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How to reduce anxiety and tension

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Feelings of anxiety are an outcome of multiple stressors or a long-term stressor.  All of us experience such feelings to varying degrees, but there are ways to mitigate them. Though there are no “quick fixes”, this recipe may be of some help.

Please note that if you are experiencing anxiety symptoms such as panic attacks, or frequent sleepless nights, you should consider seeking medical or other professional support.

 

Serves – any nonprofit staff member or volunteer

Preparation – time taken to reflect on how you’re feeling and why

Time taken – an ongoing process

Photo of someone screaming
Photo courtesy of Flickr

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    Ingredients

    • diet
    • physical exercise
    • meditation
    • deep breathing exercises
    • yoga or Pilates
    • visualisation
    • “me time”
    • hobby or pastime
    • new interests
    • home relaxation
    • schedule
    • sleep
    • journal
    • talking
    • reading
    • self esteem

     Method

     

    1. First, consider your diet. Check out whether it is a healthy and balanced. There are many internet sources of advice, for example see the NHS Live Well pages http://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/Goodfood/Pages/Goodfoodhome.aspx.  There are also natural remedies to alleviate anxiety, for advice see such sites as http://altmedicine.about.com/cs/conditionsatod/a/Anxiety.htm.  Herbal supplements should be taken with caution, in many cases see your doctor first.  If you reduce your caffeine intake, that alone may have a big impact on you after a few weeks.  Avoid sugary and starchy foods like biscuits, cake and sweets, they act as “quick fixes” but the blood sugar surge creates an emotional yo–yo effect.  Moderation is the watchword for alcohol, and if you are a smoker, giving up will help you reduce anxiety levels in the long term.
    2. Add physical Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise. It also encourages your brain to release the chemical serotonin, which can improve your mood.  Aim to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.  Moderate exercise should make you feel slightly out of breath and tired.  Going for a brisk walk is a good example.
    3. Have relaxation and meditation routines.
    • There are many different types of meditation; experiment with a few different methods. Guided meditation is a good option for beginners. Buy a meditation CD or watch a meditation video on YouTube to start. You’ll learn techniques on how to calm yourself down when your heart starts to race or when you feel you are not in control of your thoughts.
    • Deep breathing exercises –focus on bringing air into the lower portion of your lungs, breathing as deeply as possible. Try breathing in for a count of 4, holding for a count of 3, and breathing out for a count of 4. Keeping your total number of breaths to 8 or less in one minute will help to immediately reduce anxiety levels. This helps decrease your blood pressure, relax your muscles, and calm you down. Try to be mindful of your breathing even when you aren’t feeling anxious. Deep breathing is important no matter what your state of mind.
    • You may prefer activities such as yoga or Pilates to help you unwind.
    • Visualisation is a process of clearing your mind of anxiety-inducing thoughts and images and replacing them with peaceful ones. Try using guided imagery to picture a place that you feel relaxed and safe in. As you picture the scene, focus on the details so that your mind is fully immersed in the place of your imagination.

          4.  Alongside all this, spend time to detox from life’s problems. Try to take time out when you can consciously avoid thinking about your stressors. This will be helped if you:

    •  Ensure you have sufficient “me time”, as far as possible negotiate your commitments at work and socially as well. Spread your diary commitments as much as you can, and this includes friend dates, so you plenty of time for yourself in between. Learn to say “no” to some requests
    •  Take some time to practice a hobby or pastime which brings you peace. This may be reading, sports, playing music, art, anything really. Giving yourself an outlet will help to remove the anxiety from your mind both immediately and in the long run. Talking up a new interest may be an even better way to divert you from anxious thoughts
    •  home relaxation: make sure that you give yourself ample time to do chill out throughout your day or week, e.g. listening to calming music, having a hot bath.

    5.     If you keep a busy workload, bring work back with you from the office, and stress about perfecting your reports, you’re likely often overwhelming yourself and creating more anxiety than is necessary. Keep a schedule of your necessary activities and cut everything else out for a bit.

    6.    Make sure that you’re getting the sleep you need every night. Lack of sleep prevents your body from clearing out excess cortisol from your system. Cortisol is a hormone, which in high levels, is responsible for causing anxiety and stress. Avoid cognitive activity in the hour before you go to bed. Try going to bed and waking up at the same times every day. This will help to                    regulate your sleep cycle, which will help you to sleep better at night.

    • Keep a journal to help you figure out what exactly is making your mood dip. Writing down your thoughts can often reveal sources of stress you hadn’t yet acknowledged to yourself. This might help you evaluate which ones you could work on to overcome and which ones you could find ways of avoiding in future. For example, if you hate public speaking you may want to keep practising until you are Ok about it, or you may decide to find someone else to do it in future. This may mean being honest with others why you don’t want to do something, and not feeling any less of yourself as a result.
    • For many people, talking about anxiety is a very helpful release. If you need to vent, ask your spouse or a friend for advice and tell them how you feel, try a support group, or consider seeing a therapist.
    • Some people find that reading about anxiety can help them deal with their condition. For example, there are many books based on the principles of cognitive  behavioural  therapy (CBT).
    • If low self-esteem is at the root of your anxiety, take an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. List 10 of each. That may seem like a lot of the strengths side, but force yourself to find all 10. It doesn’t matter if you think they are trivial. It may help you look at yourself more objectively. Some of the weaknesses you may also be able to change, bit by bit, one at a time, over a period.  But remember no one can ever be perfect. You should appreciate yourself for who you are — faults, foibles, mistakes and all. Never set unrealistic expectations of yourself. Also try to stop comparing yourself to others, or judging yourself by what you think others expect of you.