Science-Backed Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself
What you can do for yourself that will have you feeling less anxious.
Posted May 16, 2020
This article addresses what you can do to take better care of yourself that will naturally have you feeling less anxious. These natural remedies aren’t magical solutions that will lead you to be totally anxiety-free, but taking care of yourself can set you up for major personal growth; it all depends on whether or not you find a way to work on bettering your life in the process. It helps to utilize some of these natural ways to take care of yourself so that you can face your challenges with a happier and healthier body and mind.
Physical exercise has been proven to be good for your physical and mental health. Researchers have found that regular aerobic exercise decreases tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and boosts self-esteem. The findings of several studies show that all you need is about five minutes of aerobic exercise a day to begin stimulating its anti-anxiety effects. More specifically, a wide range of yoga practices can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression. In this way, studies show that yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation.
Don’t drink alcohol.
Most of us know that alcohol is a natural sedative, and many of us drink to relax and release tension. However, once the effects of alcohol are gone, anxiety may return with more intensity. If you rely exclusively on alcohol when you’re anxious, instead of dealing with what’s really going on, you put yourself at risk of developing a dependence. Alcohol is a toxin that can actually induce the symptoms of anxiety. When consumed excessively, it leads to improper mental and physical functioning, negatively impacting the levels of serotonin in the brain.
Smokers often reach for a cigarette during more anxious times. However, just like alcohol, tobacco offers a quick fix that may worsen anxiety over time. Research shows that the earlier you start smoking in life, the higher your risk of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder later in life. Research also suggests that nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke alter pathways in the brain that are linked to anxiety.
Say goodbye to caffeine.
If you have chronic anxiety, caffeine will compromise your ability to feel less anxious. Caffeine can stimulate nervousness, which is troubling for someone who is already anxious to begin with. Research has shown that caffeine may worsen anxiety by generating an increase in panic attacks among people diagnosed with panic disorder. For some people, eliminating caffeine altogether may significantly improve anxiety symptoms.
Get more sleep.
Insomnia is a common symptom of anxiety, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, lacking sleep can make your anxiety feel more intense. This is because sleep deprivation creates an imbalance in hormone levels, which drives anxiety levels higher. Too little sleep also boosts adrenaline levels, which can exacerbate existing anxiety issues.
Try to make sleep a priority by:
- Only sleeping at night
- Not watching television in bed
- Not using your phone, tablet, or computer in bed
- Not tossing and turning, but instead getting up and going to another room until you feel sleepy
- Avoiding caffeine, large meals, and nicotine before bedtime
- Keeping your room dark and cool
- Writing down your worries before going to bed
- Creating a bedtime routine
- Going to sleep at the same time every night
One of the goals of meditation is to learn to relax chaotic thoughts and create a nonjudgmental sense of calm and mindfulness in the present moment. Meditation is known to relieve stress and anxiety. Research from John Hopkins suggests that just 30 minutes of daily practice may alleviate some anxiety symptoms and act as an antidepressant. When used properly, meditation allows you to slow down and observe the world without judgment. If you practice it when anxious, it can also help to reduce worrying thoughts and bring about a feeling of balance, calm, and focus. An app that many of my clients use to help them meditate is called Calm.
Eat a healthy diet.
Low blood sugar levels, dehydration, or exposure to chemicals in processed foods—such as artificial flavorings, artificial colorings, and preservatives—may create mood changes in some people. Pay attention if your anxiety worsens after eating; if that’s the case, it’s important to check your eating habits. If you notice that what you’re eating is affecting how you feel, try to stay hydrated, eliminate processed foods, and eat a healthy diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
Practice deep breathing.
Shallow, fast breathing is common when you’re anxious. But breathing this way when your anxiety is high may lead to an increased heart rate, dizziness, lightheadedness, or even a panic attack. Deep breathing exercises—such as deliberately taking slow, even, deep breaths—can help restore normal breathing patterns and reduce anxiety.
If you’re feeling particularly anxious, deep abdominal breathing can help you relax. Start by inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed, then exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly, but keep your jaw relaxed. During each inhale, say to yourself, “I know I am breathing in”; during each exhale, say to yourself, “I know I am breathing out.” Continue that process until you feel relaxed.
Drink chamomile tea.
Chamomile tea is a common remedy for relieving tension and promoting sleep. One study found that people who took a 220-milligram German chamomile capsule up to five times per day showed bigger reductions in anxiety symptoms than people who were given a placebo capsule.
Aromatherapy uses fragrant essential oils to enhance well-being. The oils may be inhaled or put in a warm bath or diffuser. Studies have indicated that aromatherapy can help induce relaxation, regulate sleep, improve mood, and reduce heart rate and blood pressure.
Some essential oils used to relieve anxiety are:
- Lavender oil
- Rose oil
- Vetiver oil
- Ylang Ylang oil
- Frankincense oil
- Jasmine oil
- Chamomile oil
Vitamins That May Help Reduce Anxiety Symptoms
Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer. We tend to store a lot of tension in our muscles, and magnesium offers a natural way to help create a sense of calmness.
This is a calming herb that has been used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and even seizures. Passionflower is thought to result in a decrease in anxiety and stress by increasing levels of GABA [gamma-aminobutyric acid] in the brain. You can incorporate it into your diet through teas, tinctures, extracts, or tablets.
Valerian root has chemical components that may be useful in the treatment of anxiety. Studies have found that specific acids—known, simply enough, as valeric acids—play a role in inhibiting and regulating the activity of the brain's neurons.
Theanine is the amino acid found in green tea (among other places) that causes the relaxed feeling most people get when they drink it. Theanine has been shown to reduce stress responses in the body.
When you were a child, your mother likely gave you a warm glass of milk to help you fall asleep. Lactium, a compound often found in milk, has been shown to promote feelings of calm and relieve anxiety-related sleep issues.
You've probably heard before that a shot of B12 can boost your mood and energy levels; B-complex vitamins can do the same. These vitamins include thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), biotin, folic acid, and the cobalamins (vitamin B12), all of which play a role in keeping your mood stable.
If stress has you feeling exhausted, this one could be for you. The adrenal glands release two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Those are the hormones that make you feel stressed. But licorice root may help slow the production of those hormones.
St. John's Wort
St. John's wort is an age-old home remedy for anxiety and mood disorders. Just be aware that St. John's wort may not react well with some prescription antidepressants, so speak to a doctor if you're considering adding it to your regimen.
Ashwagandha is an age-old Ayurvedic ingredient that's one of the key components of a mood-boosting supplement. It’s considered to be an adaptogen, a natural substance that helps balance the body’s reactions to stress. Ashwagandha can boost your mood and promotes restful sleep and relaxation.
Your body creates melatonin on its own, but some people just don’t make enough, which can lead to issues with sleep and relaxation, as well as general anxiety. Melatonin products are available over the counter and can help supplement your body’s natural production.
Known as the golden root, Rhodiola has a rich history of medical use in both Siberian culture and traditional Chinese medicine. Rhodiola is thought to support emotional well-being and enhance energy levels by helping the body adapt to stress in a healthy way.
It’s no secret that certain fats are better for you than others, and fish oil is one of them. In addition to supporting heart health, fish oil contains a specific omega-3 fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid, which has been linked to mood. Omega-3s are the basic building blocks of the brain and nervous system, so taking fish oil can help maintain a healthy level of cognitive function.
While probiotics are commonly known to support digestion and immune system health, most people don’t know that they also have many brain health benefits. Extensive research has found that maintaining an optimal level of gut bacteria may promote a healthy response to chronic stress and improve mental health and cognitive function.
Keep in mind that before trying new supplements or making dietary adjustments, you should always speak with your doctor or mental health care provider. It’s up to you and your doctor to choose the supplement or combination of supplements that will work best for you.
This article provided you with lots of information on natural ways to take care of yourself. This might be reassuring for you, or it might be overwhelming. Just keep in mind that you don't need to try these all to take better care of yourself; they are rather suggestions to help you on your path to living a less anxious life. Find a system that works best for you, which doesn’t have to include everything I listed in this article.
Ogawa S, et al. (2018). Effects of L-theanine on anxiety-like behavior, cerebrospinal fluid amino acid profile, and hippocampal activity in Wistar Kyoto rats. DOI: 10.1007/s00213-017-4743-1
Pratte M. A., Ota, M., Ogura, J., Kato, K., & Kunugi, H. (2014). An alternative treatment for anxiety: A systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0177
Jorgensen, B. P., Winther, G., Kihl, P., & Nielsen, D. S. (2015). Dietary magnesium deficiency affects gut microbiota and anxiety-like behavior in C57BL/6N mice. Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 27(5), 307-311.doi: 10.1017/neu.2015.10
Ritsner M. S., Miodownik, C., Ratner, Y., Shleifer, T., Mar, M., Pintov, L., & Lerner, V. (2011). L-theanine relieves positive, activation, and anxiety symptoms in patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder: An 8-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, 2-center study. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 72(1). doi: 10.4088/JCP.09m05324gre
Srivastava J. K., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with a bright future (Review). Molecular Medicine Reports, 3(6), 895-901. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2010.377