Anxiety often manifests itself as feelings of unease, fear, and panic, and is generally – although not always – caused by stress. Feeling anxious before an interview or an exam, feeling butterflies in your stomach before a first date or when about to step on stage to host a presentation, is perfectly normal.
However, for some, anxiety can develop into a more prolonged and serious condition, often a symptom of disorders such as panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, or PTSD, which can lead people to feel isolated and unable to engage in day to day life.
The direct symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Nervousness or restlessness
- Trouble concentrating beyond the immediate worry
- Increased heart rate
- Gastrointestinal problems / IBS
A 2013 study conducted in the UK highlighted 8.2 million cases of diagnosed anxiety, with women twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than men.
This figure has shot up in recent years, with the World Health Organization citing a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide, and that 1 in 13 globally suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.
The key being that if you’re a sufferer you’re not alone, and research into these statistics is emphasising the need for more funding and accessibility for anxiety support programmes.
Keep on reading to explore the top 5 techniques that can help you coping with anxiety and reducing its symptoms.
1. Practice Meditation and Mindfulness
Learning to relax can be incredibly difficult for those experiencing a regularly anxious mind; however, grappling with meditation can be incredibly beneficial, and has been shown to improve anxiety levels 60% of the time (I’m in that 60%).
Meditation can mean varying things from person to person, but is ultimately a set of techniques employed to promote mindfulness over the mind and body, increase relaxation, and a calmer state.
Meditation doesn’t come on a one-shoe-fits-all basis, and you might have to shop around and try a few apps before one tickles your fancy.
2. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise eases tension and stress, and can lessen many of the physical manifestations of anxiety. This doesn’t have to mean gruelling hours spent at the gym; outside aerobic exercise can be tailored to your hobbies, and could include hiking outdoors, bike rides, engaging in team sports with friends such as football or tennis, dance classes, or just long strolls listening to your favourite podcasts or songs.
Sticking to a new exercise regime can be hard, but when you find out what you truly enjoy doing, you can set realistic goals that you’re more likely to stick to on a regular basis and keep away from viewing exercise as a chore.
This also means not beating yourself up for days or even weeks away, whether it be for a holiday spent in the sun or a day where going for a run does just seem too tough.
3. Strive For Sleep Hygiene and Rest
Defined as certain habits and practices conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis, sleep hygiene plays a key role in making sure you’re well rested.
A lack of sleep or sleep deprivation tends to worsen anxiety, creating a negative cycle whereby individuals avoid sleep actively or passively, and are up all night worrying about intrusive thoughts, resulting in an overtired and fried brain the next morning and even less sleep the next night.
Setting a good sleep schedule is key to achieving a good amount of deep (REM) sleep and keeping your anxiety more at bay. This includes having a fixed time at which you wake up, whether a weekday or weekend, so that you get into a schedule of prioritising sleep; turning off screens and electronic devices 30-60 minutes before bedtime; cutting down on caffeine in the early afternoon; avoiding too many naps; and sleeping in a dark and cool room.
Sleep hygiene isn’t the same for everyone, and what works for one person might not work for you, so you might have to play around with the schedule before you start dozing off more easily.
4. Avoid Caffeine and Smoking
You might well be married to your double shot venti caramel syrup latte on your way to work, but an overconsumption of caffeine doesn’t bode well for an anxious mind.
Caffeine heightens a state of alertness, resulting in increased levels of anxiety such as racing thoughts and jitteriness. Consider limiting your caffeine intake, swapping your espresso for green tea, and pacing your coffees out throughout the day so as not to overwhelm yourself.
Additionally, nicotine lulls you into a false sense of relaxation in the immediacy, whilst actively increasing anxiety and tension in the long run – plus it creates a heightened sense of anxiety when people try to quit and instead experience withdrawal symptoms and begin to crave cigarettes or vapes.
Consider limiting or quitting a smoking habit, as even though turning to cigarettes when you feel anxious may bring relief, this is only temporary and instead the habit tends to exacerbate long-term manifestations of anxiety.
5. Try To Have A Balanced Diet
With increasing studies showing that our gut health is closely linked to our mental wellbeing, paying attention to what you’re eating is one way of improving how you feel.
This doesn’t mean crash diets or detoxes, but instead long-term steps to incorporating non-processed foods into your diet, eating fresh foods where it’s economically feasible, cutting down on sugar, drinking plenty of water, and incorporating natural supplements suggested to ease anxiety such as chamomile, probiotics, or CBD oil.
Although these tips can help keep a panic-stricken mind at bay, it’s worth knowing when to consult a medical professional for further support. Resources on finding out more about anxiety and where to seek alternative treatments such as therapy or medications include AnxietyUK and Mind, and talking to your GP.
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