You feel stressed about a presentation at work and can’t get rid of impostor syndrome. Your friend blows up your phone to reassure herself about her relationship. Your mom hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks because she can’t stop worrying.
Generally, worry does not discriminate. But how it plays out for each of us is unique to us. “Stress tends to be more specific to external pressure that you’re aware of, and it’s short-term,” says Juliet Lam Kuehnle, clinical mental health counselor and author of Who are you calling crazy? ! The journey from stigma to therapy. Although stress can sometimes trigger feelings of anxiety, continues Kuehnle, anxiety tends to last longer and usually involves “anticipated anxiety of a future event”.
The experience of anxiety can be related to a specific identifiable or be more generalized. But the only constant is fear in response to uncertainty, says Robyn McKay, PhD, psychologist and executive coach in Scottsdale, Arizona. Although occasional anxiety happens to many of us, chronic anxiety can make you so preoccupied with the future that you find yourself unable to live with what is happening in the present. At work, for example, you may notice that you are unfocused, less productive, and lack creativity. Anxiety can also make it difficult to connect with friends and family, develop intimate relationships, and enjoy life, McKay says.
Although you can’t control the world or even your life, there are everyday anxiety factors that you can control in an attempt to calm your emotional state. If you suffer from chronic anxiety, a certified therapist can give you ideas, share advice and ensure that you are not fighting your fears alone.
9 Dos and Don’ts to Minimize Anxiety
1. Stay hydrated
You already know (and you’ve been told this many times) that getting enough water is essential for your physical well-being. But easing your anxiety can be another compelling reason to pick up your water bottle.
According to a study in the World Journal of Psychiatry, subjects who drank five or more glasses of water per day reported lower rates of anxiety and depression than those who drank less than two glasses per day. Although more research is needed, it can’t hurt to keep your glass or water bottle within sight at all times. If you still forget to sip, set an alarm every 30 minutes as a reminder.
2. Don’t Tell Your Brain to Stop Worrying
Chances are you’ve seen the meme that says, “Never in the history of calm has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down.” The same advice applies to how you talk to yourself.
Telling yourself to turn off negative thoughts is “like asking your nose to stop smelling or your ears to stop listening,” McKay explains. By trying to stop the thoughts, you draw even more attention to them, making it harder for your brain to disregard what caused your anxiety.
A better approach to disrupting negative thoughts is to focus your attention elsewhere, McKay says. The type of distraction that works best will be unique to you. One way to ease your fears about the future is to immerse yourself intensely in your present, whether that’s watching your coffee brew, getting lost in a book, journaling your thoughts, or focusing your full attention on what the other person is saying in a conversation.
Another way to focus your attention on what you’re doing is to move your body, which has other anti-anxiety benefits as well.
3. Get physically active
Your body cannot discern the difference between a real threat and something you perceive as a threat. This means that whenever you become 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 exact same response whether you barely avoided a car accident or were asked a question in a Zoom meeting when you weren’t paying attention.
While you can’t alter your physiological response, you can learn to reduce its severity, Kuehlne says. Regular exercise can help. A study of Affective Disorders Diary found that moderate and intense exercise, including aerobic activity and strength training, helped relieve anxiety symptoms in people with chronic anxiety. A study In JAMA Psychiatry also found an improvement in symptoms in subjects with generalized anxiety disorder who practiced yoga.
When it comes to how much exercise you “should” do, any amount of body movement is better than none. That could mean letting loose at a dance party between meetings, a class at the gym or yoga studio, or a day hike.
4. Don’t get sucked into Doomscrolling
No tells you to quit social media. But according to a recent study, when college students limited their social media use to 30 minutes a day, their anxiety levels went down.
“Anyone who experiences anxiety is likely to be affected by the scroll,” says McKay. But the researchers said the results were less about specific time spent online and more about being aware of how you interact with social media and making efforts to limit yourself. This includes being selective about who you follow, which means reducing your exposure to sensational reporting and embellished accounts that only show the “Instagram version” of life.
Also consider using social media for good, says McKay. Post or share things that inspire you or use it as a place where you can catch up with your friends.
5. Eat more plants
The relationship between food and your mood isn’t new — and something that’s probably been apparent to you since you were a kid. But recent search published in the 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 had significantly lower self-reported levels of anxiety and depression than omnivores. No further distinction was made regarding the specific admission of subjects.
It is well known and supported by science that some vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals reduce anxietywhich means that if you choose to reduce your meat intake, emphasizing unprocessed foods will help your mood more in the long run than seeking the temporary high in junk food consumption.
6. Do not abuse alcohol
The hangover is coming. 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 outweigh the side effects.
But sometimes the next morning screams at you with more than a headache. Hangxiety, short for hangover anxiety, is the name for the feeling of uncontrollable worry many suffer from after a night of drinking. The science behind it is complicated, but according to a study in the journal Personality and individual differencesthe body’s willingness to regulate itself after being intoxicated “may lead to increased anxiety during withdrawal”.
The only known cure for anxiety is prevention. When it is not possible to cut out alcohol completely, reduce your intake. Then, pay close attention or even a diary to 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 cut.
7. Schedule time to worry
Instead of adding to your anxiety by trying not to fall into worry, what if you indulged in your negative thoughts? Setting a scheduled time each day to worry gives you some control over the part of your brain that insists you consider every “what if.”
You can try keeping a diary of your negative thoughts during this scheduled time, McKay says. “Literally writing down what worries you helps change your perspective on what worries you,” McKay says.
Another approach is mindfulness meditation, in which you deliberately bring your attention to your breathing as you sit quietly. When your thoughts bombard you, which they will, just try to observe them rather than get caught up in your reaction. Then bring your attention back to your breathing. Repeat.
Your scheduled worry time may also include time spent in a therapy session.
8. Don’t skimp on sleep
No one is operating at their maximum emotional capacity when they are not sleeping well. But those who are prone to anxiety tend to be particularly susceptible to the effects of insufficient sleep, making it more likely you’ll experience those unwanted symptoms, anxiety, according to the Sleep Foundation.
Not only can sleeping less negatively influence your mood, but anxiety can also cause you to sleep less, creating a particularly frustrating cycle. Adults are generally recommended to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, although your sleep needs are as unique as your anxiety. It may help to understand some of the most common misconceptions about sleep.