5 Tips to Naturally Reduce Anxiety - without the drugs
The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) reports that anxiety disorders are the #1 mental health problem for American women and the #2 problem for American men (only alcohol/drug issues outrank anxiety for the boys). As a psychologist who helps people with anxiety issues regularly, here are five tools I have found effective:
- #1 RELAXATION TRAINING or MEDITATION
In general, people who suffer from anxiety tend to have a higher level of physiological reactivity. They respond physiologically (increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temp) more quickly and intensely to stress. Additionally, people who are anxious do not breathe as deeply.
A meditation practice helps us learn how to B R E A T H E, regardless of outside circumstances. Meditation helps us find the calm inside which is always present no matter what. In my practice I teach mindfulness meditation practices as an integral part of treatment. We often meditate in session and client's develop a daily meditation practice.
- #2 EXERCISE
Take a walk with a friend, go for a bike ride with the kids, practice yoga, or go for a quick jog. Exercise has repeatedly been shown to be more effective than anti-depressant drugs in modulating mood (Duke University Study). Studies have also shown that exercise offers reliable reductions in anxiety symptoms, as well as increases in feelings of well being.
- #3 ASK FOR HELP
If anxiety issues are impeding your life, ask for help, talk to a close friend or family member, do not isolate. People who suffer from anxiety often have strong issues with perfectionism and a very strong need to be in control. These needs tend to keep us from asking for help. Know this- YOU ARE NOT ALONE, many people suffer from anxiety. So take off the mask, meet with a professional, talk with a trusted friend and ask for help. Asking for help is anything but weak; it is honest, courageous and resourceful!!
- #4 NUTRITION
Believe it or not, what you put in you body greatly effects your sense of well being. The stomach has been called "The Second Brain" (coined by Dr. Michael Gershon). In fact, over 90% of serotonin (the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating appetite, mood, sleep and relaxation) resides in the gut. If you want to feel good, you want to take care of your tummy. The more processed foods you eat- especially refined carbohydrates- the more your insulin spikes and falls throughout the day. This sets you up for a constant roller coaster ride biologically and additionally damages the gut lining. Whole foods with good bacteria are a better choice. Healthy gut bacteria has been shown to significantly influence the communication between the brain and the tummy. Some scientists are predicting people will be prescribed probiotics (healthy bacteria supplements) in the future instead of anti-depressants. If you have anxiety and mood issues, reduce sugar, refined carbohydrate and stimulant intake (like caffeine), and introduce whole foods into your diet.
- #5 DECREASE AVOIDANCE BEHAVIORS
People who suffer from anxiety utilize avoidance as their primary coping tool: they avoid things which stimulate anxious feelings. For example if I experience a panic attack at a baseball game, I might decide to avoid the baseball game the following weekend, and I feel better that weekend because I don't experience the panic.
The problem with avoidance is that it grows...and grows. Soon I not only avoid baseball games, but football too, and then it becomes large crowds, grocery stores, movies theaters and people in general. With avoidance behavior the anxiety and fear grow and life experience, flexibility and vitality shrinks.
To reverse this trend, decrease the compulsion to avoid the feared stimulus. In my practice, I help clients eliminate avoidance behaviors, increase their capacity to tolerate anxiety provoking situations and experience life more fully.
Anxiety and fear do not have to run your life. You can run them, enjoy and participate in your life!