We all feel some degree of anxiety from time to time – and we all hate it. Whether your anxiety causes you to stutter or sweat or even become too debilitated to leave your home, you would likely welcome a chance to get rid of it. While we cannot, and should not, erase our anxious moments entirely, there are several ways to help them pass more quickly and easily.
Here are four tools with which to work through your anxiety – and each is backed by science!
Because I am the mother of a little boy, I have been spending a tremendous amount of time outdoors this summer – and it has been fantastic! Simply breathing in the fresh air does wonders for my sense of peace and mental clarity. When we spend time in nature, we experience what scientists have termed “awe.” Although this effect sounds more spiritual than scientific, studies have found that this feeling of awe can reduce cortisol levels, which in turn decreases anxiety.
You should do whatever it is that you love in nature – paint the mountains, have a picnic by the lake, or sit under a tree and read a good book. If you want your outdoor adventure to be extra effective, though, go for a hike. The exercise will further reduce your anxiety and increase your level of physical health.
Relabel, Reframe, Refocus, Revalue
In his book You Are Not Your Brain, Jeffrey M. Schwartz details a four-step solution to dealing with anxiety. First, relabel the thought as just what it is – not doom or a storm cloud or blind terror, but an anxious thought. Next, reframe your anxious thought. It is not bigger than you are, and it does not hold any true power over you. It is simply an unpleasant moment that you must feel. Next, refocus by doing something productive.
Use your anxious energy to your benefit and work out, write, cook, or accomplish something else that will make you feel good. Finally, once the anxiety has passed, revalue the thought that initiated it. Does it still feel like a big deal now that the moment is over? How do you hope to react to anxiety next time? Will you go for a hike, or try a gourmet dessert recipe? This is a good pattern to get into when dealing with continual stress.
Take a Nap
When you do not get enough sleep, you are heightening your risk for both anxiety and depression. Lack of sleep and anxiety seem to feed off of one another in a viscous cycle of yuck. Unfortunately, 40% of American adults average less than seven hours of sleep per night, which places them squarely in the “too tired” category. Napping, when done properly, can be a very healthy way to reduce stress. It gives your brain and body a time-out and can allow you to re-start a day that is just not going very well. It could also help you to achieve those elusive eight hours of sleep that we all so desperately need and are not getting.
Halfway between slumber and wakefulness, the practice of meditation is catching on in a big way – and it’s easy to see why! Meditation is surprisingly simple to pick up. You don’t need to be some sort of a spiritual guru to meditate – in fact, here are some very simple directions for those of you who have yet to try it. Meditation also has a tremendous number of scientifically proven benefits. In fact, researchers at John Hopkins University found that meditation with a focus on mindfulness may help to reduce or even eliminate symptoms for people who suffer from anxiety.
Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, was not surprised by these findings. If you have unproductive worries, she explained, you can train yourself to experience anxious thought patterns in a more productive way. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self.”
In her novel