anxiety and depression scores than those who drank less than two glasses per day. Although more research is needed, it doesn’t hurt to keep a glass or bottle of water in sight at all times. If you still forget to take a sip, set an alarm every 30 minutes as a reminder.

A quote about anxiety

2. Don’t tell your brain to stop worrying

Chances are you’ve seen a meme that says, “Never in the history of calming has anyone calmed down when told to calm down.” The same advice applies to how you talk to yourself.

“Telling yourself to turn off your negative thoughts is like telling your nose to stop smelling or your ears to stop listening,” McKay says. By trying to stop the thoughts, you draw even more attention to them, making it harder for your brain to ignore what caused your anxiety.

A better approach to overcoming negative thoughts is to focus elsewhere, McKay says. Which type of distraction works best is up to you. One way to calm your fears about the future is to immerse yourself intensely in your present, whether that means watching your coffee brew, immersing yourself in a book, writing down your thoughts in a journal, or focusing your full attention on what the other person is saying.

Another way to focus your awareness on what you’re doing is to move your body, which also has other anti-anxiety benefits.

3. Be physically active

Your body cannot tell the difference between a real threat and what you perceive as a threat. This means that whenever you feel anxious, your sympathetic nervous system automatically activates, your body goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode, and your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing speed up. It’s the same answer whether you narrowly avoided a car accident or were asked a question during a Zoom meeting while you weren’t paying attention.

While you can’t change your physiological response, you can learn to reduce its severity, Kuhlen says. Regular exercise can help. Research from Journal of Affective Disorders found that moderate to strenuous exercise, including aerobic activity and strength training, helped alleviate anxiety symptoms in those with chronic anxiety. Research in JAMA Psychiatry also found improvements in symptoms in subjects with generalized anxiety disorder who practiced yoga.

In terms of how much exercise you “should” be doing, any movement in your body is better than none. This could mean a dance party between meetings, a yoga class, or going on a hike.

4. Don’t get caught up in Doomscrolling

“No” means to leave social networks. But according to a recent study, when college students limited their social media use to 30 minutes a day, their anxiety levels decreased.

“Anyone who experiences anxiety is likely to be affected by the scroll,” says McKay. But the researchers clarified that the results are not about the specific amount of time spent online, but more about being aware of how you interact with social media and making some effort to limit yourself. This includes being picky about who you follow, which means reducing exposure to sensational news and flashy accounts that only show the “Instagram version” of life.

Also, consider using social media forever, McKay says. Post or share what inspires you or use it as a place to catch up with your friends.

5. Eat more plants

The connection between food and your mood is not news, but it has probably been obvious to you since childhood. But recent research published in Annals of medical research suggests a surprising correlation between a plant-based lifestyle and anxiety.

Researchers surveyed hundreds of people about their emotions and found that vegans and vegetarians experienced significantly lower levels of anxiety and depression than omnivores. No further distinctions were made regarding the subjects’ specific consumption.

Certain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals are well known and scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, which means that if you decide to cut down on meat, focusing on unprocessed foods will improve your long-term mood more than seeking the temporary high of junk food.

6. Do not abuse alcohol

Hangovers happen. Maybe you were out with friends and lost track of how many beers you drank. Or you knew it might catch up with you, but you thought the night would be memorable enough to make up for any side effects.

But sometimes the next morning screams at you with more than just a headache. Hangxiety, short for hangover anxiety, is the name given to the feeling of uncontrollable anxiety that many people suffer from after a night of drinking. The science behind it is complex, but according to a study in the journal Personality and individual differencesthe body’s desire to regulate itself after intoxication “can lead to increased anxiety during withdrawal.”

The only known cure for anxiety is prevention. If it is not possible to give up alcohol completely, limit your consumption. Then pay special attention or even write in a diary how much you consume and how you feel the next day. You may be surprised by the patterns you notice and your ability to recognize the optimal cutoff.

A woman sits on her bed and writes in her diary to relieve her anxiety
(Photo: PeopleImages/Getty)

7. Plan time for worries

Instead of increasing your anxiety by trying not to worry, what if you indulged your negative thoughts? Setting a daily schedule for worrying gives you some control over the part of your brain that insists you think about every “what if.”

You can try journaling about your negative thoughts during this scheduled time, McKay says. “Literally writing down what you care about helps shift your perspective on what you care about,” says McKay.

Another approach is mindfulness meditation, in which you deliberately pay attention to your breathing while sitting quietly. When your thoughts bombard you—and they will—try to simply observe them instead of interfering with your reaction to them. Then return your attention to your breathing. Repeat.

Your scheduled care time may also include time spent in therapy.

8. Do not skimp on sleep

No one is performing at their peak emotional capacity when they are not sleeping well. But those prone to anxiety tend to be especially sensitive to the effects of not getting enough sleep, making it more likely that you’ll experience unwanted anxiety symptoms, according to the Sleep Foundation.

Not only can lack of sleep negatively affect your mood, but anxiety can cause you to sleep less, creating a particularly nasty cycle. It’s generally recommended that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, although your sleep needs are as unique to you as your anxiety. This can help clear up some of the most common misconceptions about sleep.

About our contributor

Karen Asp is a well-known journalist who specializes in health, fitness, food, travel and animals. It was widely published in many leading publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, O, Real Simple, Eating Well, Women’s Health, Prevention, and more. She is also an author Anti aging hacksa certified personal trainer and Nordic walking world record holder who spends her free time rescuing and fostering dogs.

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