Kylee Nelson is a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Fulfilled Motherhood Counseling. View profile
Anxiety is that feeling you experience with a tightness in your chest, those worry thoughts spiraling through your brain and that jittery feeling going through your body. Often, it’s accompanied by a feeling that things aren’t going to work out and that something is going to be terribly wrong. Sometimes anxiety comes when there is a real threat – however, often it comes when we are experiencing immense amounts of stress and aren’t sure how to cope. Something as small as waking up late for your day or something as big as a global pandemic can trigger anxiety.
Lucky for us – there are many small, practical lifestyle changes and in the moment strategies we can use to overcome our anxiety.
4 Lifestyle Changes to Help with Anxiety
1. Eating and Drinking – We need to make sure we are properly nourishing ourselves and providing ourselves with energy so our bodies can function well. This means eating every 3-4 hours and drinking half your body weight in ounces of water each day. If you aren’t currently doing this, I would suggest you start here and see how you feel.
2. Sleep – When we are under stress, we require more sleep than usual. If you were previously well rested with 6-7 hours of sleep but now find yourself waking up tired and groggy, shift your schedule to allow for 8-9 hours of sleep. When we run on little sleep, our nervous systems suffer and this can cause an increase in anxiety.
3. Movement – Getting daily movement in our lives is so important for optimal mental health. Every time you exercise, you release endorphins which are chemicals that tell your brain you are happy. Go for a walk. Do some yoga. Play with your children in the backyard. You don’t have to have a full workout plan to get in some daily movement.
4. Quiet Time/Rest Time – We all require some quiet, restful times in our days and weeks to feel our best. Different people require more or less of this than others, so it’s important to find what works best for you. This could be a quiet walk alone, some time to read scripture and pray or some time for meditation. It could also be an afternoon a week where you have nothing on your schedule, and you can do whatever feels right in the moment. Just create some breathing room in your schedule for yourself.
4 Things To Try When Anxiety Strikes
1. Box Breathing – Doing breathing exercises helps calm your nervous system and lower anxiety. Box breathing is a style of breathing and holding your breathe shown to help lower anxiety. You breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts and hold for 4 counts. Repeat 2-3 times as needed.
2. 5,4,3,2,1 technique. This is my favorite one when you are struggling in the moment with panic or starting to feel overwhelmed. Look around and say (out loud or in your head) 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you taste. Don’t get overwhelmed if you can only come up with 1 smell or 2 things you hear. The goal is to engage your senses and help bring your anxiety down.
3. Worry Time. If you are in a particularly hard season of life or you find yourself a natural worrier, it can help to set aside specific time each day to think about these worries. The idea is that by setting aside this time, you will give your mind time to process and prevent these worries from taking over your day to day life. You set a timer for 10-20 minutes, get a journal or go for a walk and let yourself think through all the things you’re worried about. At the end of the time, close the journal or turn around and walk in a new direction and you’re done worrying for the day. If the thoughts come back remind yourself that you can think about them again tomorrow and move on to something new.
4. Stop and Distract. Sometimes we worry about things we have no control over or things from the past. We worry about getting sick. We worry about what someone thinks about us. We worry about that thing we said last week and how it was taken at work. In these instances, it can be helpful to stop your thoughts and distract yourself with something else. You can picture a bright red stop sign in your mind, say STOP out loud or in your head and repeat a positive mantra to yourself or think of a funny story. This can be a helpful way to shift your mind, and in turn, shift your mood.
When figuring out ways to cope and conquer your anxiety, it’s important to remember 2 things. First, these things take time. Pick one or two strategies and try them for a week or two before you decide they don’t work for you. Second, not every strategy works for every person. If you’ve given it a try for a week or two and are finding it’s not helping, move on and try another strategy.
If you find yourself really struggling after trying to make some positive lifestyle changes and trying out some of the coping skills above, it could be time for you to reach out to a licensed therapist in your area who can help you create a specific plan to fit your lifestyle to work through and conquer your anxiety. There is no shame in seeking help. You are not alone. Over 280 million people worldwide struggle with anxiety. There is help and you can feel better.
Short Article Review
- Over 280 Million people worldwide struggle with anxiety. Only 1/3 of those people get adequate professional help
- Lifestyle changes like changing your sleep, eating and drinking habits, getting movement and creating quiet space in your week can improve your anxiety.
- There are quick, easy strategies such as deep breathing, worry time and others that can help you calm down when you’re feeling panicky or overwhelmed.
- If you try these lifestyle changes and coping strategies but still find yourself struggling, there is no shame in getting help.
- A licensed counselor in your area can help you create a plan to fit your needs and your lifestyle so you can start feeling better. Anxiety is not your fault. There is help. You can feel better.
The information in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about any medical condition.
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