Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S. Fortunately, several effective strategies may help make your anxiety more manageable.

“Some people who experience anxiety may benefit from these habits, with or without therapy,” says psychiatrist Eric Alcera, M.D., network medical director for Behavioral Health at Hackensack Meridian Health. “Other people with anxiety disorders need therapy, but practical habits should also help.”

If you’re hoping to decrease the effects of anxiety, try these practical habits:

1) Adopt healthy lifestyle habits

When you take care of yourself, you should cope better with stress and anxiety.

These good-for-you habits should help you manage anxiety:

  • Eating a healthy diet. Healthy whole foods provide the nutrients you need to function optimally.
  • Staying well hydrated. Drink water throughout the day to avoid dehydration, which can lower your mood.
  • Exercising regularly. Physical activity helps to boost your mood, clear your mind and reduce anxiety. 
  • Getting ample sleep. You’ll feel more positive and less anxious when you’re well-rested.
  • Limiting your alcohol intake. Some people drink to feel calmer, but they feel anxious when it wears off.
  • Keeping a journal. Writing down feelings may help you realize that they’re less overwhelming than you imagined.
  • Listening to music you love. Music can relax you, distract you and remind you of happy memories.
  • Finding meaningful ways to destress. Maybe saying “no” to extra responsibilities or uncluttering your house may ease your anxiety.

“Some people are able to adequately manage their anxiety with lifestyle changes,” Dr. Alcera says. “Making these simple changes may have a significant impact on your daily life.”

2) Stay in the present

Being “in the moment” helps to reduce anxiety, by helping to limit unhelpful thoughts. You can’t worry about the future or regret the past while focused on the present.

Try these strategies to stay focused on the present moment:

  • Count backwards, from 10 to one. Count down slowly, focusing on your breath, when you need to calm down. This simple exercise should help distract you from worrisome thoughts.
  • Interact with your pet. Cuddling or petting a furry family member helps you relax, focusing on the moment. Spending time grooming, playing with or talking to your pet should boost your mood.
  • Play a musical instrument. If you play the piano, guitar, flute or drums, play something from your repertoire. You’ll focus on the pace and flow of the music, instead of anxious thoughts.
  • Focus on your breathing. Notice the air entering and leaving your body, how your chest rises and falls. If worrisome thoughts enter your mind, focus on your breathing instead.
  • Practice yoga. During yoga, you focus on breathing and holding your body in different poses. This relaxing practice helps you slow your breathing and heart rate, reducing stress.

“Focusing on breathing and practicing yoga incorporate some aspects of meditation,” Dr. Alcera says. “If these strategies help you reduce anxiety, consider practicing mindfulness meditation.”

3) Challenge your thoughts and feelings

It’s important to recognize that your feelings about yourself or your circumstances aren’t facts.

To challenge the thoughts and feelings that make you feel anxious:

  • Think about whether your perceptions are accurate, based on what others see and say.
  • Replace negative thinking with positive thoughts.
  • Keep a gratitude journal, jotting down three positive thoughts per day.
  • Read your gratitude journal when you need reminders about the positives in your life.

If you still need help decreasing anxiety, make an appointment with a therapist. Talk therapy and/or medication can help manage an anxiety disorder.

“Challenging your internal thoughts sounds simpler to do than it actually is,” Dr. Alcera says. “You may need a therapist’s help to challenge your long-standing negative beliefs.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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