On an everyday basis, fear tends to manifest as worry. We medicalize this in the condition of anxiety.
When you consider the number of people whose lives will be limited by anxiety at some point, the personal and social costs of this condition create a profound burden of suffering.
Although the experience of anxiety begins in your mind, it affects your body too. The physical symptoms of anxiety can be more prominent than the psychological ones for some people. Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- feelings of nervousness
- poor memory
- decreased reaction times
- stomach irritation or other gastrointestinal symptoms
Everyone experiences worry or anxiety occasionally but for about 12% of people anxiety is a constant companion. If you are among those 12%, you'll be interested to know that there are several simple, natural techniques for reducing anxiety that are very effective which you can start to use right now.
8 Tips for Reducing Anxiety
Anxiety has two phases: acute and chronic. The first 4 tips below are things you can do in the moment to reduce acute anxiety. The next 4 tips are things you can build into your lifestyle to help prevent acute anxiety from occurring.
1. Slow Deep Breathing
Changes in breath rates are common with anxiety; some people hold their breath, other people gulp air like they can't get enough of it.
You've heard the advice "take a deep breath" when you are anxious. You may have thought of deep breathing as a simple distraction, to take your mind of the anxiety-provoking situation, but it's actually a lot more than that.
When you hold your breath or breath rapidly, the pH level of your blood fluctuates with changes in the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This shift in pH causes chemical changes in your brain that heighten anxiety (1).
Deep breathing keeps that pH shift from occurring. It also triggers the Parasympathetic Nervous System, the part of the nervous system that keeps us feeling calm (2).
When you use deep breathing to counter anxiety, it's important to breathe slowly to avoid hyperventilation. Take a breath in to a slow count of 4, hold for a count of 4 and release the breath to a count of 4. Continue to take slow deep breaths until your anxiety subsides.
Acupuncture has been shown to be effective for reducing anxiety (3). If you are having an anxious moment, you can stimulate an acupuncture point using pressure rather than a needle.
There are many points that could be used for this purpose but a point called Pericardium (PC) 6 is easy to access in most circumstances and the gesture of applying pressure to it is unobstrusive.
To locate PC 6, place the middle three fingers of your dominant hand across the opposite forearm such that your ring finger aligns with the wrist crease and your knuckles are centred on your forearm. The knuckle of your index finger marks the spot. Apply firm pressure to the point for several minutes while you continue to breathe deeply.
There are acute and chronic aspects to self-talk. The nature of your thoughts on an ongoing basis will make you more or less susceptible to anxiety. Please refer to The Tools of Happiness to learn more.
In an anxious moment, focus your attention on your breathing. Count your breaths. Tell yourself you are safe and well. Anxiety feels awful but it passes.
Louise Hay wrote a respected, well-known book about how self-talk affects health called You Can Heal Your Life. She recommends this affirmation to counter anxiety (4):
I love and approve of myself and trust the process of life. I am safe.
4. Drinking Water
Dehydration, even when mild, can have a significant impact on mood (5, 6). Having a glass of water during a period of anxiety provides relief for some of the symptoms of Sympathetic Nervous System stimulation, such as dry mouth, and will help to compensate for any level of dehydration that may exist.
Some people hate to talk about their feelings but it's just a fact: talking about your anxiety with someone you trust will help. Anxiety is often the product of skewed perception. Sharing your worries with others allows them to help you balance your perceptions with different points of view. If your anxiety is interfering with your life, consider talking to a trained helper, such as a psychologist, a member of the clergy, your family doctor, a naturopath or a life coach.
Research shows that people who engage in regular exercise are less susceptible to anxiety (7). If you are more of a rock (as in sedentary) than a jock, one 10 minute walk per day is a good starting point. Work up to a minimum of 30 minutes of activity per day.
7. Diet Modification
A number of nutritional problems are associated with anxiety:
- poor control of blood sugar
- vitamin deficiencies (especially B vitamins)
- mineral deficiencies
- inadequate hydration
Follow a low glycemic diet of whole foods and eat at least 3 meals per day. Ensure you are drinking enough water and other fluids to maintain your hydration level.
If following these instructions does not result in lower anxiety, consult a naturopathic doctor or a certified nutritionist to determine if supplementation is needed.
8. Botanical and Homeopathic Remedies
Rescue Remedy is a time-tested, trusted homeopathic remedy for acute anxiety. It is available in various forms, such as drops, a spray or gum. I have used it myself for test anxiety and found the spray was the most convenient form for me.
Because Bach flower remedies are preserved in a small amount of alcohol, they may not be appropriate for everyone. Please consult a naturopathic doctor, or a homeopathic doctor, for alternatives.
Many herbs have soothing or sedating properties. If you are on medication, please consult a herbalist or a naturopath before adding botanical or herbal supplements to your routine.
Avena (oats) is very effective for anxiety; it is safe for most people to experiment with as a food (oatmeal).
Herbal teas, such as chamomile, peppermint and lemon balm, are also helpful and generally regarded as safe.
Anxiety is a prevalent, potentially devastating condition with high personal and social costs. It affects both the mind and the body, and can have a significant impact on quality of life. People who are prone to anxiety tend to experience it in both acute and chronic ways. Changes to personal habits and perspectives, including deep breathing, healthy eating, and being open to balancing points of view, can result in empowerment and lasting relief.
(1) N. A. Agadzhanyan, P. I. Terekhin, Physiological Mechanisms of Respiratory Phenomena in Anxiety and Depressive Disorders, Human Physiology, May 2002, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 351-361
(2) Wells R, Outhred T, Heathers JAJ, Quintana DS, Kemp AH (2012) Matter Over Mind: A Randomised-Controlled Trial of Single-Session Biofeedback Training on Performance Anxiety and Heart Rate Variability in Musicians. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46597. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046597
(3) Hyunyoung Kim, Hyun-Jung Park, Seung-Moo Han, Dae-Hyun Hahm, Hye-Jung Lee, Kyung-Soo Kim, Insop Shim, The effects of acupuncture stimulation at PC6 (Neiguan) on chronic mild stress-induced biochemical and behavioral responses, Neuroscience Letters, Volume 460, Issue 1, 21 August 2009, Pages 56-60, ISSN 0304-3940, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2009.05.008
(4) Louise L. Hay, You Can Heal Your Life, 2004, page 149 ISBN: 0937611018
(5) Ganio MS, Armstrong LE, Casa DJ, McDermott BP, Lee EC, Yamamoto LM, Marzano S, Lopez RM, Jimenez L, Le Bellego L, Chevillotte E, Lieberman HR. Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men. Br J Nutr. 2011 Nov;106(10):1535-43. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511002005. Epub 2011 Jun 7. http://bit.ly/14MfNqL
(6) Armstrong LE, Ganio MS, Casa DJ, Lee EC, McDermott BP, Klau JF, Jimenez L, Le Bellego L, Chevillotte E, Lieberman HR. Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women. J Nutr. 2012 Feb;142(2):382-8. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.142000. Epub 2011 Dec 21. http://bit.ly/1bReppP
(7) M.H.M. De Moor, A.L. Beem, J.H. Stubbe, D.I. Boomsma, E.J.C. De Geus, Regular exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: A population-based study, Preventive Medicine, Volume 42, Issue 4, April 2006, Pages 273-279, ISSN 0091-7435, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2005.12.002.