By Mark Weeks
Your mind will never improve by chance, you must keep it in shape, like a muscle – it must be worked positively, nourished and rested often.
And, your life long quest is to remain vigilant to what you let enter into it. That is, if you wish to live with reduced anxiety, stress and self-imposed limitations.
Of course, we all have bouts of anxiety and burdening stress-levels, from time to time, it’s part of life. Many people weather the storm and calmer moments eventually come.
But it’s a scary fact, that today, nearly 40 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder, which is more than the occasional worry or fear.
Anxiety disorders can range from a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is intense worrying that you can’t control, to panic disorder. Such as sudden episodes of fear, along with heart palpitations, trembling, shaking, or sweating.
For those with an anxiety disorder, it’s important to look into strategies that can help manage or reduce anxiety in the long term, such as therapy or medication.
However, everyone can benefit from other ways to reduce stress and anxiety with lifestyle changes such as eating a well-balanced diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine, plus taking time-out for yourself.
Give these 10 simple steps a read through and file them for a rainy day. They are proven to relax your mind and help you regain control of your thoughts. Pick one strategy at a time and see if it suits you.
After all, life is a continuous journey of discovering what works and discarding the stuff that serves no purpose.
1. Stay in your time zone.
Anxiety is a future-oriented state of mind. So instead of worrying about what’s going to happen, ‘reel yourself back to the present,’ says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety. Ask yourself: What’s happening right now? Am I safe? Is there something I need to do right now? If not, make an “appointment” to check in with yourself later in the day to revisit your worries so those distant scenarios don’t throw you off track, she says.
2. Relabel what’s happening.
Panic attacks can often make you feel like you’re dying or having a heart attack. Remind yourself: ‘I’m having a panic attack, but it’s harmless, it’s temporary, and there’s nothing I need to do,’ Chansky says. Plus, keep in mind it really is the opposite of a sign of impending death – your body is activating its fight-or-flight response, the system that’s going to keep you alive, she says.
3. Fact-check your thoughts.
People with anxiety often fixate on worst-case scenarios, Chansky says. To combat these worries, think about how realistic they are. Say you’re nervous about a big presentation at work. Rather than think, ‘I’m going to bomb,’ for example, say, ‘I’m nervous, but I’m prepared. Some things will go well, and some may not,’ she suggests. Getting into a pattern of rethinking your fears helps train your brain to come up with a rational way to deal with your anxious thoughts.
4. Breathe in and out.
Deep breathing helps you calm down. While you may have heard about specific breathing exercises, you don’t need to worry about counting out a certain number of breaths, Chansky says. Instead just focus on evenly inhaling and exhaling. This will help slow down and re-centre your mind, she says.
5. Follow the 3-3-3 rule.
Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body – your ankle, fingers, or arm. Whenever you feel your brain going 100 miles per hour, this mental trick can help centre your mind, bringing you back to the present moment, Chansky says.
6. Just do something.
Stand up, take a walk, clear away things on your desk – any action that interrupts your train of thought helps you regain a sense of control.
7. Stand up straight.
‘When we are anxious, we protect our upper body – where our heart and lungs are located – by hunching over,’ Chansky says. For an immediate physical antidote to this natural reaction, pull your shoulders back, stand or sit with your feet apart, and open your chest. This helps your body start to sense that it’s back in control, she says.
8. Stay away from sugar.
It’s tempting to reach for something sweet when you’re stressed, but that chocolate bar can do more harm than good; research shows eating too much sugar can worsen anxious feelings. Instead of reaching into the biscuit tin, drink a glass of water or eat protein, Chansky says, this will provide a slow energy your body can use to recover.
9. Ask for a second opinion.
Call or text a friend or family member and run through your worries with them, Chansky says. ‘Saying them aloud to someone else can help you see them clearly for what they are.’ It can also help to write your fears on paper, no one else needs to read them. They may also help you reflect how far you’ve come in 6 months’ time too!
10. Watch a funny video.
This final tactic may be the easiest one yet. Create a comedy list on YouTube and add your favourites to it. Laughing is a good prescription for an anxious mind. Research shows laughter has lots of benefits for our mental health and well-being; one study found that humour could help lower anxiety as much as (or even more than) exercise can.
Adapt these tips to how you’re feeling and keep taking baby steps. Recognise when things need to be worked on and don’t bury your head where the sun doesn’t shine!
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