What, you don’t feel any anxiety? Your heart rate isn’t jumping, you aren’t breathing faster, and your muscles aren’t tense? Have you had your head under a rock lately? Screaming headlines can keep us shaking from morning to night, filled with worry, concern and even anxiety. Digital devices constantly alert us to email many of which are junk, increased traffic, the price of gas and the cost of health care – all add to our anxiety. Anxiety isn’t just a passing emotion. It can create increased risk for acute and chronic medical conditions.
For the estimated 40+ million American adults who experience anxiety disorders, all share fear and distress – not simply low-level concern or mild worry. Those are healthy negative emotions in the face of real life obstacles. Those with generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, social anxiety, PTSD, OCD or panic disorders – the formal titles to different forms of anxiety – know that the physical affects of anxiety are very real. The physical affects of anxiety are many. Heart disease, gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders, irritable bowl syndrome, muscle pain, weight gain, sexual problems, migraine headaches, are among the more common physical affects of anxiety. Anxiety actually changes the function and structure of your brain by decreasing the size of the seat of memory, the hippocampus, and increasing the size of the area of the brain that’s responsible for feelings of fear, the amygdala.
What causes anxiety? Anxiety may be caused by outside issues, such as stress from trauma, finances, job difficulties, relationship difficulties and environmental factors. Genetics, side effects of medication and medical disorders, brain chemistry, substance abuse can also contributing factors. The way one thinks about outside events and circumstances can also create anxiety.
How does anxiety affect your physically? Do you have any of these symptoms?
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
- difficulty feeling calm
- dry mouth
- muscle tension
- cold or sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
- sleep difficulties
- feelings of general fear and uneasiness
- do you avoid social situations for fear of being judged or embarrassed?
- do you suffer with flashbacks of traumatic events, have recurrent nightmares or filled with constant worry that interferes with you daily life – often that are unsubstantiated?
If you have some of these symptoms, anxiety may be a likely explanation – not that we’re diagnosing here. Of course, your doctor can determine if it’s anxiety or a medical condition such as hypoglycemia, thyroid problems or asthma, or perhaps some over-the-counter supplements that you may be taking.
Here’s how to relieve anxiety and tension from the body:
Exercise frequently – it’s a natural anxiety buffer. Do some form of rhythmic exercise each day and at least 30 minutes five times a week, whether strength training, aerobic exercise, swimming, martial arts, or walking your dog. Cortisol, a hormone that signals your body to release glucose, a type of sugar that provides energy to your muscles, leads to physiological reactions of stress and anxiety. Exercise can reduce the production of cortisol, leading to a calmer overall feeling. The three best methods of anxiety reducing exercises that I’ve seen over decades studying this is running, hiking in nature, and not surprisingly, yoga. If you want to improve your mood and help with sleep, strength training can also be a wonderful addition – it’s not just a muscle builder. Finally, I’ll add dancing. Yes, dancing. It has lots of social benefits and that’s always good to improve your mood.
Practice mindful meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing time outs. Meditation can reverse the damage caused by anxiety, not just reduce the symptoms. Start with a simple meditation practice, for 10 minutes, seated quietly, breathing normally while thinking “breathe in and breathe out.” Find yourself distracted with a thought? Tell yourself it’s just a thought and slowly refocus back to your breathing. As you find this becoming easier, look for more advanced methods of meditation. Udemy, Spotify, Zen12.com are among many apps that can help you with anxiety reducing meditation.
Establish a healthy, balanced nutrition program with limited caffeine and sugar, alcohol and nicotine.
Build healthy social relationships – loneliness can trigger anxiety
Find a calming hobby, especially one that involves other supportive, positive people. Stay away from the life-suckers!
Gratitude is wonderful medicine for anxiety. Practice it daily first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and before you go to sleep.
Prevent stress and anxiety from building by learning how to talk to yourself in a positive way, to understand that you can create more stress and anxiety by the way you think about outside events. Challenge your anxious thoughts, learn to accept uncertainty and by all means practice not putting up your umbrella until it actually starts to rain.
Learn healthy methods of restorative sleep and aim for 7-9 hours each day that involve keeping a consistent bedtime schedule, including avoiding unnecessary digital stimulation with internet, TV, electronic games or replying to emails for about 30-45 minutes before going to sleep. Unwind by reading uplifting inspirational material, relax with calming music, meditate, journal feelings of gratitude – these are all healthy ways to tune it down.