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  • Writer's pictureNew Leaf Counseling Group

Three Steps to Minimize Anxiety

As we've been sharing more about anxiety, how it can impact people and even their relationships, you might be wondering what's next. Now that you know more about why anxiety responds the ways it does, and how it is fertile ground for disconnect or connection, depending on how you handing it, it might feel like there is a lot of stake for how you choose to interact with anxiety moving forward.

There are many tips out there to help with anxiety; some cost money, some feel overwhelming, and some are vague and leave you wondering if they will help at all. Here at New Leaf Counseling, we are going to be sharing three easy steps that are proven to help with anxiety that you can start today!

Get More Sleep

There are several things that increase the symptoms of one's anxiety- one of those is a lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation can play a negative role in emotional processing. The ability to manage your emotions healthily is essential to being able to regulate anxiety. The part of your brain that is responsible for protecting and helping you identify dangers is called the amygdala. It communicates threats to the prefrontal cortex, which then determines whether flight or fight is necessary. The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex typically work pretty well together.

However, when your brain is stimulated by lack of sleep, and you are under a period of distress, the emotional centers of your brain can take over. This cycle can lead to difficulty concentrating, increased irritation, slower reflexes, and higher anxiety levels.

There are some practices you can try that can contribute to more natural sleep and less insomnia if you are struggling to get sleep. Timing of exercise and eating can impact one's sleep. For example, exercising can stimulate you so working out before bed can keep you awake. Try working out five or six hours before you want to go to bed. In addition, when you eat can impact how well you sleep. Spread your meals and snacks throughout the day and try not to eat three hours before bed. Spreading out your meals and snacks throughout the day prevents extreme hunger or spikes in blood sugar. These habits can help ease you into slumber when bedtime arrives.

When you settle in for the evening, set up your surroundings in a soothing way. Make your bedroom your nighttime sanctuary. Diffuse essential oils with calming scents like lavender, and play soft music or white noise- these will all calm your brain. Make sure your routine before sleep isn't stimulating, turn off your phone or put it in sleep mode about a half-hour before you get to bed. If you can't sleep once you lie down, get up and read or drink some tea because tossing and turning can lead to more anxiety.

Peaceful sleep is always good for your body, mind, and soul. So give these suggestions a try if you're experiencing high levels of anxiety.

Quit Caffeine

In addition to more sleep, less caffeine can be a great aid in diminishing anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant, so it can aggravate your already strong feelings of restlessness and agitation. The stimulant effects of caffeine can make anyone feel nervous, shaky, or anxious.

If you already have an anxiety disorder or are feeling anxious, drinking excessive amounts of caffeinated beverages could increase anxiety and even induce a panic attack.

The substance in caffeine stimulates your central nervous system, speeding up bodily functions like metabolism. Some people can be very sensitive to caffeine; a small jump in heart rate that some people experience when they have a bit of caffeine can send someone that suffers from anxiety reeling. If you notice a jittery feeling, headache, intense fear, or any other negative sensations when you drink caffeine, try removing it from your diet. You may experience withdrawal symptoms for the first couple weeks but try to wait them out and notice if your anxiety lessens over time.

If you drink a lot of caffeine regularly, it's probably a good plan to decrease your daily caffeine intake slowly, rather than quitting all at once. Take notes during the day about how you feel as you remove it from your system. These notes can be motivating when you see evidence that things are improving. If you find yourself wanting a coffee in the middle of the day, try a cold drink of water or eating an apple. You will be surprised how much those two things can take you out of an afternoon slump.

Practice Gratitude

Anxiety can have several physical symptoms, and it can wreak havoc on all areas of your life. Your mind plays an influential role in how anxiety starts and how it plays out. A lot of anxiety causes and intensifiers take place in the brain. Therefore, you can use mental strategies to control and tame your thoughts. Our last tip on how to decrease anxiety is through practicing gratitude. There are many benefits of gratitude on the body and the mind.

Expressing gratitude can not only decrease physical pain and improve sleep, but it can lead to more optimistic thoughts, which influence more positive behaviors.

There is a strong connection between thoughts and behaviors. Gratitude has been proven to stimulate the hypothalamus which is the part of the brain that controls functions like metabolism, stress, and sleep. Also, being grateful can trigger parts of the brain that produce the feel-good neurochemical, dopamine. Positive behaviors can increase self-esteem and productivity. By forming a habit of gratitude you can shift your perspective, causing you to feel more optimistic and thankful, which can decrease anxiety.

Practicing gratitude is a habit that gets easier with practice. Once you start, you'll probably notice yourself feeling more optimistic and feeling thankful for what you have far more frequently than you did in the past. One of the easiest ways to feel grateful is to thank someone. You could personally acknowledge when someone does something for you, or you could write a heartfelt note to a meaningful friend or loved one. Another strategy is to examine your week and take note of at least three things that went well.

When you make an effort to turn negative thinking around by recognizing the positive things, too, you'll see things aren't as bad as you initially thought. One last suggestion is to demonstrate acts of kindness. Take notes of who you can help this week. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, but helping others has a way of showing us just how many good things we possess. Who knew something as simple as being grateful could have such an effect on lessening anxiety?

Getting more sleep, eliminating caffeine, and practicing gratitude may not come quickly right away, but it's definitely worth the effort. If you continuously practice these things, you will soon notice a change in your anxiety levels. If you feel these tips are not helping, and your anxiety continues to increase, it might be time to seek professional help. Here at New Leaf Counseling; we're always here to help.

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