Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions in the United States. Even people without a diagnosable anxiety disorder feel anxious sometimes. Many tips and tricks can help, including exercise, yoga, and music therapy.
This article outlines tips and techniques for developing a calmer, less anxious state of mind. We also provide information on medications and talking therapies to treat severe or persistent anxiety.
The following tips and tricks can help people manage stress levels and calm anxiety.
Adrenaline is a hormone involved in the body’s fight-or-flight fear response.
Caffeine causes a spike in adrenaline levels, and this can make some people feel anxious or on edge.
Other popular sources of caffeine include:
- chocolate, especially dark chocolate
- chocolate flavored desserts and breakfast cereals
- some over-the-counter pain medications
People who notice a connection between their caffeine intake and anxiety should try cutting caffeine out of their diet.
People should do this slowly to avoid caffeine withdrawal. Withdrawal can cause physical symptoms similar to those of anxiety.
Exercise may calm anxiety in two ways. Firstly, it decreases levels of stress hormones within the body. Secondly, it makes people focus on the task of exercising, and this can distract them from ruminative thoughts.
A 2013 review investigated the effects of exercise on anxiety. It included eight randomized controlled trials that compared exercise with standard anxiety treatments.
On its own, exercise was less effective than standard anxiety treatments such as medication or talking therapy. However, exercise combined with these treatments proved more effective than the treatments alone.
Further studies are necessary to establish the type, duration, and frequency of exercise that may lead to the greatest improvements in anxiety.
Yoga may be a particularly beneficial form of exercise for anxiety.
One 2015 review investigated the effects of yoga on nervous system function and mood.
Across the 25 studies the review included, yoga decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone involved in the fight-or-flight fear response. Having too much cortisol in the bloodstream can exacerbate anxiety.
Yoga also leads to a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety. It also reduces levels of molecules called cytokines in the blood. The immune system releases cytokines in response to stress.
Chronically high cytokine levels can cause long term inflammation and other negative health effects.
Music may activate reward systems in the brain that increase feelings of pleasure and alleviate stress and anxiety.
A 2013 review investigated the effects of music on mental and physical health and well-being. A small number of studies suggested that listening to music may reduce stress and boost immune system function.
A later study found that music preference was the most important factor in reducing stress levels. This suggests that listening to a favorite song or music genre may be an effective short term remedy for stress.
Mindfulness is a popular form of meditation.
Mindfulness encourages a person to focus on feelings, thoughts, or bodily sensations that are happening in the present moment. This can help distract people from ruminative thoughts and other negative thought patterns.
Guided imagery (GI) is another type of meditation. GI involves mentally visualizing peaceful scenes to promote a state of relaxation.
One 2015 study investigated the combined effects of GI and music (GIM) on work-related anxiety. For this study, the researchers divided 20 participants into two groups. One group underwent a 9 week GIM program. The other group received no treatment.
In comparison with the no treatment group, the GIM group showed significant improvements in stress management and well-being. The results also showed a greater reduction in blood cortisol levels for the GIM group.
Further studies are necessary to establish if GIM is helpful for treating other forms of anxiety.
To help relieve anxiety, people can practice the following DB technique for 10 minutes several times per day:
- Lie flat on the back with the knees bent and the soles of the feet on the floor.
- Place one hand on the upper chest and the other on the stomach, below the ribcage.
- Breathe slowly and deeply in through the nose. Draw the breath down toward the stomach so that the hand on the stomach rises upward. Make sure that the hand on the chest stays still.
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, drawing the belly button down toward the floor. The hand on the stomach should return to its original position. The hand on the chest should remain still.
People with anxiety may be prone to putting off important tasks or projects to temporarily avoid stress.
However, procrastination often results in a last-minute rush to complete tasks before a deadline. This causes even greater stress and anxiety.
In fact, research shows that this type of stress may trigger a range of stress-related health problems.
People prone to procrastination may benefit from talking therapies that focus on stress management and emotional regulation.
Many people experience anxiety occasionally. However, it is important to see a doctor if these feelings become severe, persistent, or interfere with daily life. These can be signs of an anxiety disorder.
There are different types of anxiety disorder, and the treatment approach for each may differ.
Some possible treatment options are listed below.
Counseling is a short term therapy option typically lasting several weeks. The goal of the counselor is to help people develop strategies for managing stressful situations.
Some people use the terms counseling and psychotherapy interchangeably, but there are some subtle differences.
Like counseling, psychotherapy aims to help people regulate their emotions and improve their stress management skills.
However, psychotherapy tends to be a relatively long term therapy that may cover a broader range of mental health issues. In some cases, psychotherapy can be shorter term.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people recognize how negative thought patterns can influence their mood and behaviour.
For example, a person who is anxious about attending a social event may have thoughts such as “nobody will talk to me.” The thought itself may intensify the anxiety, and the outcome may be that the person avoids the event altogether.
CBT helps people replace these negative thoughts and habits with positive and constructive ones. Over time, this can lead to reduced anxiety.
Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication alongside talking therapies. Some common anti-anxiety medications include:
Although its exact mechanism of action remains unknown, many believe that Buspirone works by binding to certain serotonin receptors, thus enhancing the activity of this neurotransmitter. This can lift a person’s mood and decrease any feelings of anxiety.
Benzodiazepines are sedatives, meaning that they slow brain and body functions. They help alleviate anxiety symptoms, aid sleep, and promote recovery from stress.
There has been a trend to decrease prescriptions of benzodiazepines due to the risk of addiction. People who have had drug or alcohol use disorders in the past are more likely to experience addiction to benzodiazepines.
Beta-blockers work by blocking the action of adrenaline, reducing effects such as rapid heart rate, which people tend to experience when they are anxious.
Many people feel anxious sometimes. However, many tips and techniques can help people reduce their stress levels and promote calmness.
People should talk to a doctor if they experience severe or persistent anxiety. They may recommend medication, talking therapy, or a combination of these treatments.