Anxiety is an all too common side effect of our modern, fast-paced life. A little bit of anxiety is natural and even beneficial-- anxiety before an interview or before a date can help motivate us to prepare and do our best. However, when the anxiety becomes intrusive, and is a daily presence in our lives, interfering in our functioning or our ability to be happy, then it becomes a problem. The good news is there are things we can do to control our anxiety and make it more manageable.
Exercise has shown the most effectiveness (other than medication) in decreasing baseline anxiety in people. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “For the biggest benefits of exercise, try to include at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking) each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two.” So exercising at least 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week, will give you the best results in decreasing your anxiety, which is a big commitment but well worth it both mentally and for physical health.
Getting enough rest is also a major factor in managing and decreasing anxiety. Most people do not get the recommended 8 hours of sleep every day. If you are getting much less than that, most people counteract the fatigue with caffeine, which can really spike anxiety symptoms. Getting enough rest and limiting caffeine intake can improve anxiety symptoms quickly. Related to this is eating regular well- balanced meals. Have healthy snacks on hand if you get hungry. When you’re not giving your body the rest and fuel it needs, you will experience the effects of this on your mood.
Meditation is also a very effective tool to use against anxiety. Studies have shown that a daily practice of meditation can actually change the structure of our brains. When we are anxious, it is really a habit of mind that causes us to respond to every situation in a fearful way. Setting aside time to quiet the mind and our thoughts can help decrease the power of anxious thoughts over us. Even just 10 minutes in the morning or before bed as a daily practice will yield results over our anxious thoughts over time by helping us to become more centered. If it is hard to just be silent for 10 minutes, try a guided meditation. There are many free ones on the internet, but here are some from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center: http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22
And last but not least, therapy is a great way to address anxiety. Either by taking a deeper look at things in our lives that are causing us anxiety that we may need to change or by techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, therapists have many tools to help us improve our mood and become more balanced. Good luck to all on our journey to mental well-being!