Every year, around one in seven Australians experience anxiety in a way that makes it difficult to cope with daily life.1 Ranging in severity from a background level of worry to an overpowering force, anxiety can lead to difficulty sleeping, a racing heart, panic attacks, fatigue, digestive upset, sweating or headaches – interfering with your ability to live your life.
While anxiety can often feel insurmountable, there are several worry-busting habits you can develop to help minimise its effects. Read on to discover our top four habits that can leave you feeling more calm and in control.
Habit #1: Practice being present
Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the present moment, drawing your attention away from mental chatter and anxious thoughts by tuning in to your physical senses (i.e. what is happening in your environment and body).
When you’re in the grip of anxiety, mindfulness may seem impossible. However, a growing body of scientific research shows that practicing mindfulness daily can actually help break the cycle of worry,2 making it one of the most effective habits for gaining peace of mind.
Here are some tips to make developing a mindfulness practice easier:
Start with just five minutes per day, and slowly work your way up to 20 minutes (research has shown that 20 minutes or more provides the greatest benefit for anxiety);
Use guided meditations and breathing exercises to keep you focused;
Work mindfulness into your daily routine, like meditating on your lunch break; and
If anxiety makes it difficult for you to sit still, consider going for a walk. Concentrate on the sights and sounds around you, the feeling of your body moving, and the sensation of the wind on your skin. If you notice your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the present moment.
Habit #2: Journal to unjumble your thoughts
Journaling regularly can help you express and understand your anxiety triggers.By putting your worries down on paper, journaling can help you deconstruct anxious thoughts, examine emotions and situations, or even help you seek solutions to your triggers. Here are two methods that may be helpful for anxiety:
Exploratory journaling involves 10 to 15 minutes of writing down whatever is on your mind, as fast as you can, without judging yourself. This approach can help you identify thoughts and feelings, including those you may be unaware of, that could be contributing to your anxiety. Seeing them written down on paper can help you ‘fact-check’ anxious thoughts (i.e. consider whether they are accurate), and gain greater clarity about the thoughts and feelings that are making you anxious. This can help you become more aware of your triggers, which is the first step towards managing them.
Action-focused journaling can help you develop an action plan to deal with ongoing situations that trigger your anxiety. Setting aside 10 to 15 minutes for this exercise, begin writing about a problem or situation that contributes to your anxiety (e.g. poor time management). Next, brainstorm some steps you could take to overcome the problem (e.g. creating a schedule), and break these into smaller action items (e.g. set up a calendar to track of your schedule, set reminders to help you stick to it). Lastly, create some realistic goals to help you complete these actions (click here to find out how to set achievable goals). Monitor your progress on a regular basis, and celebrate any positive changes you’ve experienced since implementing your action plan.
Habit #3 – Sweat it out with exercise
Aside from serving as a distraction, exercise has been shown to bump up your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters – leaving you feeling more relaxed.
Neurotransmitters are messenger molecules made by your brain, that carry signals throughout it, influencing your mood. They also carry messages between your brain and other cells in your body (such as your muscles). Boosting feel-good neurotransmitters can reduce anxiety and relieve muscle tension.
A successful exercise regime can involve any kind of physical activity, such as walking, jogging, swimming, weight lifting or hiking. Essentially, it can be anything that moves your body for at least 2.5 to 5 hours per week. Start by easing yourself in with a few shorter sessions first, and carve out some time in your schedule to make exercise a consistent habit. Asking a friend or family member to join you adds the extra bonus of connecting with loved ones who can help you feel supported as you work to improve your anxiety.
Habit #4 – Tap into the soothing power of natural medicine
For centuries, herbal medicine has been used to help soothe an anxious mind. We now know that many of these herbs work by increasing the activity of a calming neurotransmitter, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). This neurotransmitter reduces brain activity, helping you feel less anxious without making you drowsy, and also eases muscle tension.
Botanical combinations that can help you when anxiety kicks in include:
Rehmannia and American ginseng, which are both used in traditional herbal medicine to soothe a ‘wired and tired’ (anxious and fatigued) mind. American ginseng also works by increasing the brain’s levels of neurotransmitters, including GABA and serotonin3;
Zizyphus and Passion flower, which both increase GABA activity4,5 and work rapidly to reduce anxiety. This combination also helps to support a restful sleep (without making you feel drowsy the next day); and
Kudzu, which may reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart, trembling hands and sweating.
In addition, magnesium offers several benefits. It reduces physical tension, and is also required by the body to produce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Magnesium deficiency is common, especially in stressed and anxious people, so consider a magnesium supplement to make sure you’re getting what you need.
Turn inner calamity into inner calm
When it comes to easing your anxiety, mindfulness, journaling and regular exercise can offer profound benefits. Beyond this, natural medicine in the form of herbs and nutrients can also bring a greater sense of calm. Anxiety can be difficult to manage, so for help finding high quality treatment options that are most likely to help in your particular case, consult a natural healthcare Practitioner. A combination of diet and lifestyle changes alongside a natural medicine will help you manage your anxiety, empowering you to get back to the life you love, naturally.