Anxiety can feel insurmountable, and it’s something so many of us have been dealing with after this wild year. It’s also an emotion that all humans experience from time to time — and that can be especially true during the wintertime (because feeling blue or depressed can mess with your inherent anxiety coping mechanisms), and even more so when you’re roughly nine to ten months into a global pandemic.
The good news? While feelings of anxiety may not be something we can completely erase, there are some steps we can all take to feel a bit more centered. Ahead are five simple ways to feel a little less anxious, according to experts.
P.S. these tips all make excellent additions to a healthy wellness routine — there’s never been a better time to think about some new healthy habits as we head into a new year.
Expert Tips for Anxiety Relief
While it may seem overwhelming to think about ways to combat feelings of stress and anxiety, sometimes we have to remind ourselves to get back to the basics. Why? Because a lot of us tend to neglect the basics — even if we don’t mean to. Think: getting better sleep (for more hours, more consistently), drinking more water, not smoking, getting consistent exercise, and eating a nutrient-dense diet. As clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland, Psy.D, puts it: “Food is fuel, movement is medicine, and sleep is power.”
#1 Add Brain Food to Your Diet
If you’re not adjusting your diet for physical reasons, consider making adjustments for your brain health. In the wintertime especially, we tend to take our attention off our diet. And as far as eating delightful holiday treats go, that’s great! But we also need to ensure we’re feeding our minds with nutrient-packed food for our mental health. As Dr. Gilliland says, “food is fuel.”
The good thing is that you don’t necessarily need to take anything out of your routine, but try eating more dark leafy greens (we know, you hear this a lot!), omega-3 packed foods (salmon, nuts, chia and hemp seeds, seaweed, edamame), and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to provide your body and brain with balanced energy levels.
#2 Get. More. Sleep.
Did you know more than 70 million Americans are chronically sleep-deprived? Dr. Gilliland spoke to this as well and shared that if you’re getting less than seven to eight hours (“ideally eight”) per night, you’re in that chronic category, too. His tip: increase your “in bed time” so your sleep time naturally increases as well. He explains that in-bed time does not equate to hours slept, so it’s important to expand that window. By properly recharging your batteries, he says you’ll be more able to manage life’s stressors and less likely to have your brain monopolized by anxious thoughts.
Dr. Gilliland also says that there is “no amount” of counseling and medication that can counter the effects of sleep deprivation — and that getting better sleep could be just as powerful as those two therapies.
Need help nodding off? Try this sleep meditation.
#3 Drink More Water
Another component of covering your bases is adequate hydration. Studies have shown a link between dehydration and anxiety and doctors have said that most of us are dehydrated. Like we said earlier… we might not mean to, but we’re not really nailing the basics collectively. This is an incredibly simple way to get the ball rolling: start filling up large bottles of water and leaving them around your house, car, office… wherever you are! Drink up.
#4 Add Low (or High!) Impact Movement
“Movement is medicine,” says Dr. Gilliland. “I’m all about finding ‘good medicine,’ and for me, that’s getting outside or riding my bike.” He strongly encourages everyone to incorporate some form of movement into their daily mental health routine.
Study after study after study shows that exercise can help manage feelings of stress and anxiety, but whether you should opt for high- or low-impact is up for debate. You probably already know that yoga is a popular (and well-studied) choice for stress and anxiety reduction (it really is powerful), but don’t write off mood-boosting dance or sweaty cardio, either!
#5 Beyond Basics: Therapy and Mindfulness Practices
The simplest way to begin anxiety management is — as we said — with the above basics. Ensure proper hydration and brain-fueling nutrition, move more each day, get consistent rockstar-levels of sleep, don’t smoke… you know the drill. Once you’re totally dialed on all those fronts, if you’re still feeling life-impeding anxiety, it’s time to take things up a notch.
Seeking out a licensed mental healthcare practitioner is paramount for success when it comes to anxiety. Whether that’s a licensed therapist or clinical psychologist or psychiatrist is up to you and your personal health plan, but it’s essential to ensuring you’re on the right path for your individual circumstances and brain chemistry. Anxiety can have a multitude of causes and triggers, and figuring out what yours are can be a tiring journey — so it’s best to have an expert.
While you’re in the process of finding a great therapist (or even if you’ve already begun therapy!), adding in meditation is a great way to get into a calmer mindset. You’ve probably heard this 1,000 times in 2020, but it really does work, especially if you stick to it.
Try this Free From Anxiety meditation or this Anxiety Release meditation; they’re both just six minutes, so you can start to develop your mindfulness ‘muscle.’ Try this once or twice a day until you get the hang of it (and remember, it’s challenging even for those of us who’ve been meditating for years… so don’t write it off!).
Remember: there’s nothing wrong with you. Anxiety is a normal human emotion and experience. But… it doesn’t feel great, and it can get in the way of you living your best, most joyful, healthiest life. Start by going back to basics, and by getting the support you need and deserve. These positive choices will bleed into all areas of your life — and that’s where the magic starts to happen!