How to calm anxiety in 6 natural ways, on your own
- To calm anxiety, you can exercise regularly, stick to a sleep schedule, eat healthy, avoid substances, and try mindfulness meditation or relaxation techniques.
- If you have an anxiety disorder, you may also need therapy and medication in addition to these lifestyle changes to reduce anxiety.
- This article was medically reviewed by David A. Merrill, MD, PhD, psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Brain Health Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center.
- For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
To effectively calm your anxiety, it's important to commit to making lifestyle changes, and develop a system to hold yourself accountable - such as leaning on friends or family for support and encouragement.
Changing your behaviour, like adding in an afternoon walk, might be challenging when you're living with anxiety, but it can make a noticeable difference.
"If you are open to acting differently than how you feel, most of my patients are amazed by how freer their lives become and regret not seeking help sooner," says Jennifer L. Taitz, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of California Los Angeles.
If you have an anxiety disorder, you should work on a treatment plan with your doctor, as you may also need therapy or medication alongside these lifestyle changes.
Here are six self-treatment methods that can help mitigate feelings of anxiety, whether you have an anxiety disorder or not.
"Moderate physical activity such as walking for 60 minutes, 4 days per week, can be nearly as effective as medication for reducing anxiety," says Dawn Jonas, NMD, with the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine.
A 2017 scientific review of six randomised controlled studies concluded that "exercise significantly decreased anxiety symptoms more than control conditions." Another 2017 scientific review found that resistance training - like weight lifting - also had a significant impact on reducing anxiety levels.
In fact, even short, simple exercises like a 20-minute walk have been found to reduce stress.
Stick to a sleep schedule
Anxiety can make it difficult to sleep, and not being well-rested can contribute to more anxiety.
Overall, trying to get near the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night can help keep anxiety at bay. "Inadequate sleep increases the production of stress hormones that can exacerbate anxiety," Jonas says.
Try mindfulness and relaxation techniques
Mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques can help calm anxiety. These can be useful as a daily practice, or when you feel a spike in anxiety coming on.
"When we practice mindfulness or relaxation techniques, we learn how to calm down feelings of anxiety or not let them get in the way of our lives," says Alisa Kamis-Brinda, a psychotherapist at Serenity Solutions in Philadelphia.
In fact, a 2019 scientific review of 10 studies found that mindfulness-based interventions were more effective than cognitive behavioural therapy for reducing distress associated with anxiety.
Jonas recommends that people start with guided meditation apps like Headspace or Calm. A 2019 study of nursing students found that using similar apps for just 10 minutes per day over two weeks reduced anxiety symptoms.
You can also learn to practice mindfulness meditation on your own with our simple guide.
Biofeedback is the process of monitoring your body's physical reactions to anxiety in order to better regulate them.
For example, you might notice that your heart is racing when you're feeling anxious. Then, you can monitor your heart rate while taking deep breaths, and watch as your heart lowers during that relaxation technique.
"Biofeedback can help us regulate our breath, reduce muscle tension, and increase heart rate variability, which are all correlated with decreased levels of anxiety," says Jonas.
A 2015 study of nursing students found that practicing biofeedback reduced their reported anxiety levels over a period of four weeks.
Eat healthy and avoid substances
Research has found that a diet high in fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates can increase risk for anxiety by 25%.
On the other hand, eating a diet rich in natural, wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables, and legumes, while avoiding sugary snacks, can help control anxiety.
Another study found that omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish like salmon, reduced anxiety in medical students.
At the same time, you should avoid alcohol. Many people with anxiety get temporary relief from symptoms when they drink, but experience increased symptoms when they stop drinking.
That leads some people with anxiety to drink even more. For example, social anxiety disorder is closely linked to alcohol use disorder, according to a 2019 twin study.
Try supplements like magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral supplement that has been shown to decrease anxiety. For example, a 2017 scientific review of 18 studies found that taking magnesium supplements was associated with decreased subjective anxiety, or the feelings of anxiety that people report.
"Magnesium has muscle relaxing effects on the body and anxiolytic [anxiety reducing] effects on the brain," Jonas says.
According to Jonas, magnesium is relatively safe and well-tolerated by most people - she recommends starting with a dose of 500 to 800 milligrams, taken at bedtime.
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