12. Check your diet – and remove sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.
Diet plays a huge role in mental health, and let’s face it: all too often, our diets are terrible. In particular, sugar raises anxiety levels, and it is also one of the most addictive substances in the world. What does this mean? Sugar fuels both anxiety and addiction, which fuels even more anxiety. Start cutting the sugar out of your diet, and be intentional every day about keeping it out. You may be surprised to realize how much you have been mindlessly nibbling on donuts, how much those two spoons of sugar in each cup of coffee have been adding up, or the amount of sugar in just one bottle of soda. Even a cup of fruit juice has more sugar than you want to be consuming. Make small steps to reduce your sugar intake, and as you start feeling more in control of your own health and well-being, make even more significant steps.
Do more than cut sugar out; replace it with something that your body will thank you for. Eat whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice. Find new foods, especially snack foods, that will satisfy your cravings and help you get through a long day at work. Caffeine and alcohol can be just as debilitating for mental health. While one cup of coffee in the morning is not necessarily a bad thing, relying on coffee all day long wires your brain up for chronic anxiety. Similarly, one glass of wine can be relaxing at the end of the day, but drinking to intoxication is terrible for both mental and physical health. Aim to reduce both caffeine and alcohol to more manageable levels.
You may know that green tea has remarkable health benefits and that many people drink chamomile tea to help them sleep. Chamomile tea, made from chamomile flowers, contains compounds that help people relax at the end of a long day. Add in some lavender, which fights anxiety on its own, and you have a drink that will help calm down your frayed nerves. However, make sure that you don’t add any sugar.
Green tea does have some caffeine – much less than coffee – but its health benefits far outweigh the adverse effects of caffeine. Studies have shown that green tea effectively boosts healthy brain activity. It even goes so far as to stabilize brain waves that may have run amok to induce anxiety. Swap out your afternoon cup of coffee for some green tea. Again, don’t add any sugar.
Often, when people start feeling overly anxious, they turn to comfort foods that will immediately satisfy their cravings but provide no benefit. Ultimately, those comfort foods – which can include sugary coffee drinks that offer no nutrition – end up feeding the anxiety lion even more.
Drinking water instead of rushing to comforting mocha lattes helps to reset the brain from anxiety. While you may not get the immediate, though fleeting, sensation of comfort from a glass of water, you will promote better health.
Fruit contains sugar as well as vitamins and minerals, all of which are important to both mental and physical health. If you struggle with anxiety, you may have intense sugar cravings associated with your running, anxious thoughts. Those cravings may be even stronger if you have a sugar addiction (and let’s face the fact that many, many, many Americans are addicted to sugar).
Instead of turning to candy or donuts, try a handful of grapes or mango slices. The sugar in them will take the edge off your cravings, and the nutrients will give your mind and body the boost you need. Add in a cup of green tea for an added jolt of caffeine and nutrients, and you will be on your way to winning the fight against both anxiety and sugar addiction.
Talk therapy is one of the best cures that there is. Few things are worse than feeling as if you are entirely alone, and the anxiety lion inside you is probably trying to make you feel as if you are alone. Give that lion the boot and call a friend. Do more than sending a text message; if you need to send a text to schedule a call, fine. Nevertheless, don’t fool yourself into believing that exchanging text messages is a substitute for a quality conversation. The two of you are focused on each other and can hear each other’s voices.
Even better, talk in person. You’ll be able to see your friend’s body language, which may in itself communicate care and concern for you. Do more than talk about your problems; listen to what is going on in your friend’s life, also. Share jokes and funny stories because laughing together will help turn the anxiety into happiness and amusement. You will almost certainly feel better afterward.
Talking with a friend can be a great antidote to anxiety, but sometimes, the problems we face in life are greater than what an untrained but well-meaning friend can help us with. If your anxiety is chronic and overwhelming, you may want to consider talking with a professional to help you get it under control. Talking with a professional to work through your anxiety does not mean that you are dismissing your friends and the benefit they pose to help you live a meaningful and fulfilled life.
No, quite the opposite. When you allow a professional to help you with your anxiety, you are taking that burden off your friend’s shoulders. The result is that your friend can be precisely that – a friend. A trusted person that you enjoy spending time with and who cares for you. You can have more meaningful conversations with that friend where anxiety is no longer the focus. The focus is on your relationship and enjoying your time together.
Touch therapy is powerful. Hugs may feel good, but they have health benefits that can protect against pain, stress, and even disease. Hugging releases oxytocin, which is a hormone that helps you bond with other people. At a fundamental level, your body will understand that no matter what your anxiety is trying to say, you are not alone in the world. Surprisingly, studies have shown that physical touch helps to reduce people’s pain.
Those exposed to moderate amounts of pain while receiving a comforting touch from a significant other could withstand the problem much better. Most telling about the impact of physical touch is that hugs can help prevent and reduce the disease’s severity. Hugging someone lowers your blood pressure and improves heart function, and one study showed that regular hugs from trusted companions protected people against sickness.
Yoga is a form of exercise that promotes mindfulness, which is an effective antidote to anxiety. When you are focused on the present moment and what your body is currently doing, you feed your anxiety. Yoga also helps your neural circuits switch from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our fight-or-flight response; many people dealing with chronic anxiety are in a fight-or-flight mode.
They need to switch to the operation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing, which is promoted by yoga, helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The yoga poses that people do while practicing also triggers it. You don’t need to join a yoga class, though doing so may not necessarily be a bad thing. Even just a few minutes of yoga each day can turn off the anxiety and turn on the relaxation.
Let’s face the fact that many, many, many of us are severely sleep-deprived. While not getting enough sleep may be a badge of honor in high school and college, it can cause severe problems as an adult. Not getting enough sleep leads to a unregulated appetite – causing more elevated sugar and caffeine cravings – as well as a lack of focus and heightened anxiety. Anxiety creates a vicious cycle in terms of not getting enough sleep. If you deal with anxiety, you are probably aware of how it can keep you up at night. And then the physical effects of not having slept enough create even more anxiety.
The solution is that you have to find ways to make sure you are getting enough sleep to defeat the anxiety monster. Contrary to common wisdom, wearing yourself out will not necessarily help you sleep and may cause you to stay awake longer. Instead of trying to wear yourself out, focus on activities that will promote focus, calm, and relaxation. Get a moderate amount of exercise, but not too late in the day, because late exercise can keep you awake. Don’t consume any caffeine in the afternoon (unless you work night shifts). Spend time with people who make you feel good instead of mindlessly scrolling through your phone or binging on Netflix. Take a relaxing bath before trying to go to sleep, and add some essential oils for extra benefit. The impact of getting enough sleep is enormous. You will not only have helped tame the anxiety lion just by sleeping but the rest and focus provided by adequate sleep will allow you to dismiss anxious thoughts whenever they arise.
3. Depending on the source of your stress, you may want to consider changing jobs.
If your job is your primary source of stress, and that stress is causing you chronic anxiety that is severely interfering with your ability to function, you may need to consider changing jobs. Don’t decide rashly, though, because the last thing you want is to be without income and have to deal with anxiety.
Perhaps you can look into switching to a different company, where you would do similar work but in a different environment. This option may be beneficial if your biggest stressor is coworkers. Another option might be to try to work from home, at least part of the time so that you don’t have to deal with coworkers’ stress. You could also request to move to a different department.
Our anxiety is often associated with the hustle and bustle of a fast and busy life that does not allow us to slow down. We need to stop and smell the roses – that is part of being human – but the fast lane does not reward those who pull off and take a rest. There are probably things in your life that you can get rid of to lower your anxiety levels. The first thing that needs to go is toxic relationships that are causing you constant stress. No, you cannot help that person.
That person is dragging you down and inhibiting your ability to enjoy life. Is your high-paying job is a source of anxiety, but your only reliable income? If your only option for improved well-being is to quit your job, you will need to consider what financial obligations you can eliminate. Again, don’t make the decision lightly. What may surprise you is how those financial obligations were a source of stress rather than joy.
1. Get down to the things that are proven to bring you the most joy.
People often find anxiety in places that are entirely extraneous to the experience of being human. You probably don’t need that Barbie Dream House (okay, maybe the dollhouse is fun to look at, but you don’t need to live in a life-size version), and the mortgage is killing not only your finances but also your joy. You don’t need to keep up with the Joneses. You don’t need the best Christmas lights in the entire neighborhood to enjoy your home and your neighbors. Believe it or not, you don’t need a new iPhone, especially not just because a new version came out.
Moreover, you probably don’t need the latest and greatest new computer. Those things don’t simply cost extra money – which translates into stressful hours of work – but they also don’t tend to bring joy. Pare your life down to the things that bring you joy, particularly the people who make your life worth living. Rework your life so that you are intentionally spending more time with them. If they live far away, make sure you have the time and energy to have regular phone calls; if they are nearby, schedule time together. Your anxiety monster has nothing on you when surrounded by those you love and who love you in return.
“23 Ways to Calm Anxiety Naturally.” Anaheim Lighthouse. November 26, 2019.
“What are the Benefits of Hugging?” by Erica Cirino. Healthline. April 11, 2018.
“12 Ways to Calm Your Anxiety,” by Fiona Thomas. Healthline. August 25, 2020.