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Immunity, Lifestyle, Longevity
Brett Melanson, PhD
June 10, 2022
Brett Melanson, PhD
We all deal with a little worry now and then. It causes us to become concerned and focused on tasks we need to accomplish throughout the day.
But what happens when this anxiety becomes a little too much for our own comfort? What happens when this anxiety begins to take away from our productivity and increases procrastination?
This has likely been the case for many people around the world: we begin a new task focused and ready to conquer it, only to begin working on another task, and another one after that.
Soon enough, we have so many things on our plate that anxiety kicks, causing us to worry about the many things we need to complete—but, it becomes overwhelming.
This is considered anticipatory anxiety and, while quite common, it can really interrupt our day-to-day lives.
The good news is there are many approaches you can take to reduce this anxiety so you can make the most out of your day.
1. Take a breath
First and foremost, just breathe!
Most of the time when things get a little overwhelming, we begin to breathe faster, or hyperventilate (1).
Hyperventilating can affect you in two ways at the molecular level (2):
These outcomes can cause light-headedness and make you feel like your chest is tightening. Because of this, you can actually make your anxiety even worse.
Try simple breathing exercises to try and reduce the amount of anxiety you feel when stressed (3).
Main point: Rapid breathing, or hyperventilating, can worsen anxiety. Try breathing exercises when you feel stressed to control your emotions and stay in tune with your daily goals.
We all love something that smells good.
This is why aromatherapy, or the practice of using essential oils, has been used as a natural remedy for anxiety and stress relief (4).
In fact, studies have shown that releasing aromas like citrus, lavender, and chamomile can actually reduce anxiety and stress as well as improve mood (5), even in people who work in highly stressful conditions like hospitals (6).
As a fun fact, several different kinds of essential oils taken from many different types of medicinal plants have also shown promise in treating a variety of neurological disorders like dementia, cerebral ischemia (or stroke), and oxidative stress (7).
Main point: Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils as a natural remedy for many things, including anxiety and stress relief. Try using citrus, lavender, or chamomile essential oils in an infuser and see if this helps reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
3. Stretch It Out
Getting in a good stretch by practicing yoga can be help you reduce your anxiety and stress levels as well.
In fact, studies suggest that 9 weeks of yoga training can reduce anxiety and worry, even in people with chronic mood disorders (8).
Interestingly, even a single yoga session was able to reduce anxiety in younger people (9), which suggests that this mindfulness-based strategy can be effective in all ages.
Main point: Yoga is a very good way to relieve anxiety and stress. In fact, people found that anxiety levels decreased even after a single training session.
4. Journal Your Emotions
What once used to be a hobby by many people around the world is now an effective strategy at reducing anxiety and managing stress: it’s called journaling (10).
When you find yourself in a pickle, try writing down your thoughts and feelings on some paper. Doing so engages you to truly feel and visualize what is going on in your mind.
At the same time, it allows you to engage muscles in the hand that may deter you from focusing on anxious thoughts.
Journaling can be an effective way to take the thoughts from your mind and lay them out so you can prioritize them.
Speaking to the example earlier in this article, having many tasks throughout the day can be daunting and be a significant source of anxiety.
In this case, try writing down each of these tasks and check them off one-by-one and see how much more manageable multiple tasks can be.
Main point: Journaling is an effective way to cope with anxiety and stress. It allows you to write down your thoughts and visualize them so you can get a sense of priority in your day and tackle your emotions head on with positive self-talk.
5. Dietary Changes
You are what you eat—or so they say.
This saying is actually becoming more factual than anecdotal in recent years.
In fact, studies have linked health status of the gut with changes in mood and emotion (11).
Moreover, consuming a high-protein, low-fat diet improved symptoms of anxiety in overweight and obese women (14), which suggests that low-fat diets may be necessary when dealing with a lot of stress.
Many other dietary choices like salmon, yogurt, dark chocolate, and turmeric have ingredients in them that have been shown to help with anxiety as well (15).
Main point: Studies have shown that high-fat diets are linked with changes in mood, specifically in depression and anxiety. Low-fat, high-protein diets may be a good approach to reduce anxiety during times of stress.
6. Supplements for Your Anxiety
In addition to dietary changes, including supplements to your daily routine can also help you cope with anxiety when you become stressed.
One of the more recent compounds to have positive effects on anxiety is ashwagandha, otherwise known as Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng (16).
Another compound is valerian root.
While the studies appear to be controversial with regard to its ability to reduce anxiety (19), there is some evidence that it helps reduce brain activity related to anxious behavior (20), and it is still commonly used as a natural remedy to manage anxiety and sleep disorders (21).
Main point: Adding supplements like ashwagandha to your diet can help you reduce anxiety levels when dealing with stress. While more controlled studies are required to verify the effects of valerian root, it is still being used as a natural remedy for anxiety and stress—be cautious if you choose to include these in your diet and consult your physician.
Not only should you cut down on the high-fat diets to reduce anxiety, including exercise into your daily routine is also very helpful when it comes to managing stress levels.
In fact, swimming exercise was found to reduce anxiety as well as increase mood and quality of life in older people (22).
Furthermore, regular exercise may help boost mood and relieve anxiety by increasing levels of feel-good hormones like endorphins and cannabinoids in the brain (23).
If you aren’t someone who likes to run much, even resistance training was found to improve anxiety in older individuals (24), which suggests that simply challenging your body through any sort of exercise can be helpful in managing stress and anxiety.
Main point: Exercise is one of the most important things our body needs. Sedentary behavior, or a lack of physical activity, is linked to many anxiety and mood disorders. Taking part in swimming classes, resistance training, or simply going for regular jogs and/or walks can help you tackle anxiety.
Anxiety is something that prepares us for a challenge but can be debilitating if it happens too much. These are just some of the ways you can try and reduce the anxiety that comes with a heavy workload or long list of tasks to complete.
Find the rhythm in your day by including some (or all) of these approaches in your daily routine.
As always, you should discuss any changes to your diet or lifestyle with a healthcare professional.
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