9 Things To Do If You're Constantly Nervous

by Gina M. Florio

Having sweaty palms and a racing heart are usually things people only deal with when they're about to give a big presentation at work or propose to their partner. But folks with anxiety disorders have made friends with these symptoms a long time ago. Many of us are used to feeling nervous more often than not, since it's considered a standard symptom on the anxiety disorder spectrum.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., with 18 percent of adults suffering from an anxiety disorder — that's about 40 million people. However, there are plenty of folks out there who deal with the same heightened nerves as this 18 percent, yet may suffer from "mild nervousness," rather than a full-blown anxiety disorder. "Mild nervousness" is defined as frequent bouts of feeling acutely nervous, without the physical components that come with anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks.

Aside from seeking regular treatment, whether it's in therapy sessions or prescribed medication from a trusted doctor, there are simple habits you can adopt in your everyday life to keep constant nervousness at bay, even if you know you'll never squash it completely. Here are nine things to do if you're constantly feeing nervous.

1. Make Your Exhales Longer Than Your Inhales

This particular breathing exercise is one you can do anywhere, discreetly and quietly. All you have to do is focus on making your exhale longer than your inhale. You can breathe in and out through the nostrils, or inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Aim to inhale for four counts and exhale for six counts or longer. This soothes the parasympathetic nervous system, tells your whole body to relax, and helps your mind become more still.

2. Consider Starting A Yoga Practice

Breathing exercises like the one above live at the heart of any solid yoga practice, and yoga helps tame the anxiety responses in your body, especially the jittery nerves. In 2008, at the University of Utah, researchers studied MRIs to find that people who did yoga were able to regulate their pain responses and stress better than those who didn't. Even after just 15 minutes, it's nearly guaranteed to help rewire your brain.

3. Drink Less Coffee

Eight-three percent of Americans drink coffee, but some of us should think twice about the habit. Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., a psychiatry and neuroscience professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told WebMD, "People often see coffee, tea, and soft drinks simply as beverages rather than vehicles for a psychoactive drug. But caffeine can exacerbate anxiety and panic disorders." It pains me to say it, but the less coffee you drink, the less nervous sensations will plague you throughout your day.

Although there are great benefits to coffee, such as better focus and improved memory, experts say having too much will send your heart racing and your eyes bugging out of your head. Cut down to the minimum amount or, better yet, try to eliminate it from your diet completely.

4. Rub Essential Oils On Your Wrists

Admittedly, aromatherapy either sounds hippie or bourgeois, but in reality, it's an excellent natural remedy for stress and anxiety. In 2008, a study was conducted on 58 hospice patients who had an essential oil blend, containing almond, lavender, bergamot, and frankincense, rubbed on their hands once a day for a week. Every one of them reported significantly reduced levels of pain and depression.

Orange and lavender scents have anxiety-inhibiting effects. Rose essential oil is administered to patients who are dealing with shock, anxiety, or grief. Bergamot is proven to reduce corticosterone levels and diminish acute anxiety. You can always choose whatever scent calms you the most, or mix your own concoction. Follow the directions to dilute the elixir, and rub it on your wrists whenever your nerves could use a helping hand.

5. Rub Your Ears For A Few Minutes

Sounds weird and slightly kinky, but the ear is uncharted territory that deserves some attention. My mom actually taught this to me when I was a neurotic kid about to take the SATs. She told me to pull slightly on my earlobes and apply pressure, a trick she learned in Korea that stimulates blood flow and relaxes you. I didn't want to admit it back then, but it definitely worked.

Chinese medicine practitioners have been using this trick for ages, but it's more officially referred to as ear reflexology. There are a lot of energy points that run from your ears through the rest of of your body, so anytime you pull, rub, or gently tug at your ears, you boost the immune cells in your body and reduce the nerves that are coursing through you.

There are different ways to get the job done. A classic ear lobe massage, where you use your thumb and index finger on your lobes in a circular motion, does the trick. You can also cup your palms on each ear and gently massage in circles, which also blocks out the noises around you and helps you wind down. If you've really got some time on your hands, take warm coconut oil or sesame oil and gently rub the entrance to your ear canals. That even releases the tension in your jaw.

6. Sip Some Herbal Tea

Herbal teas have been used as a remedy for anxiety for centuries. It's not going to cure your nerves for good, but it will definitely trigger some relaxation responses in your body that will help you calm down. Just the process of drinking tea is a relaxing one. You sip it slowly and carefully, and the heat of the beverage soothes you.

Make some lavender tea, since lavender is known to reduce anxiety in women; chamomile and California poppy are good options too. If your doctor approves, give Valerian root tea a shot, too — we use it today to reduce stress, and Hippocrates originally used it in the 4th century as a treatment of insomnia.

7. Take A Brisk Walk Outside For 10 Minutes

Seriously, that's all it takes. Obviously, it's best to keep up a regular workout routine throughout your week, but when you're short on time and you need to simply kick some nervousness in the butt, get yourself outside and walk at a brisk pace for 10 minutes. Psychologists actually say this is just as effective as a 45 minute gym workout for people who need immediate relief from anxiety and depression symptoms. It can give you several hours of relief, just like taking an ibuprofen for a headache would.

8. Consume Magnesium-Rich Foods Every Day

Magnesium deficiency is known to lead to exacerbated anxiety because it's a nutrient that treats the nervous system kindly and prevents nervousness and irritability from building up. It also helps you sleep better and it protects your heart and arteries. There are a lot of foods out there you can choose from if you want to beef up the magnesium in your diet. Any leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and chard, fit the bill. Unrefined whole grains also contain healthy amounts of magnesium — think quinoa, buckwheat, oats, and millet. (If you have an digestion issues with grains like quinoa, soak them overnight to soften them up.)

Even if you are munching on magnesium-packed foods, it doesn't hurt to add a magnesium supplement to your morning routine. I can attest to this. I started taking magnesium tablets a few months ago, and it has made a huge difference in my anxiety levels; I don't even bite my nails as much anymore. It's recommended to take anywhere between 320 and 420 mg a day, yet the average American only gets 250 mg. Set an alarm on your phone in the morning so you can take the supplements before you leave the house every day.

9. Keep A Small Notebook With You And Write Out Your Nervous Thoughts

Interestingly, psychological studies have actually shown that, when you have nervous thoughts, the absolute worst thing you can do for yourself is tell yourself not to think about them. You'll only make yourself focus on them even more. If you're not a much of a meditator, jotting down the anxious dialogue in your head is a healthy form of self-therapy. Doodle, sketch, make to-do lists — use it however you'd like. Your nerves don't care how you get rid of the anxious thoughts, just as long as you find a way to release them into the wild.

Images: Caren Baginski/YouTube; Giphy (8)