Anxiety: Ten action steps you can take today

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Anxiety disorders are treatable. The sooner you get help the faster your recovery. By taking 10 small steps you can change your reaction to stress and gain a greater sense of control.

Anxiety can often feel “paralyzing.” It’s not that you can’t move your muscles; instead, you mentally overthink things. At work, you may worry obsessively about missing deadlines.  Socially, you often avoid situations that might make you feel embarrassed, judged or analyzed.  Sleepless nights, indigestion and fatigue become part of your norm. Even your closest friends seem “different” to you. And for some people anxiety does not get better- rather instead, it can get worse over time.

Anxiety “once in a blue moon” is perfectly normal and can naturally be part of everyday life-for instance, right before a big exam or when public speaking. But, when anxiety is “on” more days than not and has begun to take over your life- it is time to do something about it.

Don’t let anxiety overpower you. Take the following 10 steps:

  1. Identify your fears. Knowing your fears gives you the power to diminish them. Anxiety results when you can’t identify what’s bothering you.

2.  Challenge your fear. For you are a decision maker. Only you can control it by the decisions you make, the decision to not let your fear control you.

3. Turn your fear and anxiety into calming thoughts. Instead of racing thoughts, that worsen your anxiety.

Do this with me now:  Take a slow breath in, then breath out and tell yourself the following:

  • “I can see the positive to this
  • “This too shall pass”
  • “There is no harm that will come to me”
  • “I can do this”  (I’ve don’t it before)
  • “It’s not that bad”  ( I can do it again)
  • “I can feel myself calming and relaxing now

4.  Work on your breathing and visualization. Clear your anxious thoughts as soon as they begin.

Do this with me now:  Imagine you are at the ocean.  The size 10 wave that is coming toward you is your fear- but you are letting it in, acknowledging it and then sending it to crash out to the sea, while exhaling deeply. Count down from 10 to 1 while you take in a deep breath with every number you count down to. Continue downward until your fear and anxiety is nothing but a ripple.

5. When you are feeling tense relax your muscles. Tense muscles tense your mind and will only make anxiety “feel” even worse.

Do this with me now:  Practice progressive relaxation by systematically contracting and relaxing your muscles. Begin with your feet and work your way up to the muscles of your face. Take a deep breath in with each contraction and then breathe out once you relax the muscles.

6. Visualize yourself as calm and relaxed.

Do this with me now:  Close your eyes. Use an off switch, a switch that you will imagine right next to you at all times, so that you only have to turn it off when you are feeling stressed. First imagine the switch is in the on position. When you turn the switch to the off position, you can feel yourself going calmer and more relaxed. Mentally turn off the switch. 

7. Get enough sleep. A rested mind is more capable of handling the stressors of the day. Get a full 8-9 hours of sleep per day.

Take a daily 10-30 minute power nap. Studies have shown that power naps can reduce information overload, boost your memory, and improve your work day performance. According to a 2009 Journal of Sleep Research study, naps can improve your moods, sleepiness and fatigue. But keep it short and take it before 2pm to prevent an interruption of your natural night time sleep.

8. Get regular exercise. When your body feels strong and healthy, so does your mind. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel good brain chemicals that can elevate your mood and spirits. And Exercise has also been shown to be clinically effective for treating panic disorders and depression.

9. Eat healthy. What increases stress and burn out is a bad diet. Especially skipping meals, eating too much sugar and drinking too much caffeine can make you feel nervous and jittery. The perfect storm to set off anxiety.

Instead eat foods high in Omega 3 essential fatty acids, such as fresh salmon or ground flaxseed meal. Mounting research indicates Omega 3’s can “stave off” anxiety- as well as depression and inflammation in the body.

Vitamin B6 is important for your nervous system, too. It helps your brain make serotonin, which can affect your mood. You can increase your consumption of vitamin B6 by consuming sunflower seeds, nuts, fish and dried fruits.

10. Why not try acupuncture? The alternative therapy, acupuncture, has demonstrated an ability to reduce anxiety and stress.

Previously, the mechanism by which acupuncture reduced stress levels was not well understood until a 2013 study in the Journal of Endocrinology. The study demonstrated on a molecular level how stress hormones can be reduced under chronic stress using acupuncture. And you may find other benefits from acupuncture, such as relief from chronic pain.

If you have never tried acupuncture, it’s got a great track record-after all,  it’s been used for thousands of years.  It may be an option worth looking into.

For more moderate to severe anxiety, seek out a practitioner who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. They may advise certain behavioral techniques, vitamins and herbs, or medications that would be right for you.

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