If you are a person alive in the world in 2019, there’s plenty to feel anxious about. From the geopolitical climate to climate change, you don’t have to search hard to find reasons to lie awake at night. And you’re not the only one counting the cracks in the ceiling. About 20 percent of American adults live with some sort of anxiety disorder, making it the most prevalent mental illness in the United States.
For some, medication may or may not be part of an anxiety treatment plan that can also include plenty of natural, DIY, and at-home treatments.
A Can Do, ‘To-Do’ List
If left untreated, anxiety can be emotionally draining. Fortunately, there are productive steps that you can take. Prescription drugs are not the only option, and natural methods can be just as effective.
Move your body
Staying active is part of cardiovascular wellness, but exercise can also have a direct impact on anxiety levels. Psychologists studying the positive effects of exercise on anxiety and depression found that a 10-minute walk can be just as effective as a 45-minute workout. In other words, don’t hold yourself to Iron Man levels of activity, just move! It’s also been shown that exercise offers immediate relief of anxiety symptoms — as close to popping a pill as you can get.
Ease up on coffee
Caffeine can kick anxiety into overdrive. A variety of studies have demonstrated the positive correlation between caffeine consumption and anxiety. If you’re already downing multiple cups a day, work your way back to one 12-ounce cup. Or consider cutting it out entirely.
Switch to tea
Drinking tea isn’t just about quenching thirst. Tea service is a time-honored tradition across numerous cultures that encourages us to slow down. When you fill your teapot with chamomile, you’re choosing a proven relaxant. In one study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) who took chamomile supplements for eight weeks had a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms.
Green tea has shown similar benefits, due to the amino acid L-theanine. Research shows L-theanine can slow a rising heart rate and blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and make test-takers more calm and focused. You might consider a supplement in order to get 200mg of L-theanine, which could require drinking as many as 20 cups of tea.
Make a gratitude list
Practicing gratitude increases an overall positive attitude. Either in the morning or at night, as you’re falling asleep or driving to work, list three things you’re grateful for — like your new comfy sneakers, or having a supportive partner. Focusing your awareness on the good helps to give a sense of perspective and increase an overall sense of well-being.
Get 1 to 3 gram of omega-3s
Studies show omega-3 fatty acids found in canned fish, walnuts, and flaxseed may ease symptoms of anxiety disorders by lowering levels of stress chemicals in the body, like adrenaline and cortisol. Add flaked salmon to your salads, add sardines to your avocado toast with a big squeeze of lemon, and add crushed walnuts and flaxseeds to your morning oatmeal, smoothies, or yogurt.
Take a sunshine break
Getting outdoors for 15 minutes on a sunny day can give you a mood boost. A study in Australia showed participants had higher levels of serotonin on bright sunny days than on cloudy ones. High serotonin levels are linked to low levels of depression and anxiety.
Soak in Epsom salts and lavender
The magnesium sulfate in Epsom salts has been shown to calm anxiety and lower blood pressure. Dosing the bath water with a few drops of lavender essential oil ups the ante on the therapeutic effects. Studies have found lavender oil as effective as Xanax, Valium, or Prozac in lessening anxiety in women.
When we’re beset by one worry, our brains can tend to pile-on with worst-case scenario thinking. The flat tire becomes not only, I’ll be late for work, but I’ll be fired, and I mess up everything.
Pause, take a few deep breaths, walk around the block, and try to gain some perspective. What would you say to your best friend in this situation? How big of a deal is it really? What are the chances one flat tire could lead to dying in the streets, destitute and alone?
Make like a Scandinavian
A spell in the sauna or steam room can reduce muscle tension and ease anxiety by heating up the body, research shows. These warm sensations may alter neural circuits that control mood, including those that affect levels of serotonin.
Take a “forest bath”
The calm that comes over you in the woods is what the Japanese call Shinrin-yoku, or literally a “forest bath.” After a twenty minute walk in the woods, Japanese researchers found “forest bathers” had lower stress hormone levels than they did after a comparable walk in an urban area. Get outside and walk among the trees.
The acronym RAIN is a mindfulness tool for self-compassion taught by Buddhist meditation teacher, Tara Brach. The goal is to witness your emotional responses and be present for them without judgement. RAIN stands for: Recognize what is happening. Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. Investigate with interest and care. Nurture with self-compassion. Let Brach guide you through this 20-minute RAIN meditation.
Anxiety can seriously affect your mental wellbeing and quality of life. When you have a toolbox full of psychological, physical, and environmental strategies, you’re more prepared to take care of yourself and ease the symptoms of anxiety.