Anxiety can be paralyzing. It can make your heart race, your hands sweat, and your stomach hurt. It can cause you to grind your teeth, bite your nails, lose a lot of sleep and feel like you are ready to jump out of your skin. Anxiety can create headaches, back pain, gastrointestinal issues, and many other physical problems. It can lead you down a destructive path as you engage in negative behaviors in search of relief.
There is a healthier way.
There isn’t just one way to reduce anxiety. There is a recipe. Below you will find a list of healthy ingredients. The recipe doesn’t require that you use them all. Pick and choose the ones that are right for you. You may want to start with one or two and then slowly add to your list. Practice, practice, practice until these positive ways to reduce anxiety become habitual. Remember, without change you won’t progress. Without progress, you stay anxious. If you continue to do the same thing you are doing, you may continue to feel the same way you are feeling. Maybe it is time to try something new and stick with it. Remember, change doesn’t always happen overnight.
18 Ways to Reduce Anxiety
- Practice deep breathing. Breathing from the diaphragm turns the fight or flight response into a more relaxed response. Deep breathing calms the nervous system.
- Calm yourself with your own voice. In a very gentle and calm tone of voice, tell yourself that you are safe. Speak to yourself the same way you would speak to a small child who is scared. Let go of shame. Anxiety is the result of your brain responding to real or perceived threat. Anxiety is not a weakness. Some of the most courageous people I know suffer from extreme anxiety due to the situations they have endured. Be compassionate with yourself.
- Visualize a safe place. Close your eyes. Picture yourself in a safe place. What do you see in this place? What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you taste?
- Do a body scan. Relax every part of your body as you slowly scan from head to toe. Notice where you feel tension and let it go.
- Accept that you are anxious. Rather than obsessing or trying to push away your anxiety, notice that it is there without judging it. Judging your anxiety and saying things like “This is stupid” and “I shouldn’t feel like this” will only make it worse. Observe your feelings, describe your feelings, and know that the uncomfortable feelings will eventually pass.
- Challenge your thoughts. Ask yourself the following questions. Are things really that bad? Am I in a life threatening situation? What is the worst possible thing that can happen? What is the likelihood of that happening? Could my nervous system be overreacting? Am I safe? Have I felt this anxious before? Did the feeling pass? Can I endure this feeling if I know it will pass? Could my brain be playing a trick on me?
- Exercise. Studies show that cardio exercise, weight training, and yoga all reduce anxiety. Fitness is an ingredient you don’t want to leave out of your recipe.
- Pray/meditate. Personally, this is the number one ingredient on my list. Actually, it usually goes like this. When I am under a great deal of stress and my anxiety is high, I like to start with a body scan, take several deep breaths, and then have a quiet conversation asking for peace. It is amazing how much calmer I usually feel. Then I say, “Thank you.”
- Remember your brain is overreacting. When we have gone through something scary in the past, our brain remembers, even when we think we have forgotten. Because our brain remembers, little things can trigger our nervous system to respond in big ways. At times when we are actually safe, our brain tells us that we are in terrible danger and our fight or flight response system is activated. It can help if we pause and recognize that our brain is overreacting and we are actually safe in the here and now.
- Eat healthy foods. Limit sugary and starchy foods. These foods can increase anxiety. Also limit the amount of caffeine you drink. Caffeine is a stimulant and will only make things worse. One of the worst things you can do if you are trying to decrease your anxiety is drink too much alcohol. Although alcohol may reduce your anxiety at the moment, it will cause your anxiety to spike later. Alcohol can turn anxiety into full-blown panic attacks. Watch what you put into your body. Veggies, lean proteins, and lots of water are always good options.
- Keep a box outside your bedroom door. If you have a difficult time sleeping at night because your mind is full of worries, imagine dumping your worries into an empty box outside of your bedroom door. You can pick up your worries in the morning if you would like, but for now, take a break from them so that you can get some rest.
- Redecorate. If you have been feeling anxious for a long time, a change of scenery can help. Your brain may associate your current environment with worry. Redecorating your room or even just moving some furniture around can help.
- Make a to do list. When your mind is full of worry, making a list of all the things that you need to do can help. Crossing things off your list will make you feel less overwhelmed and less anxious. Just remember that this only works if you apply some sort of action to your list.
- Declutter. A cluttered house can clutter your mind and increase your anxiety. Start with one room or even one drawer and take baby steps to declutter your living space.
- Change the aroma in the room. Smells are powerful things. Just changing the scent in a room can trigger a positive emotional response.
- Limit the time you allow yourself to think about the things that bring you the most stress. If you find yourself spending hours and hours obsessing about major stressors in your life, take a break and distract yourself. Watch a funny movie, have lunch with a friend, go for a walk, get creative.
- Practice gratitude. Make a list of all the positive things in your life. If you can still see, add it to the list. Can you hear? Can you walk? Have you loved? List anything that you would miss if it were gone tomorrow. Take time to appreciate today.
- Talk to a friend. Although it is not healthy to dwell on your problems, it is important to talk about them. Holding too much in can make you feel like you are going to explode. Talking to a friend can be very therapeutic in releasing some of your stress so that it doesn’t build up to intense levels.
To learn more about moving past your fear, check out my book, The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life. In this book, I cover how to let go of resentment, harsh self-judgements, and explosive reactions. The book also shows you how to live with vision and take baby steps to avoid becoming overwhelmed. If you are ready to let go of the negative and move forward in a positive direction, check it out. Now available on Amazon. Just click here to find out more.
Good advice! Love that praying is number one on your list as you mentioned. Thought I’d add this verse for that one…
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ – Philippians 4:6
Hope you are doing well, Kristin!
Thank you for this, Brian!