Are you coping with overwhelming anxiety? While we all have worries and fears at various times in our lives, many of us grapple with severe anxiety, which can have a negative toll on our emotional and physical health. Serena Wolf is a chef, author, and founder of the healthy lifestyle blog Domesticate Me, who has written about her experience with an anxiety disorder and panic attacks. Here, Wolf shares helpful tips on how to cope with anxiety naturally, and which nutritious foods can help you cope with your anxiety
My name is Serena, and I have an anxiety disorder. I had my first panic attack almost nine years ago, and I’ve been working on how to cope with my anxiety ever since. Anxiety, like any disorder, can be very difficult to manage. Anxiety is more than just being stressed or worried. It’s a mental and physical struggle that can sometimes hinder daily activities.
I’m a big believer in a multi-faceted approach to taming the anxiety beast. Therapy is great. Exercise is a game-changer, and so are certain supplements (snaps for magnesium!). You definitely need to stay hydrated, get enough rest and set aside some alone time. Sometimes you might need prescription medication, and you shouldn’t feel any shame about that. While those are some brief tips on how to generally cope with your anxiety, I want to dive deeper into these eight specific ways you can help keep your anxiety in check and prevent or calm anxiety attacks.
8 Simple Tips on How To Cope With Anxiety:
- Acknowledge the panic. The simple act of merely recognizing anxiety for what it is takes away a lot of its power over you. When I first started having panic attacks, I didn’t understand what was happening to my body, which intensified the panic. Once I started to accept that it was panic causing these physical symptoms, it became easier to manage an attack. I would tell myself, “You are having a panic attack. You’ve experienced this before. You are not dying. You have tools to deal with this.” Reminding yourself that you are just experiencing a temporary, unpleasant mental and physical state and that you’ve survived it before, is soothing in and of itself.
- Remember to Breathe. Yes, this is common sense, but deliberately stopping what you’re doing and focusing on your breath have an instantaneous calming effect. Controlling my breath is something I still regularly forget to do when I start to panic. When you find yourself feeling anxious, close your eyes if able, and take several long, deep breaths. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and that’s because it actually works.
- Stay Hydrated. Dehydration upsets your body’s equilibrium in numerous ways, and if you’re prone to anxiety, you are even more vulnerable. Cool water is also refreshing by nature, and the basic act of swallowing can be soothing. Some people, during attacks, feel as though their throat is closing up. Swallowing is a good affirmation for yourself that this is not happening and that you are still in control of your body.
- Move Your Body. Yes, we should all try to make exercise part of our routines, but that is easier said than done. Even if you’re not exercising regularly, I urge you to get your body moving when the actual panic hits. I’ve always been a fan of “anxiety walks”—whether it’s a long, leisurely stroll, or a quick walk around the block, just moving my body and being in the fresh air can make a significant difference. Some days, the walk helps lift the anxiety fog altogether, and other days, putting one foot in front of the other is a nice reminder that my legs are still working and that once again, I have control.
- Prepare a Calcium-Magnesium Cocktail. My mom is the one who got me to drink calcium-magnesium, starting in high school. It’s not uncommon for people to be deficient in magnesium, and a magnesium deficiency can manifest itself as fatigue, insomnia, muscle tension, and, of course, anxiety. To prevent magnesium deficiency, I mix Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm into warm water and drink it once or twice a day when I’m feeling anxious.
If you’re not interested in this magnesium beverage, try making a hot cup of decaffeinated tea, such as chamomile tea. The ritual of doing something that has calmed you in the past can go a long way toward managing your anxiety.
- Limit Sugar, Caffeine, and Alcohol Consumption. Sugar and caffeine are stimulants. Since people with anxiety tend to be hypersensitive to any form of stimuli, these substances can be triggering. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant, which is also dangerous. Even though you may feel calmer after a drink or two, that calm is short-lived. Once the sedative effect wears off, the “withdrawal” tends to heighten both depression and anxiety. When I’m going through a particularly anxious phase, I often cut this trio out entirely for some time because something as simple as coffee jitters or a hangover can prompt a full-blown panic attack.
- Indulge in Your “Instant Happy.” This can be whatever you want it to be: think of an activity that you enjoy, and do it! Listen to an upbeat song. Take a hot bath. Watch your favorite TV show. Read a poem. Tune in to a podcast. Try anything that makes you smile, laugh, or feel a small sense of joy.
- Eat Soothing Foods. The single thing that has had the largest impact on helping me cope with my generalized anxiety is my diet. Certain foods can tend to make me feel uncomfortable and prone to panic, while others have a soothing effect.
While limiting your intake of triggering foods is ideal, upping your intake of good foods is equally important. Foods rich in vitamin B, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids are great for your brain and can help calm you down and boost your mood.
Given how impactful nutrition can be on anxiety, I find it helpful to break down some potentially helpful nutrients. Please note that everyone is affected by food in different ways, so the following list is subjective and based on my experience.
Nutrients That Can Help You Cope With Your Anxiety:
- Antioxidants (like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, etc.). Antioxidants help protect your brain from free radicals that cause inflammation. Because inflammation can impair neurotransmitter production and affect your mood, it’s important to keep it to a minimum.
Foods rich in antioxidants: blueberries, acai, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, kale, citrus, red pepper, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, almonds, avocado, cashews
- Omega-3s. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that’s known for promoting heart health, but it has also been shown to have amazing benefits for the brain by reducing inflammation as well as depression and anxiety. Some studies have shown that omega-3 improves the function of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps regulate your sleep and moods. Your body doesn’t synthesize Omega-3s naturally, so you need to get them from your diet.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: walnuts, avocado, spinach, grass-fed beef, eggs, wild rice, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, red lentils, salmon, albacore tuna, sardines
- B Vitamins (including vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and Folate). B vitamins are crucial for healthy brain cells and nerves. Unfortunately, many of us are deficient. B vitamin deficiency, especially a B12 deficiency, has been shown to increase vulnerability to mood swings and depression.
Foods rich in B vitamins: sardines, shrimp, salmon, lamb, nutritional yeast, grass-fed beef, poultry, eggs, leafy greens, avocado, feta, cottage, and Swiss cheeses
- Magnesium. As mentioned earlier, magnesium deficiency can manifest itself in numerous ways, including anxiety, so make a conscious effort to hit your recommended daily value. You can eat magnesium-rich foods, but remember, you can also supplement.
Foods rich in magnesium: spinach, Swiss chard, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocado, yogurt, bananas, whole grains like rolled oats
- Tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body needs to produce serotonin. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression and general anxiousness.
Foods rich in tryptophan: turkey, nuts, seeds, beans, eggs
While we can’t always control what happens to us, we can make targeted efforts to control our anxiety on a day to day basis. I hope my diet and lifestyle tips on how to cope with your anxiety resonate with you and help you to manage your anxiety. For most, anxiety is a long term struggle, and there will be many ups and downs, but it is possible to manage your anxiety and live a full and happy life. Remember you are not alone (and you are not weird, damaged or crazy). I’m rooting for you!
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