What is anxiety?
Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response when we feel that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Most people feel anxious at times, and it's particularly common to experience some anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life.
Anxiety can be triggered by a variety of things and the experience of anxiety can really vary from individual to individual. Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem if your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time, you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious or if you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Symptoms of anxiety can range from breathlessness and panic attacks, to nausea, headaches, grinding teeth and sweating or hot flushes. Within this article, we’re going to explore a few ways to help manage the symptoms of anxiety, to help you find those moments of calm within your day.
10 Ways to Reduce Anxiety
One of the most effective ways to reduce stress and anxiety levels is to take conscious, deep, abdominal breaths. Intentional breathing can help to calm your mind, reduce tension and keep your blood oxygenated. Proper breathing techniques can directly reduce inflammation levels in the body, even helping to support your immune system - so even more important during winter. Here’s a breathing exercise you can try; find a quiet spot in your home or your office, place your hands on your belly and breathe into your abdominals. Feel your belly raise as you breathe in, then breathe out slowly. Repeat as many times as you like until you start to feel calmer and more relaxed. If you’d like to take this a step further, try breathing in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 6 - this extended exhale helps to activate our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest, versus fight and flight) to increase those feelings of calm.
2. Challenge your thoughts
While there are important concerns in life that may need more of your attention, anxiety tends to distort the implications of our actions and decisions. Try to remember that much of what we worry about won’t happen. Stop, think and question if your thoughts are actually ‘true’ and try to reframe how you see them. Is this stressor or anxious thought something that’s actually important, or are my thought processes making it seem worse than it is? If you can challenge your thoughts and identify the truth versus the anxiety, this can help you to let go of unhelpful thoughts and find a little more calm.
3. Connecting with nature
Another 2010 study by the University of Technology in Sydney found significant reductions in stress when plants were introduced to offices and workspaces. Results included a 37% fall in reported tension and anxiety; a 58% drop in depression or dejection; a 44% decrease in anger and hostility; and a 38% reduction in fatigue. So adding nature to your indoor environment, and connecting more with the great outdoors could be a wonderful way to reduce feelings of anxiety.
A recent report in the Mental Health Journal found that gardening is an effective way to reduce stress and improve mood, with a significant reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
5. Reduce your caffeine intake
Do you often drink cup after cup of coffee or tea? Excessive intake of caffeinated drinks can make you jittery and cause an increase in your heart rate, raised blood pressure, anxiety and trouble falling asleep. Try switching to decaffeinated options, like decaf coffee or a calming chamomile tea, to reduce your anxiety levels.
6. Focus on the present
When a worrying thought comes up, actively switch your focus to what’s around you. Focus on your breathing, and what you can see and hear. If you have more time or if the anxiety is constant, then mindfulness or a guided meditation might help.
7. Try to get enough sleep.
Sleep can give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences. Creating a calming bedtime routine can help to signal to your body and your mind that it’s time to unwind. Things like a warm bath, reading a book before bed or listening to relaxing movement can all help to reduce those feelings of anxiety.
8. Think about your diet.
Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. If your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, irritable and anxious. Eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your sugar levels steady. Slow-release energy foods include: pasta, rice, oats, wholegrain bread and cereals, nuts and seeds.
9. Physical activity.
Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins - chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers - which can boost your mood and reduce feelings of anxiety. You don’t need to do a long high intensity workout to feel the benefits - a brisk walk, a calming yoga class or a 10 minute boxing session could all help to get those feel-good endorphins going. Try a 7 day free trial with My Self-Care Sanctuary to dip your toe into yoga classes, suitable for all experience levels.
10. Ask for help
Sometimes chatting to a friend can be a great way to support your mental health and relieve feelings of stress and anxiety, and sometimes more support is required. If you broke your leg you’d speak to a medical professional and get support - so why should it be any different for your mental health? There are plenty of free services available to help you navigate difficult times - call your GP, contact a national support line like the Mind infoline (0300 123 3393) or find local mental health charities through Hub of Hope. Whatever you’re going through, the support you need is out there.
Mental Health Review Journal, 2013: ‘A review of gardening-based interventions for people experiencing mental health difficulties reported that benefits include a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety and an increase in attentional capacity and self-esteem. Key benefits include emotional benefits such as reduced stress and improved mood.’
Anderson E, Shivakumar G. Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Front Psychiatry. 2013;4:27. Published 2013 Apr 23. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027