When you’re in the grip of anxiety, it may feel like you can never get out of it. “Anxiety is a continuous stream of negativity that keeps interrupting your mode of thought and you find it hard to get away from,” says psychotherapist and author Dr. Tina B. Tessina (aka Dr. Romance).
If you find yourself stuck in negative thoughts, it can drain your energy and lead to harmful coping behaviors. However, if you can take proactive steps towards guarding against anxiety and learn tools to manage the negativity and fears, it can be transformative to how you live your life. We’ve asked several experts for their advice on managing anxiety in several key areas. See what tips can work for you so anxiety doesn’t leave you feeling trapped.
- Focus on eating whole foods.
“Recent research has now proved that an imbalanced, toxic gut causes toxicity in the brain, which can result in anxiety,” says Dr. Margaret Paul, a psychologist, bestselling author, relationship expert and co-creator of the Inner Bonding® self-healing process. “When you abandon yourself by eating factory-farmed and processed foods, as well as taking various drugs, you deplete your beneficial intestinal bacteria while feeding the opportunistic toxic bacteria. The toxicity in your gut then goes through the vagus nerve into the brain.”
- Drink a lot of water.
When your body is dehydrated, Dr. Paul says adrenaline will kick in to make sure the brain has what it needs, and that adrenaline can lead to anxiety. A common goal is to drink eight 8-oz. glasses of water each day; easy ways to meet that goal include drinking water right after you wake up in the morning, consuming water with each meal and carrying a reusable bottle with you so you can sip on the go.
- Get enough magnesium.
Many people have a magnesium deficiency to some extent, says Leigh Ann Lindsey, a holistic lifestyle writer. Replenishing magnesium levels with a supplement can reduce symptoms of anxiety, she says, and can also lessen migraines and headaches, improve sleep and ease muscle cramps, among other benefits.
- Monitor blood sugar levels.
Lindsey and Dr. Paul both agree that low blood sugar can lead to high anxiety. “When blood sugar drops, your body processes this as a mini emergency and that can create a cascade of effects, including the release of adrenaline and cortisol,” Lindsey says, adding that this is another reason to eat a healthy diet of whole foods. “Our modern diet keeps us on a blood sugar roller coaster and when it dips it can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression.” Another way Lindsey suggests to help regulate blood sugar: eat a spoonful of a high-protein or high-fat food, such as avocado or almond butter, every few hours.
- Ditch the caffeine.
Caffeine can be a huge contributor to anxiety, especially for people who can’t metabolize it quickly, Lindsey says. “That means caffeine has a heightened effect on the body and can lead to jitters, sweating, feelings of anxiety, etc.,” she says. “Cutting out caffeine after a slow withdrawal process can lead to improved sleep, reduced sweating, reduced anxiety and anxiousness throughout the day and more.”
- Incorporate physical activity in a daily wellness routine.
Getting enough exercise is a way to show yourself some love physically, Dr. Paul says, especially when it’s combined with a healthy diet, plenty of water and adequate amounts of sleep. For most healthy adults, the recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Any kind of exercise will do, says Anna Prudovski of Turning Point Psychological Services. “Go for a walk, do some yoga postures or stretch. That will help burn the restless energy created by anxiety.”
- Even a little exercise has a lot of benefits.
If you don’t have time to commit to an hour-long workout each day, don’t worry. You can still reap the benefits of exercise when you engage in short bursts of activity. “When you’re worrying a lot and feel stuck, one of the most helpful things you can do is get out of your head and into your body with some quick physical exercise,” says Dr. Roxy Zarrabi, a licensed clinical psychologist. “Some ways to do this include dancing in front of the mirror, running in place for a few minutes, going outside for a walk or doing 10 to 15 jumping jacks.”
- Get enough sleep each night.
When you are giving your body the sleep, exercise, and food it needs, you will be able to respond to worry in a more adaptive manner so the anxiety feels more manageable, Dr. Zarrabi says. Generally, most adults are advised to get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
- Create a healthy sleep routine.
Make sure you develop habits that encourage a good night’s sleep, says Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author and expert child psychologist on “The Doctors.” “Always go to bed at the same time and set your alarm for waking up at the same time. This gets your body rhythms used to a regular routine,” Dr. Walfish says. “Create a routine that winds you down in the evening and sets the mood for sleep. After dinner, dim the lights, turn on calming music and take a soothing, warm bath.” Make sure to avoid electronics such as your TV, tablet or smartphone; Dr. Walfish says they can rev up anxiety and the excitatory threshold instead of calming you down.
- Get to the root of insomnia.
If you have trouble sleeping and that exacerbates your anxiety, Dr. Walfish recommends visiting your doctor to rule out any medical conditions such as an infection or bladder problems.
- Eat sleep-promoting foods.
Dr. Walfish says foods rich in tryptophan can have a naturally calming effect that is ideal before bedtime. “Drink milk or eat turkey, cheese, yogurt or ice cream before bed,” she says. “Yes, there is truth to the old saying about hot milk!” Turkey and dairy, as well as almonds and pumpkin seeds, also have magnesium, which will relax your muscles and nerves while steadying the heart rhythm. Bananas are also rich in magnesium, as well as sleep-promoting hormones such as melatonin and serotonin. Other foods to try include oats and cherries, which have melatonin.
- Skip alcohol in the evening.
You may indulge in a glass of wine at night thinking it will help you relax and feel sleepy, but it actually is counterproductive for good sleep and can block tryptophan from reaching the brain, Dr. Walfish says. Instead, try chamomile tea before bed to encourage relaxation; add a little honey, whose glucose tells the brain to shut down orexin, the chemical that regulates wakefulness and arousal.
- Commune with your higher power.
This will bring you the love, compassion, wisdom, and strength you need to feel less anxious and alone, Dr. Paul says. “Loving yourself spiritually is learning to stay open and connected with your higher guidance so that you know how to take loving care of yourself in all of these areas. You will find yourself feeling peaceful and full rather than anxious when you learn to love yourself rather than continue to abandon yourself emotionally, physically, financially, organizationally, relationally and spiritually.
- Cultivate mindfulness.
Develop a focus on the present that will help you to stop worrying about the past or fearing the future. “Ground yourself and bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on each of your five senses,” Dr. Zarrabi says. Try guided meditation, deep breathing or rhythmic exercise such as tai chi; Dr. Zarrabi recommends this simple exercise to engage the senses. If you do deep breathing, don’t over-breathe, which can lead to more anxiety, Anna Prudovski says. “Concentrate on long exhalations; imagine that you are blowing out a candle or inflating a balloon. This activates our parasympathetic nervous system and helps us calm down.”
- Use a sauna.
Leigh Ann Lindsey says studies show regular sauna use reduces contributing factors to anxiety, such as high cortisol levels, chronic fatigue and lack of sleep.
- Take care of yourself financially.
Extreme over- or under-spending can cause financial stress. “When you obsess about money, allowing your wounded self to scare you about the future, you will feel anxious,” Dr. Paul says. “Loving yourself financially is making sure you earn enough money to take care of your needs, not putting yourself into credit card debt, letting yourself enjoy your life when the money is there and staying in the present rather than obsessing about the future.”
- Have a laugh.
Laughter can be the best medicine for anxiety, lessening our fears and worry. Victoria Tarbell, a licensed mental health counselor, and registered yoga teacher recommends watching reruns of your favorite shows. “So often, anxiety makes us feel like everything is out of our control, so finding comfort and familiarity through reruns can instill a sense of safety during our anxious moments; we know what’s going to happen and there are no surprises. This has the potential to be extremely anxiety-relieving, even if you’re watching ‘The One Where Ross Got High’ episode of ‘Friends’ for the 14th time.”
Being Present with Yourself
- Don’t judge yourself.
“Anxiety is often the way our inner child lets us know that we are abandoning ourselves rather than loving ourselves,” Dr. Paul says. “The anxiety is saying, ‘I’m scared and I feel rejected when you, my loving adult, are not here for me. I feel anxious and pressured when you judge me and tell me I’m not good enough or that I have to be perfect.’”
- Don’t make someone else responsible for your happiness.
Seeking approval from others makes you dependent on them for feelings of love and security, which can lead to anxiety. Dr. Paul says. “Loving yourself in relationships means speaking your truth and then either moving into an intent to learn in conflict or lovingly disengaging to take care of yourself. Loving yourself means taking full responsibility for your own feelings and learning to fully accept others.”
- Still your thoughts.
Anxiety can make your mind swirl with an overwhelming number of thoughts. To lessen anxiety, Tarbell suggests focusing on just one thing in your physical environment. For instance, have a cup of tea and truly experience the aroma, the temperature, and the taste. “When we focus on our sensations, it’s hard for anxious thoughts to stick around for long,” she says.
- Acknowledge the anxiety.
Dr. Tessina says it’s healthy to express your fear. She suggests talking through or writing down as many negative thoughts as possible, working with a therapist if needed. Consider each one and ask yourself if you can change it, or if not, are there alternatives to the issue. This process can help you feel in charge of yourself and the situation. Sell yourself on a positive outcome and consider what you will learn from it. With positive self-talk and a plan, you can feel calm, reassured and ready for forward movement.
If you are grappling with anxiety, it’s extremely beneficial to seek out professional help. Casa Palmera has an experienced and compassionate staff whose members are ready to help you move forward with positivity. Contact us today to help break anxiety’s grip on you.