7 Lifestyle Changes I Made For My Anxiety
“Anxiety isn’t something that goes away; it’s something you learn to control.”– Unknown
I can remember the exact moment I realized my anxiety had taken control of my life.
I was in my early twenties and was getting ready for work one morning. While I was in the shower, my chest began to hurt and I couldn’t breathe. What worried me was that this was the third day in a row that I felt like this.
I thought to myself, “what is wrong with me?” I’m young and shouldn’t be feeling this way.”
Once at work, I promptly made a doctor’s appointment that same day to get myself checked out, as one normally does for chest pain. I distinctly remember being on the phone, terrified of what actually might be wrong with me. My first thought was “there is something wrong with my heart.”
My doctor listened to my concerns and did some testing to rule out anything serious, including an EKG. I distinctly remember telling him that at times it felt like I would skip a breath or that my heart was going to burst out of my chest.
After the doctor asked some questions and completed a thorough exam, the diagnosis ultimately came to generalized anxiety and panic disorder.
I was stunned, confused, and a embarassed that it was “just anxiety”. I went into the appointment thinking something was physically wrong with me, but left with a diagnosis that I least expected.
While this was just the beginning of my journey to understanding anxiety, I had actually suffered from it for years without even realizing it. So many things from my past finally started to make sense.
After getting home that evening, I knew I couldn’t continue living my life feeling this debilitating anxiety every minute of every day. Changes were definitely needed if I ever wanted to get a handle on my anxiety.
After some trial and error, I finally found the perfect variation that works for me.
Read on to learn some of the lifestyle changes I made that ultimately helped ease my anxiety. I’m hopeful that some of these will work for you as well.
1. Removed Caffeine From My Diet
Limiting the amount of caffeine I consumed in my diet was one of the first lifestyle changes I made for my anxiety.
I’m really sensitive to caffeine and even just a little bit can make me super jittery. Medicines that contain caffeine, such as Excedrin or Midol, will also affect me, so I try to avoid them altogether.
One thing to keep in mind is that caffeine alone doesn’t cause anxiety.
However, studies show that caffeine can increase anxiety and panic amongst anxiety sufferers. If you’re prone to anxiety, caffeine may be making it worse. Consider limiting or even removing caffeine from your diet to see if it helps alleviate your anxiety symptoms.
2. Incorporated Exercise
Since I was a teenager, exercise has been an important component of my life.
While my ultimate goal in the beginning was to lose weight, little did I know that I was engaging in something that would work wonders for my anxiety, as well as my mental health overall.
Anytime I look back upon periods of my life where exercise was a part of my normal routine, my anxiety was always less intense. I didn’t always realize it at the time, but it didn’t take long to put two and two together anytime exercise was a priority. They say hindsight is 20/20 right?
There are so many benefits that exercise can provide. It can keep us healthier, build our confidence, and make us stronger.
But my favorite benefit by far is that exercise can help keep my mental health in balance. In terms of anxiety, exercise can help distract you from negative and obsessive thoughts, lessen symptoms of panic, and help you cope with unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and situations.
3. Began a Yoga Routine
And I’m so happy I did! I absolutely adore yoga and first welcomed it in my life almost 15 years ago with this simple routine.
At first it was really hard to get into. I kept thinking how simple it seemed and how it felt like I wasn’t really doing anything.
But as time went on and I kept it up, I started noticing a difference. Most of the time, the change was subtle and usually crept up on me in a good way. I felt stronger, more confident, and more at peace.
It’s hard to find the words to describe how life-changing yoga can be because it seems so simple. But to me, yoga is precious. It doesn’t judge or criticize.
Rather, yoga is fully accepting of all that you are and ever will be. Yoga welcomes every part of you without fail.
4. Engaged in Breathing Exercises
You probably hear me say this a lot, but it all comes back to the breath.
It’s so true, and anxiety is no exception. Out of anything that I’ve tried to help ease my anxiety symptoms, being mindful of my breath has worked wonders.
With simple breathing exercises, I am able to quickly regain composure and control. This is especially useful during anxiety packed moments when my breathing is staggered and almost uncontrollable.
When anxiety takes over, I like to keep it simple so I don’t have to think about it too much.
So I like to practice the easy, peasy box breathing method.
This breathing exercise requires you to breathe in for four seconds, hold that breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold again for 4 seconds before starting again. Do this as many times as you need to calm yourself.
5. Started Practicing Meditation
Like yoga, meditation took me a while to warm up to.
I often envisioned those who practice meditation to be sitting on top of a majestic mountaintop or in a mystical forest in perfect serenity. So, when I first started dabbling in meditation myself and didn’t feel that zen-like state I would often picture, I became disappointed.
However, within the past year or so, I gave meditation another chance and was completely caught off guard.
This time around, I decided to go into it with zero expectations, which apparently was the missing piece to the puzzle. Before, I was thinking about it too hard and was expecting too much. All that was needed was simply my presence and nothing more.
Just like breathwork, there are many different ways you can practice meditation. My absolute favorite is the body scan meditation. This meditation is a type of mindfulness practice that brings your focus and awareness to your body. The body scan can help reduce stress, tension, and ease your anxiety.
What’s so great about the body scan is that it can literally be done anywhere at any time, even without people noticing you are doing it.
That is definitely a huge win in my book since anxiety seems to come at the worst times. To get started, check out this guided meditation. Once you get the hang of it, it will become like second nature.
6. Listen to Calming Music
No matter what kind of mood I’m in or issue I’m having, there is always a song out there to go along with it. But sometimes, there are certain kinds of music that can make my anxiety worse.
It’s no secret that music can have a profound effect on your mood. So, I’m selective of what I listen to when anxiety is looming over me. To instantly reduce my anxiety, I like to play some calming and relaxing music.
I’ve created a “Calm Meditation” station that I listen to on my Pandora account. Or I will search for “Yoga Music” on YouTube and choose a random video. My go to channel on YouTube for relaxing music is Yellow Brick Cinema.
Both options provide zen like music that takes me out of my head and brings me to the present moment.
7. Engaged in Self-Talk
This can seem rather silly when you first think about it. People are typically mocked for talking to themselves. But in my experience, self-talk can really ground you and bring you back in tune with yourself.
Ever since I was a child, I suffered from low self-esteem. And having anxiety on top of that only made matters worse. As I got older, I realized the best relationship is the one you can have with yourself.
So, I started engaging in self-talk and repeating positive affirmations to myself.
Any time I find myself in a panic, I tell myself, “I’m safe, strong, and I will get through this. Just as I have many times before.” Even though I may not believe it at that moment, I am usually able to pull myself out of the whirlpool of anxiety I find myself in. I will also incorporate other techniques with self-talk that complement it nicely, such as breathwork.
One thing to always keep in mind about anxiety is that it will never completely go away.
It’s normal for humans to have anxiety from time to time on some level. Anxiety is just a part of human nature. Once you realize and accept that, then you’re free. Not free from anxiety, but free from judging yourself and your anxiety.
Those with an anxiety disorder tend to come to the realization that anxiety will always be a part of us.
But that doesn’t mean you have to let it control your life for the rest of your life. There are changes that can be made to lessen the severity of your anxiety and regain control of your life again. If I can do it, I promise anyone can do it. You just have to want it.