Close to 20% of the adult population in the US has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The actual percentage of people suffering from anxiety is likely significantly higher, but for a variety of reasons, many folks choose not to report their anxiety symptoms to their healthcare provider. My general assumption when I meet with a patient suffering from anxiety is that they have already explored some anxiety reducing lifestyle modification options. Both personally and professionally, I wanted to explore what modifications have shown good results for actually reducing anxiety in a meaningful or measurable way.
One of my personal favorite coping strategies for anxiety is exercise. There is strong evidence supporting the efficacy of exercise for helping with anxiety. Studies have shown moderate to vigorous physical activity lasting greater than 2 hours total a week dramatically reduced symptoms of anxiety. Exercise was found to be as effective as counseling and almost as effective as medication therapy.
Another coping strategy that has been shown to have positive impacts is mindfulness. Whether this is practiced through yoga, tai chi, or meditation, the focus on being present and letting go is essential to foster this benefit. There are numerous opportunities for developing this skill either in formal classes or through mindfulness/meditation apps.
A person’s diet can also play an important role in their overall mental health. Though the studies are still somewhat limited and the mechanism of action still pending, evidence is emerging that shows that a diet rich in lean protein (white meat chicken, pork tenderloin, ground turkey breast), complex carbohydrates (whole wheat products, oats, sweet potatoes) and healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts) can be beneficial in reducing anxiety and stress.
Since I have already talked about what you can add to your daily routine to improve your anxiety, I also wanted to touch on what you should avoid in your life if you want to reduce your anxiety levels.
Grabbing a cup of coffee (or 8 cups as I used to) in the morning is a time-honored wake up tradition for many Americans. Unfortunately, for those prone to anxiety, caffeine has been found to increase anxiety, nervousness, and restlessness. It has also been shown to increase cortisol (one of the big hormones involved in stress) levels.
Many Americans think of a glass of wine, a beer, or a cocktail as an ideal way to unwind after an anxiety-inducing day. Unfortunately, it tends to have the opposite effect. Alcohol is associated with sleep difficulties which can make the next day seem even more daunting. Alcohol also dramatically changes the level of several chemicals in your brain that impact anxiety levels.
Hopefully following these steps can help those who suffer from anxiety manage their symptoms and feel better inside and out. For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our healthcare providers, please contact Family Practice Center today. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook for additional health tips, news, and much more.