Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

 

Last week we looked at the thinking traps that can lead us astray and contribute towards our anxiety. This week we explore the healthy lifestyle changes we can make which serve to reduce our anxiety.

 

Lifestyle Choices to Reduce the Effects of Anxiety

 

Offer your anxiety understanding

 

The first critical step to counteract your anxiety is somewhat counter intuitive and comes from teachings in self-compassion. Surprisingly, in order to overcome anxiety and ‘win the war’ you must first accept its presence in your life and recognize it is your minds way of trying to protect you against a perceived threat or coming to any type of harm. Once you appreciate this you can have a greater level of compassion and understanding towards your anxiety rather than resisting it which often only causes your symptoms to increase. Remember, in psychology, what you resist, persists!

 

Exercise

 

Like most things, anxiety is profoundly affected by exercise. Just five minutes of continuous exercise has been found to reduce the effects of anxiety, so just think what half an hour could do. If you are averse to high impact exercise psychologist studies have found that a ten minute walk could be as effective as a forty-five minute workout and relieve symptoms for up to several hours. Furthermore, if you exercise regularly the effects of anxiety can reduce long term. To explore how to incorporate exercise into your life on a regular basis please read my article titled ‘New Year, New You’.

Mindfulness meditation

 

Mindfulness is an invaluable tool to help reduce anxiety. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the pioneer of mindfulness and the man responsible for bringing it into the mainstream medical arena, describes mindfulness as ‘The awareness that emerges when we learn to pay attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally to things as they are.’

 

Mindfulness can teach you to access states of openness, acceptance and immersion which you seldom find in your everyday life. The sort of states you might experience on holiday. Think of mindfulness as a form of mental vacation, a way to connect with non-judgmental principles and a complete acceptance of what is, whatever that may be. Mindfulness helps to reduce anxiety by focusing our attention on your breath; by focusing your mind elsewhere your anxious thoughts and worries subside, reducing in severity and impact, leaving you free to enjoy the present moment.

 

Diet

 

Reducing caffeine intake is critical if you want to reduce your anxiety. Although caffeine is not often thought to be the only cause of anxiety it is widely acknowledged in the medical profession that it exasperates symptoms in anxiety sufferers. The guideline for caffeine consumption is to have no more than 3-400 milligrams of caffeine each day.

 

Although I have gone to much effort to change my diet I admittedly struggle with reducing my caffeine intake – mainly because I suffer from tiredness. Although I would advise anyone suffering with extreme anxiety to reduce their caffeine intake (in addition to seeing a medical professional) if you honestly think this is unrealistic please do at least follow both the other lifestyle changes I recommend and the highly effective CBT techniques I discuss later on. If you are committed to reducing your anxiety and considerably improving your quality of life, doing these two simple things will have a profound impact.

 

Eating the right foods and enjoying a healthy diet is equally important, as is avoiding the wrong foods. Below is a table of the foods to avoid and foods to eat to help reduce anxiety symptoms.

 

Foods to Avoid Foods to Eat
Fried foods Fresh fruit
Alcohol Vegetables
Coffee Water
Diary products Tryptophan rich foods (oats, soy, poultry)
Refined sugars Magnesium rich foods (black beans, tofu)
Acid forming foods (yogurt, pickles, eggs) Omega-3 fatty acids (fish)

 

Sleep

 

Getting a little extra sleep, so long as you’re not sleeping excessively, can do wonders for anxiety.  Unfortunately one of the symptoms of anxiety is sleep disturbance however even if it is just an afternoon nap increasing the amount of sleep you have will positively impact anxiety, giving you a more balanced perspective on things and increasing your overall resilience against symptoms.

 

Getting organized

 

One of the feelings associated with anxiety is a perceived lack of control over life events. Combat this by decluttering your environment and by buying a dairy – these two steps will empower you to become ultra organized, so that you have an increased sense of mastery over what you can control in your life.

 

Do you find it difficult to maintain healthy lifestyle choices? Would you like to adopt some of the strategies listed in this weeks series post? Do you have any tried and true ways of sticking to lifestyle changes that you could suggest? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, insight and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.

 

Exercises:

 

  1. Make a note of the lifestyle changes you would like to adopt, keeping in mind not to overwhelm yourself by trying to change too much at once.
  2. List small changes you can make towards adopting more healthy habits in each of the lifestyle changes you selected.
  3. Break down these changes into daily or weekly goals and add it to your diary to keep motivated.

 

Further resources:

 

Overcoming Anxiety: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques by Helen Kennerley

 

Stay tuned – next week we will delve into how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help us to halt thinking traps altogether with just a little practice!