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Anxiety, like our other emotions, is a normal and healthy part of being human. However, when anxiety gets out of control, it can interfere with our daily lives and may even prevent us from doing things we want or need to do.
The proportion of Americans with anxiety has been growing rapidly in recent years. About 18.1% of adults ages 18 years and older suffer from an anxiety disorder, not including those who are undiagnosed. In addition, 25.1% of children ages 13-18 are affected.
Medication for anxiety is a common treatment but it’s far from a lifelong strategy. Medication is simply a bandage, able to protect from the effects of anxiety but does nothing for your ability to rethink it.
Thankfully, there are other ways to retrain the brain to tackle anxiety. These methods carve new neural pathways and allow those pathways to become worn so that it then becomes the new norm. And like everything else, it takes practice and dedication before you see progress. These 10 effective strategies will allow your brain to break free from its anxious mold, so that you can live calmer and do more of what you love.
An anxious mind is unable to sit still. The thoughts run on and they take hold. The same can be said about the emotions that accompany those thoughts.
Meditation is one of the best ways to train your brain to focus.
Meditation should be practiced daily and seen as a lifelong tool, not as a quick fix. When you practice meditation, over time you will not only have the ability to calm yourself in a fearful moment, you’ll develop the skills to do so subconsciously throughout your day, which will allow you to be more calm and relaxed.
Out of the many meditation apps out there, Headspace is a fan favorite. It’s simple and easy to use, yet detailed enough to provide a solid foundation to restructure a chaotic mind.
Not at all restricted to anxiety, Headspace includes an expansive list of modules and exercises for all mood disruptions including some pretty cool ones like:
- Transforming Anger
- Eating with Your Senses
- Letting Go of Stress
- Performance Mindset
- Managing Conflict
- Listening to Others
Headspace also has “Sleepcasts,” which could nostalgically be described as adult bedtime stories. In addition, there are daily group meditations at various times throughout the day, as well as meditation for kids.
Really, there’s NO reason to NOT meditate. ESPECIALLY if it’ll help bring you peace of mind.
In addition to meditation, yoga is a great mind and body relaxing technique that can greatly reduce feelings of anxiety.
Yoga strengthens and tones the body, while also improving your deep breathing. If you find your mind wandering in meditation alone, adding a body element through yoga can help distract your mind and ground your thoughts to the body.
When you’re just starting out as a yoga novice, don’t feel like you need to push your body to conform to the more advanced poses. This can place unwanted strain on your body and can even cause injury. Start with beginner poses like the child or mountain pose and simply focus on your balance and breath. Once you’re able to master those, you’re ready to master the body. It’s totally normal for yogis to practice a year or more in order to perfect an advanced pose so don’t feel discouraged, and remember, small improvements are just as important as the end result.
3. Cold Showers
Taking cold showers is another way to train your brain to focus on the breath and remain present.
When you shower in cold water, the first thing you think about is how insanely cold the water is.
Then your body takes over.
There are no thoughts about upcoming exams, deadlines, or bills. There is no anger, no anxiety, and no sadness. All you’re focused on is the breath.
Your breaths will be rapid and irregular at first, but soon you’ll experience deeper and more regular breaths, but more importantly, a calm mind.
That amazing sense of calm resonates after your shower and throughout your day.
It sounds extreme, but it’s fascinating how freezing your butt off grants you inner peace.
However, I know cold showers aren’t for everyone (check with your doctor if you have a heart condition or other medical problem), but if you’ve been dealing with a restless mind, I highly recommend giving them a shot.
4. Practice Breathing
A wonderful skill to combat anxiety is by breathing strategically. Just practicing deep breathing may not work for everyone. In such cases, strategic breathing may be more effective.
How does deep breathing affect the body?
Deep breathing alleviates stress, increases circulation, fights insomnia, and eliminates toxins.
There are many breathing exercises, so it’s important you find what works best for you. Keep an open mind. Practice one breathing exercise for 1-2 weeks and if it isn’t effective, try another method.
Two of my favorite breathing exercises are the Wim Hoff method and box breathing.
Wim Hoff is a cold enthusiast and also the creator of the Wim Hoff breathing exercise. For this exercise, you take 30 quick, deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Afterward, take a deep breath and exhale, holding your breath for as long as possible after the exhalation. Finally, inhale as deep as you can and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat as necessary.
Seal box breathing originated from the U.S. Navy Seals and is an excellent breathing exercise that can lower stress and anxiety almost immediately.
The process for box breathing is to breathe deeply for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, then exhale for 5 seconds. You can find a great visual for box breathing here.
Of all the methods discussed, exercise is one of the most naturally effective ways to combat feelings of anxiety.
There’s no anxiety medication, treatment, technique, or skill that will be as effective as exercising.
Exercise relaxes the body and stimulates it to release feel good hormones called endorphins that lift your mood. Both cardio and weight lifting work well towards alleviating stress, anxiety, and depression.
Make it a goal to exercise every day!
Diet is another key part of maintaining a healthy mental state, but not a lot of emphasis is placed on our diets beside the occasional warrant to “eat healthy.”
Diet is important because what food you consume contributes to your gut health, which greatly affects your mood. A good array of beneficial bacteria is not only indicative of good health, it is a good way to keep your mental health in tip top shape.
A healthy diet is one that steers clear of processed and fatty foods while consuming more plant-based foods. I’m a strong advocate for a vegan lifestyle, but I understand it’s not for everyone. However, eating vegan just a couple days out of the week can make a big difference in your health in the long term.
We all understand how important it is to express ourselves, whether that’s through socializing or the arts. But what most people don’t know is that journaling is another powerful form of self-expression and discovery.
Journaling allows us to visualize and put into paper our problems and struggles. Thoughts can be convoluted, but words and sentences take on form and make sense of messy thoughts.
Set aside time to write freely for 5-10 minutes every day. This “journal time” can be after meditation in the mornings or before bed as part of your routine.
Adding onto journaling is CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a popular clinical method for therapists to help work through underlying anxieties and mood disruptions, but it’s a skill that can also be learned on your own.
CBT teaches the common cognitive distortions that effects our mood and how to change the negative, and oftentimes false, voices in our heads.
Below are some common cognitive distortions. Can you identify which ones you use? How can you change those distortions into a more truthful and realistic thought?
- Filtering; seeing only the negatives in any situation and ignoring the positives
- Polarized Thinking; either or thinking, see situations in black and white and extremes
- Overgeneralization; coming to general conclusions on one event
- Jumping to conclusions; fortune telling, mind reading
- Catastrophizing; expecting the worst
- Personalization; taking everything personal
- Control fallacies; assuming responsibility for everything that happens
9. Pets (And Other Hobbies)
Not sure why pets aren’t at the top of every anxiety tips list, but they definitely should be!
Spending time with a furry friend can drastically lower stress levels and offer a sense of calmness. In addition, it’s important to find hobbies you love. Owning pets and participating in your favorite hobbies is cathartic and an indicator of a healthy mindset.
Good hobbies to lower anxiety:
- Taking walks on the beach
- Playing sports
- Solving puzzles
- Playing instruments
10. CBD Oil
Cbd oils and tinctures are a great way to relieve anxiety and it’s something to look into if you’re interested in natural, non-pharmaceutical remedies.
CBD oil is the component in marijuana and hemp plants that combat pain, help insomnia, and lessen anxiety and stress.
Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it won’t get you high. When taking CBD, start with a low dose while recording its effects, then up the dose if needed. While taking excess CBD won’t harm you, it can get expensive if you take more than necessary.
CBD can be taken as a tincture (as oil drops under the tongue), in edibles, or vaped.
If you’re new to CBD, I highly recommend Lazarus Naturals. They offer both CBD isolate (pure CBD) and full spectrum, which contains other cannabinoids beside CBD, but at a much lower concentration and can be psychoactive at higher doses. For low income households, you can apply for their assistance program to receive 60% off all their products.
If you’re unsure whether CBD is the right fit for your anxiety, ask your doctor before starting on a CBD regimen.
Anxiety’s tough, but you’re tougher. Utilize these 10 natural and effective strategies to retrain your brain and live calm.
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