Managing Anxiety With Self-Care
By Stacey Feintuch
We all tend to put others first whether it be our spouse, kids, friends, parents. We feel obligated to be a caretaker. Taking care of yourself, though, is vital for your well-being and health. Self-care is far from selfish and self-indulgent.
If you don't care for yourself properly, your body will suffer. Chronic stress weakens the immune system, making us more susceptible and vulnerable to weight gain, colds, sleep issues, high blood pressure, cardiac issues and more. And if you just drown your sorrows in a Netflix and junk food binge, you may end up suffering from obesity, disease, diabetes and unhappiness. "Stress is sneaky," says Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., an internationally renowned clinical and consulting psychotherapist. "It tells us to do things that feel good in the short term. But in the longer term, they add to the intensity of our emotions and diminish our health and well-being. Losing yourself in The House of Cards will certainly make your challenges seem small. But it will also ramp up your emotions and leave you feeling depleted or hyper activated."
Here are some self-care tactics that you can use to help ease anxiety in your daily life.
Get off social media
You may scroll through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social arenas to unwind. But being plugged in constantly makes you prone to stressing out about anxiety-inducing events. Hearing about a friend dealing with a death or reading about war in a foreign country can make you feel depressed and lonely. And seeing someone drinking a pina colada on a tropical beach while you're stuck in your cubicle is enough to upset anyone. "Social media is hard on our bodies," says Deborah Serani, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York, a professor at Adelphi University, and author of Living with Depression: Why Biology and Biography Matter Along the Path to Hope and Healing. "Neck, back, shoulder and finger pain are associated with excessive media use. The blue light from electronic media interferes with our circadian rhythm, making it hard to sleep." Yes, disconnecting can be tough. But, so can constantly scanning your feeds. "If you find your stomach in a knot after scrolling through posts or compulsively scrolling for a hit of voyeuristic pleasure, shut it down and put boundaries around your use," says Dr. Hokemeyer. "It's ok to check every other day, once a week or not at all. You're not missing anything of value by limiting your use or getting off completely."
Sip some tea
Tea drinking is a common ritual with proof in the numbers—158 million Americans enjoy a cup on any given day. It’s estimated that over 80 billion servings of tea, or 3.6 billion gallons, were consumed in America last year alone. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that people who drank chamomile for eight weeks had few anxious symptoms than those that didn’t. Chamomile contains chemicals that promote relaxation (apigenin and luetolin). You can also try green tea; reap its benefits by drinking just 2.5 cups a day. Several studies have shown that the caffeine and flavonoids in green tea can help elevate your metabolic rate, improve insulin activity and increase fat oxidation, too. “Research shows that an amino acid found naturally in green tea—L-theanine—alleviates anxiety, reduces stress, improves sleep and enhances attention, focus and memory,” says Jenna Appel, MS, RD, of Appel Nutrition. Just speak with your healthcare provider if you take any medications or supplements as they may interact with L-theanine, says Appel. Read about how tea can help you shed pounds, too.
Being outdoors in sunlight for 15 minutes a day is an ideal way to increase your vitamin D levels naturally. Those 15 minutes can help ease anxiety symptoms and let you get some outdoor activity. Aim to be in a green area. A Japanese study found that those who walked through a forest had lower stress hormone levels afterward than those who walked in an urban area. If you’re at work or in a city, try to take a walk in a park or on a tree-lined street. “The experience is especially healing if you leave the nature you’ve enjoyed better than how you found it,” says Dr. Hokemeyer. He suggests taking a small bag and filling it with any litter you find on your path. “It’s literally and figuratively a wonderful way to clear debris out of your psyche,” he says. If you can’t get outdoors, Dr. Serani suggests sitting in a pool of sunlight, which can offer similar results, she says. “The real things are always better for you,” Dr. Serani says. “But supplementing with vitamins, healthy foods or holistic experiences are good second choices.”
Plant a tree, vegetable garden or flowers
Studies have found that nature makes you feel more alive, happier and creative. “The sights, sounds, smells, textures and even tastes of the forest, the beach, a garden or a mountain range refuel your senses,” says Dr. Serani. “A physiological reaction occurs when we shift our focus away from work or school. Feel-good hormones like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin are heightened, leading to greater feelings of well-being.” It will get you out of your head and put you in touch with nature, a known stress manager. Not a green thumb? Tend to a houseplant. Learn how to reap the rewards of gardening.
Staying hydrated will flush out toxins, boost your immune system and relieve fatigue. A study from the University of Connecticut found that even mild dehydration can cause mood problems. By the time you’re thirsty, it’s too late. By then, dehydration is setting in and it’s starting to impact your body’s and mind’s performance. You can suffer from health conditions like constipation, kidney stones and cramping, says Alix Turoff, MS, RD. "Water makes up 75 percent of our muscle tissue," says Turoff. "When we're dehydrated, we become weak, dizzy and fatigued. Not drinking enough water can lead to electrolyte imbalances which can cause muscle cramps. If dehydration persists, it can have serious health consequences."
Break a sweat
Study after study has shown the benefit of exercise to help manage anxiety. “Exercise has been show to help reduce stress,” says Turoff. “It can improve cognitive function, alertness and concentration which tend to be negatively affected by stress and anxiety.” It may be the last thing you want to do early in the morning or after a long day. But exercise releases feel-good endorphins that can activate the brain’s opiate receptors and have a natural pain-killer effect, says Turoff. “They can also improve sleep which is highly correlated with stress,” she says. If you aren’t up for interacting with a room of spandex-clad and svelte gym goers, exercise at home or outside. Pound the pavement, follow an app or pop in an exercise DVD.