First, what is anxiety?
Anxiety is a disorder. Many people with anxiety report excessive apprehension and general uneasiness. Some people experience panic attacks, while others partake in compulsive behavior. They’re often worried or scared.
Often, there are physical symptoms too. Some have excessive sweating, while others feel dizzy. Some get stomach pains. Others feel heart palpitations. Some people experience it all.
Teva, a 28-year-old welder, was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder six months ago.
“I think I’ve always had it, but it was mild, so I brushed it off as just having a stressful personality,” she says. “I went to the doctor when it felt like it was disrupting my life. I was lashing out at everyone and just became this dark cloud of a person.” Teva says she felt as though she had become a “conspiracy theorist of my own life.
“I felt like no one liked me, everyone was talking about me, I had no value. I was even scared to talk to long-time friends because I was worried I’d said something wrong the last time we talked, and I was too scared to ask them about it.”
Not all anxiety looks like Teva’s; effects of anxiety range from mild to moderate to severe. Anxiety is also often thrown into one single bucket, when in reality, anxiety could be used to simplify a number of different types of disorders, like generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Lots of people find great help through talk therapy. Seeing a mental health professional has a profound effect on anxiety and really helps to minimize symptoms. In more severe cases, and in the event of co-existing disorders, medication may even be prescribed.
But there are ways to fight anxiety natural too: through mindfulness, exercise and diet.
Mindfulness has become increasingly popular over the last few years, and for good reason. Mindfulness helps us remember to be present exactly where we are, so we can release our worries about what hasn’t even happened yet or what’s already passed. Mindfulness is about living in the here and now, of showing up for this specific moment, and noticing fully what’s going on around us.
If you really think about it, mindfulness is the opposite of anxiety, isn’t it? When we’re anxious, we’re worried about the future – what could happen, what might happen, what hasn’t even happened. When we’re mindful, we’re thinking about concrete things, like where we are right now, what we’re smelling, what we’re tasting, what our physical body is feeling. Even five minutes consciously thinking about the now means five minutes away from being anxious.
Exercise is another great way to manage our symptoms of anxiety. When we exercise, we release endorphins, the chemical that makes us feel happy, and the chemical that’s responsible for reducing our stress hormones.
Even if you aren’t an exercise buff, you can still work exercise into your daily routine! You can join a recreational league at your local community center, or you can sign up for a yoga class. You can take your bike for a spin, or use a stationary bike while streaming your favorite show. You can go for a walk for 20 minutes a day (fresh air is great for anxiety relief too!) or you can turn on a fun dance cardio video on YouTube and move your body in the privacy of your favorite room.
Before you know it, you’re going to be looking forward to exercising – because it feels so good, physically and emotionally.
Now, what about food? It’s best to see your doctor if you’re going to make some serious changes to your eating plan, but consider adding foods rich in vitamin C (like red peppers, spinach, apples or broccoli) and complex carbs (like whole wheat bread and beans). Also, make this part of your food vocabulary: tryptophan. This is an amino acid that produces that feel-good chemical, serotonin. You’re going to be hunting for foods like kale, bananas and pumpkin seeds.
One last tip of the day: drink lots of water! Dehydration has been proven to increase anxiety.