Time for some honesty: Most of us, if not all of us, suffer from anxiety symptoms in some way, shape, or form. Whether it’s a full-on disorder or just a quickening heart rate and feeling of impending doom during a particularly stressful moment of work, anxiety can be an inescapable part of modern life. While medication is always as option, prescription pills aren’t for everyone. That’s why we’ve compiled these helpful methods to arm you in the battle against anxiety. Yes, you can fight back against the symptoms of anxiety without the cost of a copay, and we’re here to prove it!
If you’ve ever found yourself lulled to sleep in a bed scented with lavender or felt wide-awake after catching a whiff of citrusy notes, then you’ve experienced the powerful effects of aromatherapy. Numerous natural essential oils, like lavender, sandalwood, and clary sage have been proven to quell symptoms of anxiety and impart a sense of better relaxation. How? The smell receptors in your nose work with the parts of your brain responsible for emotions. In fact, scientists believe that the scent of lavender stimulates the amygdala in the same way some prescription sedatives do. The key is in choosing a pure, therapeutic-grade oil, and utilizing the aromatherapy fragrance in conjunction with deep breathing for optimal relief.
We know: When you’re suffering from symptoms of anxiety, the last thing you want to do is get your butt out of bed and to the gym. As difficult as it may seem (and yes, it can seem really, really difficult), regular exercise is actually one of your best defenses against these symptoms. You know that whole “runner’s high” sensation? It comes courtesy of your brain’s release of chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for pleasure feelings and euphoria, thereby helping to buffer the negative effects of stress and panicky sensations. Even just twenty minutes on the treadmill can completely reset your brain and leave you feeling at ease rather than anxious. That’s a welcome change if there ever was one.
Lest you think that your mental and physical health are all but unrelated, think again. Lifestyle and diet changes won’t “cure” anxiety disorders, per se, but certain food choices can help to alleviate anxiety symptoms. Tryptophan, for example, is responsible for the sleepy feeling we experience after a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, so it makes sense that consuming foods rich in this amino acid can make you feel more at ease. The same goes for complex carbohydrates—unlike simple carbs like sugar, whole grains have been shown to have a calming effect on the nervous system. There’s a reason we crave carbs when we’re feeling crappy, so we shouldn’t necessarily ignore that pasta lust. We should, however, indulge it properly by making healthy, nutrient-rich choices. (While you’re making dietary changes, go right ahead and ditch panic triggers like alcohol, coffee, and acid-forming foods that can cause inflammation in the body.)
Herbs and Supplements
Whether ingested as a tea or taken in supplement form, there are numerous herbs that can help to dramatically impact feelings of stress and anxiety. Chamomile is one of the better-known remedies—this super-soothing herb, which is best consumed in tea, doesn’t just have calming properties, but also makes for a proper winding down bedtime ritual. Need proof? A University of Pennsylvania Medical Center study determined that patients suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, after taking chamomile supplements for eight weeks, showed a significant lessening in anxiety symptoms when compared to patients prescribed placebos. Similarly, an amino acid called L-theanine has shown to impart calm and focus in anxiety-prone patients, even curbing accelerating heart rates and blood pressure. Small doses of L-theanine are present in green tea, but more concentrated supplement pills are preferable.
Similar to acupuncture, acupressure has its origins in Eastern medicine. The technique utilizes pressure applied to certain points on the body to encourage blood flow and relieve muscle tension. It’s recommended that you see a specialist trained in the treatment to see real results, but even “self-acupressure,” as it’s called, can be effective in quickly and easily lessening anxiety symptoms and returning a sense of focus to your everyday life. For an introduction to acupressure, try using the thumbs of both hands to apply strong pressure to your “third eye,” located on your forehead right in the indentation above the bridge of the nose. It sounds basic, but you’ll be amazed by how much tension this simple trick can release.
Alleviating anxiety in minutes can be as simple as just changing up the way you breathe. Panic symptoms can often feel like you just can’t catch your breath, or like there isn’t enough air in the room. Deep breathing exercises are instrumental in combating these feelings. Our method of choice is “belly breathing,” which involves relaxing your shoulders and back, then breathing in slowly and deeply through your nose. This should result in your stomach expanding rather than your chest rising. Hold the breath for several beats, then exhale slowly in a controlled fashion through your mouth. Repeat until you start to feel your sense of balance restored—and you will.