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21 Quick Tips to Change Your Anxiety Forever

Lead a happier, healthier life with these calming strategies.

Key points

  • Inadequate sleep can amplify the brain's anticipatory reactions, which increases overall anxiety.
  • Those who exercise vigorously and regularly are less likely to develop an anxiety disorder within five years.
  • Lavender oil has many healing properties and can be used as a natural remedy to reduce anxiety.
Kalen Emsley/Unsplash
Source: Kalen Emsley/Unsplash

You can read all the anti-anxiety advice in the world, but none of it matters unless you take action. To feel more relaxed, to sleep soundly at night, and to put energy into what matters, you have to stop wasting time on tasks that don't matter.

By the end of this post, your life could become infinitely more productive and Zen-like. Your part is to commit to 15-60 minutes per day and tackle a few of the following 21 anxiety busters below.

The more you commit, the better you'll feel.

You're probably familiar with some of these anxiety-busting strategies. But if you experience racing thoughts, tightening in your chest, and shortness of breath, you haven't done all of them.

21 Anxiety Busters

1. Start deep-breathing.
If you're not focused on how to calm your body through slow, intentional belly-breathing, you're missing out. Belly-breathing is free, location independent, and easy to implement. Here's how to get started:

  • Sit with your eyes closed and turn your attention to your breathing. Breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath.

  • Be aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Place one hand on your belly, and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of three. Exhale for a count of four. The hand on your belly should go in as you inhale, and move out as you exhale.
  • Concentrate on your breath and forget everything else. Your mind will be very busy, and you may even feel that the meditation is making your mind busier, but the reality is you're just becoming more aware of how busy your mind is.
  • Resist the temptation to follow the different thoughts as they arise, and focus on the sensation of the breath. If you discover that your mind has wandered and is following your thoughts, immediately return it to the breath.
  • Repeat this as many times as necessary until your mind settles on the breath. Don't wait to begin belly-breathing. The sooner you make this a daily habit, the quicker you'll feel relaxed.

When you implement belly breathing, you start the day in a here-and-now state. Better yet, you're not wasting time worrying about the future or reliving the past.

2. Meditate.

Calm is an inside job. Give yourself the gift of serenity and start the day with 10 minutes of solitude and positive energy. Think calm, measured, and open-minded, and your daily activities will correspond.

3. Practice self-care.

Get a massage, a mani-pedi, or a haircut. Nothing says polished and well-maintained like a sexy, healthy glow.

If money is tight, look for a discount salon or a training school which offers quality services for people on a budget. So they don't serve peppermint tea on a silver tray—close your eyes and imagine that five-star service while you take in the pampering you deserve.

4. Eliminate soda.

That morning jolt of joe can jumpstart your day and provide warmth and comfort, but anything with high-fructose corn syrup and 177 other ingredients will not.

If you're accustomed to that 3 p.m. Dr. Pepper, switch it out for a soothing green tea. Not only does the caffeine jack up your central nervous system, but soda also depletes vitamins and minerals from your diet and wreaks havoc on your smile. Teeth become susceptible to cavities when the acid level of your saliva falls below a certain point.

If you drink soda all day, the outer layers of your teeth begin to lose minerals and cavities form. Many dental plans do not cover root canals, and you'll end up with a huge bill. Speaking of which...

5. Trim the fat from your budget.

Financial stress is a common reason people contact me for psychotherapy. Debt will keep you up at night and contribute to feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness.

Take charge of your finances and stop spending on non-essentials.

Track your daily expenses for a week or two and decide where you can cut back. Notice the items you accumulate mindlessly.

Possible eliminations:

  • Switch out your cable TV for Netflix.
  • Contact your car insurance carrier, your mobile device company, or your credit card company and ask if they'll reduce your bill.
  • Cancel your newspaper delivery during the week and opt for the Sunday paper or an online service instead.

6. Get rid of the clutter.

Do you ever wonder how much time is lost when you can't find your car keys or that package of Epson 400 color ink?

Chances are you've got too much stuff clogging up your living space.

Try this quick organization hack:

  • Choose a drawer, cabinet, or closet.
  • Categorize the stuff you don't use.
  • Make three piles for a) Items to throw away, b) Items to donate, and c) Items to sell.

Hold a yard sale and use the money to...

7. Plan a day trip.

When you spend time in nature, you give your mind and body a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle which causes you to Google things like "How to get rid of anxiety" in the first place.

Chances are, no matter where you live, there's a serene, interesting, and charming place within a couple of hours.

8. Go to bed early.

This may sound impossible if you're accustomed to staying up late to catch up on the to-do list. But this one's a must.

Sleep deprivation is a huge anxiety culprit. Inadequate shuteye can amplify the brain's anticipatory reactions, upping overall anxiety levels, according to research.

"We all have anticipatory anxiety," explains researcher Fugen Neziroglu. "Having moderate levels of anxiety about doing well is important. But it can be destructive when it begins to interfere with your life." It's impossible to have healthy emotional functioning without adequate sleep.

Don't burn the midnight oil in hopes of catching up on the weekends. Unused sleep minutes don't roll over.

9. Wake up 15 minutes early.

Like most anxious people, you're probably rushing around in the morning and yelling at everyone in your wake, "Hurry up! We're going to be late!"

Go slowly, and set yourself up for a relaxed day ahead. If you start to worry about the to-do list, take a deep breath and think: There is enough time.

10. Get your lavender on!

Lavender oil has many healing properties and can be used as a natural remedy to reduce anxiety and other nervous conditions. There are many ways to incorporate lavender into your calm tool kit:

  • Add essential lavender oil to your bath water for a calming bath. Use water infused with lavender leaves to soothe painful joints and muscles.
  • Fall asleep quicker when you add a few drops to a tissue and place under your pillow.
  • Use lavender in an oil diffuser to help with insomnia. The sweet, woody smell of the lavender oil helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • For headaches, apply lavender oil to a cotton ball or your fingertips and massage slowly into your temples. The smell will relax you as the oil eases your headache.
  • Lavender is used in aromatherapy massage as a muscle relaxant. Massage the oil into the skin and unknot the muscles of the back and reduce spasms.
  • Lavender can be used as an expectorant. It breaks up the mucus from nasal and chest congestion that accompanies a cold.
  • Inhale lavender oil to help with pain management, especially after a workout, a therapy session, or surgery.

11. Reduce caffeine, sugar, and processed foods.

Caffeine can cause heart palpitations if you ingest too much. Caffeine also can trigger panic or anxiety attacks, especially if you have an anxiety disorder. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can also cause palpitations.

Sugar acts as an adrenal stimulant and can cause anxiety or even panic attacks. Other offensive foods include those containing refined flour products and even wheat, since this causes inflammation.

Besides caffeine and sugar, food allergies are a big contributing factor in your overactive central nervous system. Do this step along with #12...

12. Go green!

Diet affects anxiety. A morning glass of green juice can get you on the right side of calm.

For a different and delicious way to get your daily vegetables, try this recipe: Combine one banana or green apple, a bunch of kale, sliced ginger, one lime, cucumber slices, a few ice cubes, and a cup of water to a blender or juicer. For additional protein, add an egg, yogurt, nuts, or protein powder.

13. Know that feelings are not facts.

One of the hardest jobs of a psychotherapist is to convince your anxious client that the feelings of low self-worth, guilt, and shame are not accurate. Negative thoughts cause negative feelings. This one's tricky, because many of our negative thoughts are automatic, deeply internalized, and rooted in the unconscious.

Do this in tandem with #14...

14. Challenge negative core beliefs.

Remember that thoughts precede feelings. Negative thoughts lead to negative emotions, which lead to negative behaviors. For example:

  • Jocelyn wakes up and immediately thinks: I'm gonna blow the PowerPoint presentation today. I just want to stay in bed all day.
  • She feels unmotivated, nervous, and sluggish.
  • She yells at her kids when they don't dress quickly enough.

How to challenge your negative mood:

1. Record your thoughts periodically. Pay attention to when you feel stressed out.

2. Write the feelings that accompany the thoughts. Think one-word responses, like frustrated, angry, worthless, defeated, etc.

3. Challenge your current version of reality. This is hard, because we tend to lack objectivity about the truth. Is there proof you don't deserve that job promotion? Were you written up because of shoddy work performance?

If you commit to recording your daily thoughts and feelings, along with reality testing, you'll see that many of your negative feelings are created in your mind and not based on reality. The good news is you created the negative thought, and you can uncreate it.

15. Practice gratitude.

As bad as your situation is, there's always someone in a worse predicament. Read a chapter of Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, or check out the headline of the daily newspaper. Be thankful your life is not the feature story.

Make a mental note of the positive things in your life. Remember that everything in life is temporary—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

16. Get some accountability.

If you're BFF with Nervous Nellie or Anxious Allen, put your keyed-up energy to good use. Vow to work on healthier ways to cope when feeling stressed.

How to get your accountability on:

  • Share this resource with a friend.
  • Pick a few strategies that resonate with both of you.
  • Make a plan to call each other out when you stray.
  • Give praise when you make positive changes.
  • Start a Facebook group and post regular tips to decrease stress and anxiety.

17. Attend a social gathering (even if you don't want to).

If you're prone to social anxiety, it's important to make time for socialization. It's cool to be an introvert, but know that we live in a universe that revolves around connecting with others.

18. Schedule a physical exam to rule out a medical condition for your anxiety.

If your anxiety has spiked recently, or if you were previously able to cope with life, and now not so much, your doctor can determine if there's a medical condition responsible for your anxiety. Ask for a blood panel, and be honest about your symptoms.

19. Schedule a visit with a therapist.

Nobody deserves to feel bad. A qualified mental health professional is your best bet if your anxiety is unbearable.

Ask a trusted friend or colleague for a referral, or use the Psychology Today directory to find a therapist in your area.

20. Exercise, exercise, exercise!

Exercise is nature's anti-anxiety remedy. Besides clearing the mind, firing up the endorphins, and helping you sleep soundly at night, researchers have found that individuals who exercise vigorously and regularly were 25 percent less likely to develop an anxiety disorder within five years.

21. Accept your anxiety.

Whether you inherited "anxiety genes" from your parents, or it's your lifestyle, or both, accept your anxiety.

It's not about rolling over and giving up. Understand you have to work hard every day to bring calm to your environment.

Remember there are always options in life, and worse fates exist than being anxious. After all, when push comes to shove, at the end of the (stressed-out) day, anxious people get the job done!

The key to making the actions above work is consistency. You're the expert on your life. Choose the ones that work best for you, and give 'em a shot. For additional support to manage your anxiety so it doesn't manage you, check out Holistic Healing for Anxiety: A four-week online course.

See you on the calm side!

Copyright 2014 Linda Esposito, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author

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