Battling anxiety is never easy. Those with generalized anxiety disorder may fight worrying and intrusive thoughts, feeling powerless to stop them. For people with panic disorder, the “not knowing” when panic will strike causes great apprehension and this often brings on a panic attack. No matter what type of anxiety you have, chances are you struggle each day to keep your anxiety at bay.
As we start a new year, many of us take a look at our lives and treatment to determine what is working and what is not. We take stock of where we are and where we want to be. You might start out the year creating a treatment plan or plan of action. You might want to reduce your medication or try a new type of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy. You might be considering alternative treatment such as supplements or hypnosis.
As you work to make positive changes in your life, the following are five areas you can work on throughout the year:
Take Care of Yourself
You know that taking care of yourself is important. Your physical health impacts your levels of anxiety. There are some steps you can take to make sure you are in the best possible physical health:
Eat right - While diet may not be a direct cause of anxiety, it can contribute to anxiety levels. When you are under a lot of stress, you may make unhealthy food choices, increasing your anxiety. Some ingredients, such as caffeine, increase feelings of irritability, making your stress levels increase. If you aren’t sure what foods are best, talk with your doctor or a nutritionist to create a balanced and healthy diet.
Get a good night’s sleep - This is obviously easier said than done. Worry and stress cause you to toss and turn all night and the lack of sleep increases feelings of stress and anxiety the next day. If you are having trouble sleeping, use some self-help tips to get to sleep or talk to your doctor about what you can do to get a good night’s sleep.
Exercise - Even small amounts of exercise have been found to reduce levels of anxiety and depression. If you don’t exercise, start by adding 10 minutes of exercise to your daily routine. Increase your exercise, as you feel comfortable. If you have any health issues, make sure to talk with your doctor about how much and the types of exercises that are safe for you.
For Women: Have Your Hormone Levels Tested
Throughout a woman’s life, hormonal fluctuations from PMS, pregnancy, peri-menopause and menopause affect stress levels and your ability to deal with stress. Track your anxiety symptoms to see if they coincide with your monthly cycle or if they are related to changing hormone levels. Let your doctor know if you are experiencing hot flashes, irregular cycles or night sweats as this may signal peri-menopause or menopause. Ask your doctor to test your hormone levels every few years.
Create Support Networks
Some people have built in support networks in the form of family and friends. Others feel they are alone in their battle against anxiety. It helps to have people you can turn to that understand what you are going through. If you don’t have people in your life that provide you with that support, take time this year to reach out to others. Check in your local paper for in-person support groups or contact your doctor or hospital to find out if there are support groups in your area. There are also plenty of online support groups and sites, such as this one, where you can talk to others with anxiety and feel understood and heard.
Learn Relaxation Skills
Strategies such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation help to increase feelings of wellbeing throughout the day, even when practiced once a day for 10 minutes. Learning these techniques also gives you a way to combat anxiety as soon as you feel it starting. When you feel panic beginning to rise, stop and breath deeply for 10 minutes. This often helps to stop or reduce your feelings of panic.
Become More Mindful
Mindfulness is living in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness helps reduce levels of anxiety and stress. This is because anxiety usually involves ruminating over things that have happened in the past or worrying about the future. When you learn to live in the moment, these worries go away. You focus only on what is going on around you. Practice mindfulness skills 10 minutes each morning and evening to increase your sense of calm.
While all of these areas can help reduce your anxiety, remember to choose one to start with. Trying to make changes in many different areas of your life all at once might only increase your anxiety levels. Choose one area and when you are comfortable with the progress you have made, add a second, and then third, etc.