7 ways to reduce anxiety
Some people say that anxiety is part of life and it is, in a way. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. In the stressful, busy world we all inhabit, anxiety is what keeps you aware of danger and helps you to understand risk. This is all well and good if you’re in a dangerous or risky situation, but when anxiety becomes a daily occurrence, then it can cause more harm than good to both our physical and mental wellbeing.
Anxiety can present itself in a number of ways, including increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and trouble with focus and concentration, or present as tingling in the hands and feet - it can be different for every person depending on the stressor, their genes, and even environmental factors. If anxiety reaches a point where it is hard to control, or when it diminishes your quality of life, it could indicate an anxiety disorder such as GAD (generalised anxiety disorder), social anxiety disorder, or even post-traumatic stress disorder.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, you should consult a medical professional so that you can get the best possible treatment, be that cognitive behavioural therapy, medication, or ways of learning how to manage your symptoms. These include things like diet, exercise, and sleep, which might help you to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, and improve your wellbeing.
How can I reduce my anxiety?
Limit your caffeine consumption: Let’s talk about coffee. Whilst a cup of coffee in the morning might help to wake you up and give you focus, if you have chronic anxiety caffeine may only serve to exacerbate your symptoms. This is especially true if you have a panic disorder, where caffeine consumption may well induce panic attacks. Caffeine can block the chemicals in your brain which make you feel tired, prompting alertness, but if this is coupled with chronic anxiety then it can make you even more jittery (Ferré, 2008).
Keep active: Keeping an exercise routine can help to improve your mental health as well as your physical health. I’m not saying you have to become a world famous bodybuilder, or anything like that, but maintaining a level of physical exercise can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Studies have shown that people who exercise more tend to have reduced symptoms of anxiety. This might be because exercise can distract from what’s causing the anxiety, or because increasing your heart rate through exercise can alter your brain chemistry. This allows for more anti-anxiety chemicals, such as serotonin, to work in the brain, helping to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. If that’s not enough, regular exercise, and sticking to a workout routine, can help to improve your focus, concentration and willpower, which can also help to reduce feelings of anxiety (Anderson and Shivakumar, 2013).
Limit your alcohol consumption: Alcohol is technically a sedative, which might well seem to take the edge of your anxiety for a little while. However, it’s also thought that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to an increase in the symptoms of anxiety. Heavy drinking disrupts your neurotransmitters, and an imbalance here can lead to an increase in certain symptoms of anxiety. It’s also been shown that decreasing alcohol consumption can improve the symptoms of both anxiety and depression (Charlet and Heinz, 2016).
Quit smoking (if you do!): If you’re a smoker, then you might well reach for one when times get stressful, but what you might not know is that smoking can worsen your anxiety over time. This is because some of the chemicals, including nicotine, which are present in cigarettes may alter our anxiety defences and pathways in the brain, leading to great anxiety the longer you smoke (Moylan et al., 2013)
Improve your sleep pattern: We all need to prioritise sleep, as most of us are likely not getting enough. Adults should be aiming for between 7 and 9 hours sleep per night to help with our wellbeing and mental health. There are a number of simple ways you can improve your sleep, like not using electronic devices before bed (or in bed, let’s be honest), keeping your room dark and cool, and heading for bed at the same time each night. You might even find that a weighted blanket can help you to drift off to sleep (Ford, Cunningham and Croft, 2015).
Balance your diet: Some artificial ingredients, such as sweeteners and flavourings, might be responsible for certain mood changes. If you’re noticing that your anxiety heightens after eating, then this might be the same for you. Diets which are highly processed, especially those which are high in sugar, might also have an effect on your mood or symptoms of anxiety. You might find that your blood sugar levels and dehydration are also impacting on your mood, so staying hydrated and eating a whole foods plant-based diet may help to improve your mental wellbeing and reduce symptoms of anxiety. Sipping a cup of chamomile tea might well be the answer to a lot of anxiety related problems, alongside a balanced diet. It is believed that chamomile might help to regulate the body’s response to stressors, as well as regulating the neurotransmitters responsible for mood (Mao et al., 2016).
Supplement with Omega-3: Certain supplements, like Omega-3 fatty acids, can work with the brain to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. These fatty acids help to regulate certain neurotransmitters in our brain, including dopamine and serotonin. It is also believed that a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, can reduce inflammation around the brain and prevent cell dysfunction, which is more common in people with anxiety. Research also suggests that Omega-3 can help your brain adapt to external stressors and changes which might otherwise have caused a spike in anxiety or panic symptoms (Su, Matsuoka and Pae, 2015). Vivo Life’s plant-based omega-3 liquid supplement contains all the DHA and EPA you need from sustainably grown algae, to help improve your mental wellbeing, as well as having a positive impact on your physical brain health.
Anderson, E. and Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry, [online] 4(27). doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027.
Charlet, K. and Heinz, A. (2016). Harm reduction -a systematic review on effects of alcohol reduction on physical and mental symptoms. Addiction Biology, 22(5), pp.1119–1159. doi:10.1111/adb.12414.
Moylan, S., Jacka, F.N., Pasco, J.A. and Berk, M. (2013). How cigarette smoking may increase the risk of anxiety symptoms and anxiety disorders: a critical review of biological pathways. Brain and Behavior, [online] 3(3), pp.302–326. doi:10.1002/brb3.137.
Ferré, S. (2008). An update on the mechanisms of the psychostimulant effects of caffeine. Journal of neurochemistry, [online] 105(4), pp.1067–79. doi:10.1111/j.1471-4159.2007.05196.x.
Ford, E.S., Cunningham, T.J. and Croft, J.B. (2015). Trends in Self-Reported Sleep Duration among US Adults from 1985 to 2012. Sleep, 38(5), pp.829–832. doi:10.5665/sleep.4684.
Su, K.-P., Matsuoka, Y. and Pae, C.-U. (2015). Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Prevention of Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, [online] 13(2), pp.129–137. doi:10.9758/cpn.2015.13.2.129.
Mao, J.J., Xie, S.X., Keefe, J.R., Soeller, I., Li, Q.S. and Amsterdam, J.D. (2016). Long-term chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized clinical trial. Phytomedicine, [online] 23(14), pp.1735–1742. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2016.10.012.