Anxiety is a normal part of life, but sometimes it can become overwhelming. This is especially true during periods of increased stress and instability like the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, adults in the US have been three times more likely to experience anxiety, depression or both compared to last year, according to data from the US Census Bureau.
If you’ve been struggling to manage your anxiety lately, you are not alone. The good news is that there are small steps you can take today to help improve your mood. Here are some strategies that have been shown to help reduce anxiety.
- Get Active
Exercise isn’t just good for your body. Research shows that it has many benefits for your mental health as well. Physical activity produces natural painkillers called endorphins, which can improve your mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Other mental health benefits of exercising regularly include:
- Improved sleep
- Reduced tension and stress
- Improved self esteem
- Mind What You Eat
Many people experience changes in their eating habits when they’re feeling very anxious. You may be eating more junk food than usual, or you may not be eating enough to give your body the nutrients you need. Eating a balanced diet can help you feel better both physically and emotionally. Be sure to:
- Drink plenty of water every day. Dehydration can have a negative effect on your mood.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can both increase anxiety levels.
- Eat enough protein to keep your blood sugar levels and mood stable. Healthy sources of protein include fish, poultry, beans and lentils, nuts, seeds and soy.
- Eat lots of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains. Avoid eating too many simple carbohydrates like sugar.
It might take some time to notice any positive effects from changing your diet. But if you’re able to stick with it, eating healthy can help you reduce anxiety and feel better.
- Take a Time Out
Carving out some time to de-stress can be a great way to reduce anxiety. Even though life can be hectic, try to find some time in your day to step away from what’s troubling you and focus on relaxation. Some activities that could help boost your mood include:
- Watch, read or listen to something enjoyable, especially if it makes you laugh.
- Try a mindfulness activity like meditation or yoga.
- Use candles or essential oils for some aromatherapy. Calming scents include lavender, chamomile and sandalwood.
- Practice some deep breathing.
- If you have a pet, spending some time playing or cuddling with them can boost your mood.
- Spend some time in nature, even if it’s just your backyard or local park.
Like exercising, making time for relaxation is most effective when you can stick with it on a regular schedule. If possible, designate a time of day or a weekly activity that’s just for you to relax.
- Find Distractions
When you’re feeling very anxious, it may feel like your thoughts and feelings are spiralling out of control. In moments like these, distracting yourself is often the most effective way to reduce anxiety. Common distractions that can help include:
- Go out for a walk.
- Put on a song you love.
- Focus on your senses: what can you see, hear, feel, taste and smell?
- Get creative – draw a picture or grab a coloring book.
- Call a friend.
- Watch a show or play a video game you enjoy.
- Find an easy task or chore to focus on.
Distraction may not be a cure or a long-term solution, but it can help you head off anxiety attacks and keep your emotions under control.
- Talk About It
Getting support from family, friends or a professional is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. If you’ve been keeping your struggles to yourself, try reaching out to someone to let them know how you feel. Research has shown that having a good social support system helps people regulate their emotions and reduce the symptoms of mental health issues.
In other words, getting things off your chest helps you feel better and keeps your moods more stable. If your anxiety has been seriously interfering with your life, it may also be time to reach out to your doctor or a therapist. You don’t need to face these struggles alone, and getting the right help can make a significant difference in your life.
If you’re concerned about adding an exercise routine to your busy schedule, you don’t have to make any major commitments in order to reap the benefits. In fact, it only takes five minutes of aerobic activity to begin experiencing its anxiety-reducing effects. Aerobic activity includes anything that gets your heart rate up, so you don’t need to do anything too challenging if you’d rather not.
To get the most out of physical activity, it’s important to make it part of your regular routine. Even setting aside 15 minutes a day for a moderate workout can be beneficial. Anything from taking a walk or riding a bike to dancing around your home can help, so pick whatever you enjoy.
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