Daily Life

A Holistic Psychologist’s Top 3 Self-Care Hacks For Anxiety

Add these to your stress-busting toolkit.

By: Nicole Lippman-Barile Ph.D., N.T.P.

I know that many of us have been experiencing increased anxiety and stress since our lives have drastically changed with the start of COVID and lockdown. With decreased access to external resources, more and more of us are in need of some serious self-care to help decrease and manage our feelings of anxiety. Ahead, more about anxiety, plus some simple yet effective self-care for anxiety hacks. 

What is Anxiety & What Causes it? 

Anxiety is your body’s response to stress, which can be physiological, psychological, emotional, and biological.  Anxiety and stress are not inherently bad or dangerous — in fact, many times, we experience anxiety because something is important or meaningful to us. What makes anxiety a disorder is the level of impairment it exerts on a person’s life.

Anxiety can have many different root causes and can be triggered by a number of different things. For some, it can be triggered by being dehydrated or having specific nutritional deficiencies, while for others, it can be because of an ongoing stressor such as loss of a job or lack of social support. Here are some of my go-to hacks to help manage and decrease feelings of anxiety.

3 Self-Care Hacks For Anxiety

#1 Use Your Breath

Taking slow, conscious, deep diaphragmatic breaths can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system responsible for helping us feel calm and relaxed. Diaphragmatic breathing refers to belly or abdominal breathing and is characterized by the expansion of the abdomen instead of the chest. 

Deep belly breathing is one of the most effective and immediate ways to help activate this system and manage the feeling of being anxious. Helping calm our body also helps to calm our mind. When we slow down our physical body, it helps to slow down racing thoughts, a common consequence of experiencing anxiety. 

To practice, place one hand on the middle of your chest and your other hand on your stomach. Then, slowly breathe in through your nose and focus on having your breath expand your stomach. You should feel and see your hand on your stomach rising along with your inhale. Then, slowly exhale through pursed lips or through your nose. You should feel and see your hand falling as your stomach draws into your body. Your hand on your chest should remain still throughout your breathing. You can try this for 2-3 minutes at a time and notice how you feel before and after the exercise. 

Physiological evidence has indicated that even a single breathing practice significantly reduces blood pressure, improves cardiorespiratory fitness, helps reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  

Having a regular practice of diaphragmatic breathing 2-3 times a day can help lower your overall feelings of stress and anxiety. Deep breathing is also a self-care for anxiety hack that’s completely free and can be utilized any time of the day. 

#2 Write Down Your Worries

If you find that your mind is constantly worrying and it’s taking away from your ability to focus on other tasks, schedule a “worry time.” Worry time is a discrete period of time (I recommend no more than 10 minutes) where you write down and express all of your worried and anxious thoughts in an unfiltered way. Whether this is your to-do list for tomorrow or something more pressing, writing down your worries allows you to clear out the mental space for other kinds of thoughts. It also allows you to clarify your thoughts and helps create space to think them through more rationally. 

If you are going to engage in a worry time, make sure that you do this at least 2 hours before going to bed. The last thing you want to do is think about everything you are worried and anxious about before you try to go to sleep.

#3 Nutrition and Exercise

I’m combining these two because I can’t say one without the other. Eating nutrient-dense meals helps ensure that you are getting the proper nutrients that will help support your mental health and brain function.  For some, sugar can exacerbate and worsen feelings of anxiety. Limiting your intake of added sugars and replacing those calories with whole fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and good sources of protein will give your brain the nutrients it needs to thrive and help to stabilize your blood sugar, minimizing dips and spikes that can also influence your mood and overall feelings of anxiety. 

Exercise is also an incredible tool that helps to improve our mental health. Research supports the use of exercise as a therapeutic tool to help decrease and manage feelings of anxiety with some studies finding that high intensity exercise being more effective than low-intensity exercise. 

Overall, exercise and nutrient-dense food is medicine for your brain. It keeps your brain youthful helping to stave off neurodegenerative disease, decrease symptoms of depression, and helps to manage anxiety.

RELATED: The 7 Best Foods For a Better Mood + 3 Recipes

Find What Works For You 

It’s normal and common to experience anxiety. Managing these thoughts and feelings is crucial for your mental and physical health. Having some go-to practices such as the ones above can ensure that you have tools to use during moments that can feel overwhelming.