Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting an estimated 40 million adults each year. It can take many different forms, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, or phobias.
Anxiety affects both the mind and the body. In addition to feelings of worry and nervousness, you may experience changes in your digestive system, immune function, circulatory system, and even other areas of your body. Anxiety sometimes can be caused by physical conditions as well.
Whatever the cause, anxiety often responds well to lifestyle changes and (if necessary) medical treatment. If you or someone you know is being treated for anxiety, here are some things to consider.
Managing the Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
When you feel stressed, your body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare your body for “fight or flight” (or “freeze”). When these chemicals are repeatedly released due to stress, it can interfere with optimal physical body functions. Although stress cannot be entirely eliminated, there are steps you can take to manage symptoms of anxiety more effectively.
Tips to Reduce Anxiety:
Exercise regularly. Physical activity is one of the most effective ways to counter the impact of stress. Find activities that you enjoy such as walking, hiking, dancing, biking, martial arts, strength training, yoga, etc. Invite a friend to work out with you to make it more fun, or consider hiring a coach for accountability and consistency.
Breathe deeply. Breathing tends to become more rapid and shallow when feeling anxious or stressed. Remind yourself to slow down and breathe from your belly instead of your chest. You’ll feel more calm and increase the supply of oxygen and nutrients to your brain and other organs. There are plenty of breathing apps available that are great tools to help you train your body to breathe for relaxation.
Support your immune system. Take extra precautions against catching colds and other bugs. Wash your hands regularly to help prevent the spread of germs and viruses. Take a nutrient-dense supplement that supports immunity such as zinc, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D3. Also, reduce sugar intake, as it suppresses immune function.
Eat well and eat slowly. Anxiety can have a major impact on your digestion. You may have a tendency to overeat, or you may lose your appetite. Some people experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers, acid reflux, or other digestive disturbances as a result of unaddressed stress and anxiety. Plan out your meals and snacks with a balance of healthy proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Also, eat slowly by taking extra time to chew your food; also consider putting the silverware down between bites. Eating slowly and chewing your food thoroughly will aid digestion.
Limit caffeine. Does drinking coffee or caffeinated beverages leave you feeling wired or jittery? Try cutting back on caffeine to see if you feel less tense. If that still leaves you feeling anxious, you may want to consider avoiding caffeine altogether and replacing it with an alternative.
Rest and relax. Anxiety often interferes with sleep. It can be helpful to establish a consistent bedtime; avoid electronics at least an hour before bed; and keep your bedroom dark. Also, try various relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, listening to instrumental music, using aromatherapy such as lavendar and chamomile, drink a decaffeinated herbal tea, take a warm bath, get a massage, or enjoy a foot bath.
Learn to say “no”. Do you find yourself often saying “yes” to invitations and requests, even if your gut is screaming “no”?? Listen to your gut. Practice saying “no”. Those who have difficulty setting healthy boundaries are often left feeling depleted and resentful, which can take a negative toll on your physical and mental health.
Identifying Possible Physical Causes of Anxiety
Oftentimes, anxiety disorders develop in childhood or early adulthood. If you begin to have excessive anxiety later in life, you may want to see your doctor to rule out any possible physical causes such as…..
Overactive or underactive thyroid. Overactive and underactive thyroids are among the most common physical causes of anxiety. Your doctor can administer tests to assess your thyroid function and can help you receive appropriate treatment, if necessary.
Chronic conditions. Struggling with a chronic condition can make you more susceptible to anxiety. Ask for help when you need it.
Understanding the physical effects of anxiety can help you heal your mind and body. Learning to manage stress with lifestyle changes can make a significant different in how you feel both physically and emotionally.