You feel stressed about a presentation at work and can’t seem to shake imposter syndrome. Your friend blows up your phone seeking reassurance about her relationship. Your mom hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks because she can’t stop worrying.
As a rule, worry doesn’t discriminate. But how it plays out is unique to each of us. “Stress tends to be more specific to an external pressure that you’re aware of, and it’s shorter-term,” says Juliet Lam Kuehnle, a clinical mental health counselor and author of Who You Callin’ Crazy?! The Journey from Stigma to Therapy. Although stress can occasionally trigger feelings of anxiousness, Kuehnle continues, anxiety tends to be longer lasting and typically involves “anticipatory worry of some future event.”
The experience of anxiety can either be related to a specific identifiable situation or it can be more generalized. But the one constant is fear in response to uncertainty, says Robyn McKay, PhD, psychologist, and executive coach in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Although occasional anxiety happens to most of us, chronic anxiety is less common yet more debilitating, causing you to become so preoccupied with the future that you find yourself unable to experience what’s happening in the present. At work, for instance, you might notice that you’re unfocused, less productive, and lacking in creativity. Anxiety can also make it difficult to connect with friends and family, develop intimate relationships, and appreciate life, says McKay.
Although you can’t control what happens to you, there are some everyday contributors to anxiety that you can influence in an attempt to soothe your emotional state. If you think you might suffer from chronic anxiety, seeking out a board-certified therapist can provide helpful insights and ensure that you don’t struggle through your fears alone. Below, we've compiled some tips from our friends at Outside to help you chip away at the stress in your days.
6 Small Ways to Minimize Anxiety in a Big Way
1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
Another study in the World of Psychiatry Journal found that those who consumed 5 or more glasses of water a day had lower feelings of anxiety and depression than those who drank two or less glasses per day. Although, as with all studies, more research is needed, always having a water bottle within your reach seems like the smart move. If you’re more on the forgetful side, setting reminders every half hour or hour to rest and rehydrate for a few minutes is a good solve for that.
2. Refrain From Telling Your Brain to Stop Worrying
There’s a good chance that at some point in your life you’ve been told (or learned the hard way) that telling someone to “relax” will likely never result in them fulfilling your request. It makes sense, then, that telling yourself to do the same isn’t helpful, either.
Saying that to yourself is “like asking your nose to stop smelling or your ears to stop listening,” says McKay. By trying to forget or ignore something, you’ll remain focused on it, and your efforts will have the opposite effect.
A better bet is to focus your attention on something else entirely, says McKay. Whatever that is will be unique to you and what works for you. When fearful of the future, try to hone in on the present, whether that’s watching the steam rise as you cook dinner, watching a movie, journaling, or talking to someone and focusing entirely on whatever it is they’re saying.
Another way to pay attention to what *you* are doing is to get some movement in, which brings a host of other upsides to the table all on its own.
3. Get Active
Your body really can’t discern an active threat from a perceived one. As a result, your nervous system activates either way, you enter fight or flight or freeze, while your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing all elevate. Think of avoiding a fender-bender at the last second, or getting called on in class when you weren’t paying attention -- it’s just like that.
Although you can’t change your physiological response, you can learn how to lessen the severity of it, Kuehlne says. A regular regiment of physical activity can do that trick. A study from the Journal of Affective Disorders found that exercise, including focusing on strength or cardio, aid in lessening the effects of chronic anxiety. In another recent study, JAMA Psychiatry saw improvements for yoga practitioners in relation to their anxiety disorder as well.
Many times, the question of “how long” or “how much” can stop any number of people from exercising at all -- but always remember that something is always better than nothing. Walking a few extra laps around the office, or up and down the street outside your home are both great baby steps that will give you a taste of what a little movement can do for you.
4. Avoid All Doom Scrolling
We’re not telling you that you have to walk away from all social media forever, but recent findings noted that college students who limited their usage to a half hour daily reported notable decreases in their anxiety.
Researchers highlighted that improvements weren’t so much centered on the amount of time you spend online, but rather on the awareness of what you’re consuming, how you’re interacting, and effort made to limit your intake. This might look like being more select in the accounts that you follow, i.e. less sensational/breaking news and fewer influencers who tend to only post the bright spots in life.
Instead, share content that is special to you, or use it as a tool to stay connected with your friends and family.
5. Eat Plants
We all know at this point that eating vegetables is quite important when it comes to a plan for health and wellness. But recent findings from the Annals of Medical Research infer an interesting connection between a heavily plant-based diet and anxiety.
Using hundreds of vegans and vegetarians as a sample size, researchers found that they reported significantly lower levels of anxiety than those with other diets. Beyond those two classifications, no other specifications were made regarding intake.
It’s been found that various phytochemicals, minerals, and vitamins reduce stress, so by limiting your intake of meat, your diet can inform a sizable share of your mood more than the passing high of consuming junk food.
6. Limit Alcohol Consumption
Nobody likes hangovers. We often barter with ourselves, believing that the memories will be worth it in the long term, but even so the effects on your body and long term anxiety -- past just one rough morning -- will ripple outward far beyond just the one day.
But sometimes the morning after screams at you with more than a headache. Hangxiety, short for hangover anxiety, is the name for the sense of uncontrollable worry many suffer after a night of drinking. The science behind it is complicated, but according to a study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the body’s drive to regulate itself after being intoxicated “can lead to increased anxiety during withdrawal.”
The only known cure to hangxiety is prevention. When it isn’t an option to cut out alcohol entirely, curtail your consumption. Then pay careful attention or even journal about how much you consume and how you feel the next day. You might be surprised at the patterns you notice and your ability to discern your optimal cutoff.
Regardless of your diagnosis from a medical professional, we hope these tips help you take back control of your days and help you start building the dreams that anxiety has been holding you back from.
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