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The Daily Battle with Anxiety: Some Tips and Tricks

Purposes and Natural Benefits of the Right Amount of Anxiety: We all feel anxious feelings at some point in our lives. In fact, to some degree anxiety serves an important role in our lives. It’s one of the many emotions that our brain uses to take care of us, as uncomfortable as it is. Thanks brain! Anxiety can keep us safe from threats in our environment, whether that be keeping us away from potentially dangerous animals, unsafe heights, dangerous situations with other people, and etc. It can also be a natural response of warning about dangerous and hurtful experiences we’ve already encountered in life. It’s our brain’s way of telling us, “Hey, remember last time, let’s not do that again.” The right amount of anxious feelings can also motivate us to keep on task, perform well, prepare adequately for an upcoming event, and help us to accomplish goals in a timely manner. And lastly anxiety is a signal that you can learn to pick up on telling you that this thing you’re feeling anxious about is likely very important to you in some way.

But what can I do if anxiety is disrupting my life? Here are a few tips on how to manage.

  1. Sleep hygiene: Making sure you get enough rest is essential for overall health. A lack of sleep actually activates an overproduction of Stress Hormone as your body lives in a heightened state of threat and survival.

    1. Create a regular sleep routine for yourself to teach your body when it’s time to calm down.

    2. Ideally avoid as much blue light as possible an hour before bed (your body recognizes blue light as wakeful light), meaning getting off your mobile devices and not watching tv before bed can be helpful.

    3. Take it easy on the caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and can activate wakefulness for hours after it’s been consumed. If at all possible stop drinking caffeinated beverages around early mid-day.

    4. Practice mindfulness for 5-15 mins before bed. There are plenty of youtube videos to teach you mindfulness and body scanning if you’re not sure how to do this.

    5. Listen to calming music such as binaural music.

    6. Take a warm shower or bath before you go to bed.

    7. Limit food intake late at night as this signals energy production to your digestive system rather than rest.

  2. Keep a worry journal and explore unwritten rules: Typically this can be done right before you go to bed, though we all need to find what individually works for us. Often those that experience anxiety have a difficult time sleeping because they’re unable to turn off intrusive and worrying thoughts. Go ahead and give yourself permission to stop worrying by writing down what you’re worried about in a journal. This communicates to your brain that you’re taking the worries you’re feeling seriously, but that there are only specific times and places during the day where you’re going to allow yourself to worry and problem solve. Putting pen to the page is also a good kinesthetic way to allow yourself to process through fear.

    1. Explore Unwritten Rules: As you journal, also explore unwritten rules in your mind. Example: “I must be perfect if I am to go out in public, perfect looking, perfect intellectually, perfectly performing, perfectly outgoing, and etc. Write them down, and assess their validity.

  3. Get Enough Exercise: It isn’t an end-all-be-all to life’s problems but exercise is one of the best medicines you can participate in. This can look like anything that is enjoyable to you that stimulates your muscles and your cardiovascular system such as walking, swimming, biking, climbing, lifting weights, playing a team sport, etc. Exercise kicks are reward center into gear and though it may not be super comfortable, we inevitably feel better about ourselves afterwards because it produces feel-good-hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. It doesn’t just help us feel good, but it’s just overall good for us. Research has shown that exercise can produce the same effects as antidepressant medications without the side effects for many people. It’s one of the things I ask all of my clients about because it’s so important and useful.

4. Self Care: Doing something for you, that you enjoy, every day is important for overall health and can relieve anxious thoughts. Think hobbies and comforting behaviors like taking a walk or getting a massage, or taking a warm bath.

5. Gather Social Support: We are social creatures that need each other in order to maintain health. Hanging out with friends and family, and creating new relationships releases oxytocin (the connection hormone) in our bodies that helps us feel valued, wanted, and safe.

6. Begin to Build Resilience: Oftentimes, anxiety prevents us from participating in the life activities that are important to us because we are afraid of particular outcomes. It shows up in many forms that are unique to each of us whether that be social, general, and/ or specific fears. Anxiety is like a fire-alarm, most of the time, it goes off when there is no actual threat present.

  1. Practice asking yourself, “Is there an actual physical threat present that will hurt me right now?” If there is, then decide to fight or flee of course! More than likely you are probably not experiencing an actual physical threat, so go ahead and breathe through, and practice telling yourself, “I’m ok right now and I’m safe.”

  2. Begin to desensitize yourself from non-threats. When we refuse to participate in life behaviors that are important to us, it strengthens our over-cautious brain’s assumption that what you are avoiding is actually dangerous. Instead do small things and work your way up to bigger accomplishments. If you’re afraid of being judged in crowds of people, maybe instead start with spending time in a small close friend group that you trust in a safe environment like a game night. Then slowly move your way up to bigger gatherings. This helps your brain realize that being around people is generally safe, and that you will generally be welcomed and accepted.

  3. Do something slightly anxiety provoking and watch as you survive. Slowly your brain will begin to trust you, and trust the world around you again, as you have positive experiences over time.

7. Practice Acceptance: Anxiety is worrying about worrying. And ironically as we worry about worry, that worry only grows stronger. Rather than using every ounce of strength you have to fight anxiety off, instead try practicing acceptance and curiosity.

  1. I accept that life is full of risks, but those risks are worth taking in order to accomplish what is important to me and living fully!

  2. I will not use all of my resources to fight off my fears because I need the majority of my resources to enjoy life instead.

  3. I accept that I’m feeling anxious right now, and that’s ok. I can handle it. Bring it on. I am capable of handling this emotion and it’s one of the costs of living well and moving forward in the world.

  4. Allow your anxiety to “say it’s piece.” Be curious about what it has to say but don’t take it too seriously.

  5. Remind yourself that you are not your feelings. They may be powerful but you are the master of your own ship and ultimately you can choose how to respond.

8. Get Help: Therapy isn’t necessary for every situation but it can definitely be helpful to get help from someone who is trained to help you separate your complicated feelings and thoughts and experiences and process through them. Sometimes we need a little help and that’s ok.

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