There’s no way around it: a lot is going on right now. The pandemic continues to impact our daily lives. COVID-19 cases are starting to rise again in most parts of the country (and world). The election is, as of now, still going on and many have now had three sleepless nights in a row. The threat of winter has everyone worried about being indoors. Parents are still balancing the demands of work with childcare or distance learnings. Singles are coping with an extended period alone. Couples are at their wits end after eight months of being together 24/7. And everyone is mourning something: from a canceled wedding or trip to the passing of a loved one or a lost job. There is so much to be concerned about, creating mega amounts of anxiety. If daily life feels heavier and more challenging, remember this: you aren’t alone. And more importantly: there are ways to manage these difficult emotions.
We are right there on the rollercoaster with you, and we are always looking for effective ways to cope. Here, we spoke with doctors, nutritionists, physical trainers, and many other experts to pinpoint the best ways to tackle anxiety from every angle. These tips will help you find more peace in your daily life—and perhaps, a little hope, too:
1. Get familiar with your anxiety.
Rather than fighting it, mindfulness author Kate Swoboda says it’s essential to tune-in to your anxiety, try to understand what triggers it, and allow yourself to process through the experience. All too often, people do all they can to mask the emotions of anxiety, when it’s better to get familiar with the feelings so you can discover individualized ways of handling it.
“We often feel more anxious when we’re trying to clamp down on our feelings, and regularly accessing the body, and discharging feelings can help with keeping the anxiety from taking over entirely,” she explains.
2. Prioritize gratitude.
It’s easy to get caught in a tumbleweed with anxiety, where one nervous thought leads to another, more intense one. Rather than allowing your mind to keep spinning, it can help to ground yourself in the moment. There are plenty of ways to do this—tapping a desk to wake yourself up, closing your eyes and opening them, standing up—but one of the most effective is the simple act of gratitude.
As wellness expert Emilie Perz explains, by taking a moment to pause and feel the emotion of thankfulness, you allow a sense of harmony to come over your body. This creates equilibrium and wards aways anxiety. “When we practice this regularly, we create the possibility, through neuroplasticity, of coming back to it more easily. The more we tune into gratitude, the fewer things bother us and the happier we become,” she shares.
3. Exercise daily.
The nasty truth of anxiety is it makes us feel sluggish. But when we are inactive, those feelings only become worse since we don’t provide our mind with something new to focus on, and we don’t reap the benefits of feel-good endorphins. As certified personal trainer Eraldo Maglara, NSCA-CPT explains, exercise has demonstrated repeatedly its effectiveness for fighting stress and battling anxiety.
“It releases endorphins which can help make you feel more energetic and positive toward your well-being,” he continues. “Working out regularly gives you a sense of stability. Running, swimming, walking, and even yoga has shown effectively to combat feelings of anxiety.”
4. Eat a clean diet on a schedule.
Certified health coach Esther Ban says food is a powerful agent—not only for our physical health but for our mind and mood, too. That’s why it’s vital to follow two rules: eating mostly nutritious foods and keeping to a regular food schedule. This helps us fight hanger caused by a blood sugar rollercoaster, which only makes our nervous tendencies worse.
“When you have a sugar crash after consuming high amounts of sugar or refined carbs, your body releases adrenaline and puts your body in fight or flight mode, which is a recipe for triggering anxiety,” she explains. Instead, we should focus our plates to be filled with lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. “Opt to have some organic chicken or chickpeas with your lunch salad instead of just the greens. Or, for breakfast, swap that bagel with some eggs with sprouted toast or a well-balanced smoothie,” she recommends.
5. Practice cognitive reframing.
Much like every other muscle in your body, your brain can be trained to think on the bright side rather than going to the worst-case scenario. This doesn’t mean you only think in positive thoughts, but more so that you always finish those worrisome phrases with a strong ending. With cognitive reframing, Swoboda says we acknowledge the brutal realities of a situation, but then we reframe it toward the direction of what’s possible. This can be as simple as going from ‘I can’t’ to ‘This is tough, but I’m willing to try.’
6. Plan for Monday on Friday—not Sunday.
As the end of the weekend inches closer, your anxiety levels start to follow. Even if you love your job, the thought of being back ‘on’ after a relaxing period can be stressful, resulting in what’s commonly referred to as the ‘Sunday Scaries.’ One way to nix this weekly trend is to do a little extra work on Fridays, according to Nicole Loher, the founder of My Monday Morning. She recommends spending the last half-hour of your Friday workday tying up loose ends, cleaning out your inbox and/or desktop, and making a light to-remember list for Monday.
“Treat the list almost like a brain dump of everything you need to do at the top of the next week and major projects you need to focus on so you can walk into the weekend with as little worry as possible and as prepared as possible for the week ahead,” she continues. “By organizing your thought and tidying up loose ends ahead of a ‘mini-break,’ it helps you compartmentalize the most essential priorities ahead of ‘feeling behind.’”
7. Turn off the TV and read a book.
Many adults feel torn between the need to be informed and the mental break we need not lose our cool. It’s a delicate line to walk, which is why exercise physiologist Jerry Snider suggests deciding how much and how often you will expose yourself to the ‘bad stuff.’ Maybe, it’s reading the news for only one hour a day. Perhaps it’s watching television in the morning only. And instead, whip open a good read that will captivate and hold your attention.
“Anxiety tends to grow when the unknown is feared to be right around the corner. Creating a plan for daily living that removes the anxiety triggers, adding known anxiety-reducing activities, and gives you control of what you expect to encounter during the day will greatly reduce the unknown from triggering an anxious moment,” he explains.
8. Reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake.
Sadly, you read that correctly. According to primary care doctor Dr. Shirin Peters, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and both booze and your morning coffee affect the nervous system, potentially aggravating anxiety. How so? Dr. Peters explains our brains naturally produce a molecule called ‘adenosine’ during the day, and caffeine mimics it in the mind, attaching to receptors designed for it, and pushes it out of the way.
“As a result, we’re left feeling more alert, awake and anxious than before the coffee,” she explains. On the other hand, alcohol increases serotonin levels, which helps us feel calm at the moment and then forces our levels to drop below baseline once the feeling wears off. When this happens, we may experience panic symptoms, and we could struggle to fall asleep, causing our mind to be haywire.
9. Control what you can—and release the rest.
When you’re feeling anxious, it’s partly because you’re fretting over aspects of your life you can’t control. Ya know, like when we won’t have to wear masks anymore. Or when there will be a vaccine. Or, when you can hug your parents freely, without worry. And so many other unfortunate realities of the current times. To ease these stressors, focus on what you can control, and release what you can’t, recommends Rebecca West, author and design psychologist coach.
“Choose a project you can complete in no longer than a week or shorter projects that take no more than half a day, like clearing out a closet or deep-cleaning the fridge,” she suggests. “The more you can create momentum and take back your power over the little things, the better you’ll feel. Plus, scrubbing a toilet is surprisingly a great way to work out some of that pent-up frustration.”