You’ve been doomscrolling. Your employer reduced your work hours. You aren’t sure that your next paycheck will stretch as far as you need it to. You don’t know whether or not to send your kids to school or sign them up for distance learning. You can’t find time to work because your children demand so much of you. Right now there are a thousand reasons to feel anxiety.
Many of the things weighing on your mind are out of your control and that may increase your feelings of anxiety. While it’s completely normal to feel worried, dwelling on our problems can have a negative impact on your health without solving anything. Here are some techniques to help you feel less anxiety about the things that are outside of your control.
Change your diet
There is some evidence that following a high-fiber diet and introducing probiotics to your gut can help you reduce symptoms of anxiety. This is because of the gut-brain axis. Scientists still need to investigate this more thoroughly. What they believe now is that good gut bacteria give off nutrients and chemicals, called metabolites. Metabolites can help our brains function better. To help these good bacteria, it is very important to eat a diet that allows them to flourish.
Last year, a group of scientists from Shanghai Mental Health Center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine reviewed 21 scientific studies that involved over 1500 people. Some of the studies involved giving participants probiotics and others focused on changing diets. In 86% of these studies, the participants reported fewer symptoms of anxiety. They published their findings in General Psychiatry.
Researchers from Boulder, Colorado published a separate study this year. They studied the effects of a high-fiber diet on rats. They called the fiber prebiotics or food for the probiotics in the gut. They found that the rats that ate prebiotics rested more soundly than those in the control group.
Next, the scientists put the rats in a stressful situation. Rats with a prebiotic diet produced lower levels of allopregnanolone precursor and Ketone Steroid which are both chemical indicators of stress in the body. The control group showed high levels.
What foods are high in fiber and good prebiotics? Eating artichokes, lentils, cabbage, onions, and leeks may help you be more resilient to stress. Of course, we still don’t know how frequently or in what quantity humans need to consume these fiber-rich foods to reap the benefits of metabolites, but it may be worth a try at home anyways.
Mindfulness is being aware of the current moment and what is going on without feeling reactive or stressed by our surroundings. One way to achieve mindfulness is through meditation and mindfulness classes. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
Experimental Biology published a study in 2018 that shows how mindfulness can relieve anxiety. Researchers at Michigan Technological University measured heart rate, blood pressure, aortic blood pressure, and arterial stiffness in 14 participants. These were people with high anxiety, but normal blood pressure.
The scientists took these measurements before and after ah hour-long mindfulness class for a week. They found that participants were markedly more relaxed after just the first mindfulness class. After a week, they had significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety.
How does a person learn meditation and mindfulness? A great place to start is Mindful.org. In fact, they offer a free guided meditations. These last can last as few as two minutes, so you should be able to find time for this even if you have a busy schedule. The same website offers subscription meditation classes and mini-classes.
Jasper Smits, director of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, recommends exercise for patients suffering from anxiety. He says, “After just 25 minutes, your mood improves, you are less stressed, you have more energy — and you’ll be motivated to exercise again tomorrow. A bad mood is no longer a barrier to exercise; it is the very reason to exercise.”
Doctors often tell patients to exercise, but put their emphasis on the long term health benefits. These include reduced heart disease, maintaining a healthier weight, and preventing diabetes. They may not highlight the short term benefit to mood frequently enough.
Smit and colleagues reviewed dozens of previous studies. In 2010, presented their findings on how exercise reduces anxiety in Baltimore at the annual conference of the Anxiety Disorder Association of America. Exercise is an effective treatment for anxiety because it is available to everyone. This is true of people who may not have access to traditional therapy or expensive drugs. Exercising carries none of the social stigma related to other psychological treatments.
When he works with patients, Smit assesses their health and then helps them work up to his suggested dose of exercise—150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of more vigorous activity.
Scientists say that people who suffer from mood and anxiety disorders have a reduced about of GABA in their brains. This chemical helps individuals regulate nerve activity. For this reason, psychiatrists often prescribe GABA raising drugs to these patients. Amazingly, one group of scientists have found that yoga can naturally raise the amount of this chemical in your brain.
In 2010, Chris Streeter, MD, from Boston University School of Medicine, measured GABA in the brains of people after they participated in a session of yoga postures. They had higher levels of GABA than people in the control group.
It’s not hard to find free yoga videos on YouTube. Cosmic Kids offers free yoga adventure stories that are great for the whole family. This means that you can lift the whole family’s mood.
Do what works for you
Diet, exercise, and meditation are just a few of the things that can help you control your anxiety. A soothing bath, listening to music, painting, crafting, cleaning, and other activities may help you feel calmer and more in control. Pay attention to your body and the things that make it feel good.