To Change Your Anxiety, Transform Your Habits
In Part 2 of this series, we discussed how to react when anxiety occurs. You can’t stop this uneasiness from appearing, but you can prevent it from holding you as a hostage. There are several ways to reduce it when you are on your own: Take some time away from others. Write down your thoughts and throw the paper away. Identify what disturbed you and give it a name. As you breathe the tension out, remember the bad experiences you overcame. Accept anxiety is still there, and comfort yourself with something pleasant.
All these techniques will help you ease the stress at the moment. On the other hand, to snap out of the vicious circle of anxiety for good, you need to change your toxic patterns in everyday life. Here are a few healthy practices that can decrease your anxiety over time without a therapist’s help:
Start with Basic Healthy Habits
Only in the last 15 years, scientists are starting to understand the relationship between the human body and mind. As it turns out, your mood very much lies in your bowels. Around 100 trillion bacterial cells make human microbiome, and most of them are in the gut. This mass weighs 4.4 pounds (2 kilos) and consists of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microbiota. It is the basis of your immunity and apparently influences your mind as well.
According to an article published in Chemical and Engineering News,
“Studies have shown that our microbiome may play a role in mental health and neurological conditions such as autism, epilepsy, and depression by interacting with our nervous system and even releasing molecules that can perhaps make their way to the brain.”
This is all new and we still need more research in that field. But scientists believe one day their results will improve the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.
What we can be sure of is that how you eat affects the biochemistry of your body. According to an article on nutritional strategies against anxiety in Havard Health Publishing, you should choose food rich in magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and B vitamins (the article also gives a list of foods that contain them). All these components help the body release neurotransmitters that boost your mood —the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine.
Another very important aspect of your health is sleep. Sleep Foundation asserts every person should have 7–9 hours of sleep. For better rest, improve your sleep hygiene. Choose the right mattress. Always go to bed at the same time. Have a pre-relaxing bed routine. Dim the lights before bedtime. Ventilate the room. And don’t take electronic devices to bed.
Of course, stay away from alcohol and drugs. And let’s not forget the most important remedy.
Exercise, It’s a Must!
It can be simple as a 45-minute walk in a park. Even better — take a brisk walk. As the heartbeat increases, the levels of cortisol and adrenaline (your body’s stress hormones) go down. At the same time, your level of feel-good hormone endorphin will go up.
According to a study of 156 people with major depressive disorder (Babyak et al, 2000), exercise is more effective than Zoloft. The study monitored three groups of people for 16 weeks. The first group was working out, the second was taking Zoloft, and the third was doing both. Six months after the end of the experiment, the group that only exercised had the best results. With regular physical activity, there is no need for medications.
And don’t forget to confide in someone.
Talk to a Person You Can Trust
If you keep worries to yourself, the tension gets pent up in your body. According to Psychology Today, expressing pain can be therapeutic. Talking to someone reduces stress and strengthens the immune system. Verbalizing how we feel also helps us be less excited:
“Labeling our feelings reduces activation in the amygdala, our brain’s alarm system that triggers the fight-or-flight reaction. When we give words to our emotions, we move away from limbic reactivity by activating those parts of the brain that deal with language and meaning (…). We become less reactive and more mindfully aware.”
Finally, we come to the power of the written word.
Write a Positive/Negative Diary
Take a notebook or a Word document. Split it into two halves or write in two colors: all the good thoughts on one side vs all the bad thoughts on the other. In the anxiety part, write down your mental process when you’re feeling bad. Let it all out, as if it were a punching bag. Leave them like that and put the diary away.
When you’re feeling good, go back to it. Did all these thoughts come true? See how negative and inaccurate they were. They just sounded convincing but were quite inaccurate. Remember that thoughts are always persuasive at the moment, which doesn’t make them true. According to a study on the percentage of wrong worries in GAD treatment, “91.4% of worries did not come true for those with GAD”. The more you realize how incorrect your worries are, the more will this reduce the symptoms of GAD.
When you’re feeling bad, read what you wrote about in the gratitude part of the diary. See all those little specific experiences throughout the day that make you thankful you have them:
- Your sister reminded you to wear a cap when you go outside — it’s freezing! She may be a nag, but you are lucky to have someone who cares about you that much.
- Your friend mentioned that old funny anecdote when you were at the seaside together. You had such a great time with her.
- Although it’s a cold day, the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Nature is beautiful in all its shapes and forms.
Life isn’t always bad, is it?
With this diary, you see how your thoughts can be unpredictable and disconnected from reality. They are just thoughts, not facts. They are colored by how you feel at the moment and often don’t have real outcomes. It’s just you, tripping out of your survival mechanism.
We all have something weird inside us. Don’t be so critical toward yourself for thinking what you’re thinking. Allow yourself time to feel and time to pull yourself together. Real change takes time. Do your best and stick to it.
Read all about it in Part 4: To Overcome Anxiety, Make a Mental Shift.