While it sometimes feels like everyone has anxiety these days, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it’s not quite everyone — yet. They found that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, with 40 million adults (or 18% of the population) dealing with some form of anxiety.
If you’re a member of that 40 million, here are six ways you can help lower your anxiety, from physical activity to medication.
Take a walk!
Walking regularly has two benefits when it comes to anxiety. The first is that any physical activity has been shown to help ease feelings of anxiety — even a 10 minute walk. Researchers aren’t totally sure why this is yet, but there are theories: it could be that physically moving helps our brains get out anxiety loops or it could be released endorphins or it could be some combination. But whatever the scientific reason, taking a walk definitely can’t hurt and will likely help.
The other reason walking can help with anxiety is that it helps you organize your thoughts. Walking is a form of physical meditation that can help anxious people get out of their brains and into their surroundings. Plus, it just feels good!
We know you’re busy, but if you can find time to work a 30 minute workout into your schedule a few times a week, you might be surprised by how much better you feel. Human bodies like to move and when your human body feels better, so does your human brain.
The type of workout you do should be based on what you like — some people want to swim while others only want to run, and both are great — but if you’re specifically trying to deal with anxiety, it might be worth it to consider a meditative practice like yoga. That way, you’re incorporating both physical and mental exercise into your workout.
Change what you eat
Believe it or not, some researchers believe that changing your diet may actually help ease anxiety. And there’s some very promising new research about the brain-gut axis that suggests this might be more important than we even realized.
The Harvard Health Blog has some great, science-based tips for ways to create an “anti-anxiety diet.”
Find a great therapist
If you can afford it (or your health insurance covers it), a therapist can be a great way to manage anxiety. In addition to holding space for you to pour out all of your anxious thoughts without fearing judgement, a therapist can help you work out ways to manage anxiety when it starts.
Remind yourself that it’s your “monkey brain”
One thing that therapists talk about is the “monkey brain.” It’s a metaphor for your anxiety: A little monkey that sits in your brain and tap, tap, taps away at it with anxious thoughts. It’s just messing with you! So when you feel anxiety start to catch hold, imagine that it’s your monkey brain acting up again. The slightly silly image can remind you that you’re not controlled by your thoughts, just like you can’t be controlled by a monkey! It can also help jolt you out of an anxiety spiral.
Finally, if your anxiety is really bad, consider trying a medication. Some anxiety disorders are due to a lack or excess of certain neurotransmitters and medication can help rebalance those levels in your brain. Talk to your GP or your therapist about finding the right one.
Ultimately, managing anxiety is often a combination of two or more of the methods we’ve outlined here. Don’t worry — you’ve got this.
by Emma Mcgowan