08 Oct 5 Ways to Reduce Anxiety, Naturally
Feeling anxious? Movement is medicine. In a world of deadlines, distractions and information overload, it’s nice to know that feelings of anxiety can be soothed using 5 simple steps.
Did you know that one in every six young Australians is experiencing anxiety? Chances are, you might be one of them, or at least know someone who is. Feeling worried is actually a normal part of life, but occasionally the fear response gets turned up too high, when nothing is posing a danger to us. Along with consulting your GP, who may refer you to counselling under the Mental Health Treatment Plan, try the following tips to regain control of your brain.
1. Breath in, breathe out
Your nervous system works like a car does – it has an accelerator (sympathetic) and a brake (parasympathetic). It takes a balance of these two systems to achieve a feeling of calm. Perhaps it is time that you took your foot off the pedal! The easiest way to reset the system is to control your own breath.
Breathing can happen automatically, like right now, or you can manipulate your breath – think about when you sniff a flower, blow out candles, or sing loudly in the car. Feeling worried or stressed out can create shallow, ineffective breaths, and the brain will respond accordingly. Stimulating the vagus nerve by breathing deeply can bring about the relaxation response. Try it now:
- Take a huge breath in, feel the belly expanding, feel the lungs full of air
- Hold on to the breath (without closing off the throat), just for 2-3 seconds
- Breathe all of that air out, in a relaxed, long way. You could almost make it an audible sigh (making a ‘ha’ sound)
- Repeat for 1 minute.
See? Much better.
2. Take a hike…
Which may not always be convenient. But if you could replicate the great things about hiking (the walking part, and the nature part), you’d be off to a good start! Aerobic, rhythmic, predictable activities such as walking, cycling and swimming all feel good for a few reasons. They can allow you to correctly assess nervous system responses – the heart is beating faster, but it’s because of exercise, not high levels of stress. Anti-anxiety benefits have also been proven you get walking in a ‘green’, natural environment, and bonus points if there is water present. Beach trip anyone?
3. Get up, stand up!
Recent research out of Deakin University, Melbourne has proved that sitting too long is linked to anxiety. They think that too much time in front of a screen can over-excite the fight or flight response, disrupt sleeping patterns, and eventually lead to social withdrawal. Standing up periodically comes with a multitude of health benefits. For the restless mind, it can provide a ‘refresh’ button and interrupt the flow of anxious thoughts. If you work or study predominantly at a desk, set an alarm every 30 minutes to stand up – your mind and body will thank you!
4. Yoga (green smoothies, optional)
Have you seen people walking out of yoga? They practically levitate out of those classes, all glowing and at-one-with-the-universe. Studies now know why: yoga increases GABA levels in the brain, which happens to be the main function of anti-anxiety medication! No wonder it feels so good. Yoga classes also create a sense of community, and many lessons include guided meditation at the end, another known anxiety zapper. As for after-class hydration options, try to stay away from sweeteners and stimulants, which can stir up the nervous system. Water is always a good option – it’s what we are made of.
5. Just do something
You have the power to break an anxious cycle, whether it is with a deep anchoring breath or a quick walk around the block. Remember not to put unrealistic expectations on yourself, which can create more worry. Start by adding just one thing to your day – set aside time for breathing, or schedule in a lunchtime walk.
Bring awareness to the fact that you can choose to give power to worry – or you can choose to move.
So if exercise was a pill for anxiety, how would you take it?
Research recommends 30 minutes, 3 times, every week. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist can also help with strategies to achieve this.
For a quick fix, remember that just 10 minutes of walking in nature can lift your mood and decrease fatigue levels!
Jennifer Smallridge is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist who works in private practice, aged care and as an academic lecturer.