As someone who has dealt with anxiety disorder for most of my life, I'm the first say that there's no "quick fix" for coping with the disorder. Therapy, medication, and the support of family and friends can make a huge difference — but, for many of us, it's an unfortunate reality that our anxiety will never disappear entirely and the best we can do is find effective ways to manage it. Although I've benefited enormously from treatment, I've learned that there are also certain daily habits that help ease anxiety — and it's totally worth integrating these habits into our routines.
As is the case with every mental illness, the most effective strategies to ease anxiety depend on the person. What has been lifesaving for me may not help you, and vice versa. So, there's always a period of trial and error — just like we shouldn't give up on the idea of therapy or medication just because one doctor didn't help us, it pays to be open to trying a variety of habits and techniques in order to figure out what will ease our own anxiety.
These 10 daily habits that are definitely worth adding to your routine — they have the potential to ease your anxiety and keep your symptoms in check.
Multiple studies have found that exercise is the most effective way to combat stress. Physically active people tend to have lower rates of anxiety and depression than those who don't exercise — but it can still be an incredibly effective way to ease preexisting anxiety. In fact, anti-anxiety effects can be stimulated after just five minutes of engaging in aerobic exercise and even taking a quick walk can ease anxiety symptoms for up to several hours.
This one has benefited me enormously — and an added bonus is that it's the number one way to improve your overall physical and mental health. Choose a form of exercise that you genuinely enjoy — whether it's pilates, biking, running, dance, or a spin class, it should be something that you look forward to. Otherwise, it's easy to bail on a tough day.
2. Drink Caffeine In Moderation
I know, I know — I was pretty reluctant to adopt this habit, because I have an obsession with coffee that borders on unhealthy. But it's been proven that caffeine can intensify the symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders. If you currently drink about four cups of coffee a day (as I once did), don't quit cold turkey — but try to slowly reduce your caffeine intake. Switch to beverages with a lower amount of caffeine, like black tea, or order a half-caffeinated cup of coffee if you're feeling seriously exhausted.
3. Make Sleep A Priority
Sleep deprivation is so detrimental to our health that it can actually cause an anxiety disorder. For those of us who already struggle with anxiety, getting a good night's sleep is crucial. Researchers have found that lack of sleep activates brain regions associated with extreme worrying and "fires up" areas of the brain that are associated with emotional processing. So, turning off Netflix and getting a full night of sleep is more than worth it.
This one will only take about five minutes out of your day, but it can play a huge role in easing overall anxiety. People with anxiety often spend a great deal of time worrying about the past or the future — in short, we have a lot of trouble being "present" in the moment. Meditation teaches us to be present and it gives us a chance to step back and put things in perspective.
The most basic method is to focus on breathing and, when your mind wanders, re-direct it to breathing. If you stick with the practice of daily meditation, you'll slowly develop the ability to "pay attention to now," rather than the seemingly endless cycle of anxious thoughts churning through your head.
5. Treat Yourself To Little Things
Like many people, I'm on a limited budget — but I've found that treating myself to small things on an especially difficult day can temporarily distract me from my anxiety. For example, an affordable bouquet of flowers brightens up my apartment and my mood. If you've been needing a new journal or planner, treat yourself on a rough day — it's a necessity but it's also a fun purchase.
6. Keep Your Social Media Use To A Minimum
Overusing social media can get unhealthy for anyone, but it can intensify anxiety symptoms for those already struggling with anxiety. We inevitably compare ourselves to everyone — from colleagues to people we haven't seen since middle school. Furthermore, many people get seriously stressed out and anxious if they post something and it doesn't immediately get enough "likes." I'm not saying we should deactivate every social media platform, but it could be helpful to set a time limit per day and then stick to it.
Even if you don't love the activity of cleaning, this habit achieves two goals — first of all, being surrounded by clutter can be anxiety-inducing. Having a tidy apartment or home is soothing and provides us with a safe space — who wants to come home to a messy place and a sink full of dirty dishes? Secondly, the act of cleaning can help reduce anxiety. Because cleaning can be meditative, it keeps us in the present and gives us something to focus on.
8. Write In A Journal
One of the hardest parts of dealing with anxiety disorder is that our minds are constantly racing and we have a jumble of thoughts rattling around in our brains. Keeping a journal combats anxiety because it allows us to learn about our thought processes — seeing it all on paper gives us clarity, insight, and perspective. It also helps us identify our triggers and gives us the chance to challenge our irrational thoughts.
9. Spend Time Outdoors
According to the National Institute of Health, spending time in "natural environments" is beneficial to our mental health. So, make a habit of getting outside for at least a few minutes everyday and you may experience a decrease in your anxiety. According to a study published in Landscape and Urban Planning, people who spend time outside have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
10. Spend Time With Friends
Even when things are hectic, try to carve out at least a little time each day to spend with a close friend. Research has found that people with social support are better equipped to handle stress and anxiety. Plus, it's a good excuse to get in some quality time with your favorite people each day.