When we don’t effectively manage anxiety, eventually, it will manage us. Many people that come into my office in a state of crisis had been experiencing mild anxiety for months, but had avoided dealing with it. They shoved their uncomfortable feelings into their brain’s file cabinet, far away from their daily thoughts. But, after repeatedly pushing more and more worries into a file cabinet, the drawers finally burst open, resulting in overwhelming anxiety and a debilitating mix of physical and mental symptoms. They’re usually hoping for a quick fix – a solution to make the pain go away and allow them to get back to living life. But there are no quick fixes. And it’s very hard to learn new skills when you’re consumed with anxiety or depression. The best time to learn and practice new skills is when life isn’t a red-hot blaze. In other words, we need to learn to practice preventive mental health.
When it comes to anxiety, preventive mental health is a process of acknowledging the anxiety rather than ignoring it. How to do that? Here are a few things you can try:
- IDENTIFY: Do you know what triggers/activates your anxiety? Keep a daily log for a month documenting what situations or thoughts trigger your anxiety.
- MEDITATE: Develop a mindfulness-based practice. There’s convincing evidence that mindfulness meditation helps reduce feelings of anxiety.
- CONNECT: Socialize with others on a regular basis. Do your best to make it a face-to-face connection. In a pinch, a phone call will do. Texting, however, may not offer the same positive benefits.
- SLEEP: Restorative sleep is a must for functioning at your best, so implement as many sleep hygiene practices as possible to promote quality sleep. For example, eliminate ambient light in your bedroom; avoid caffeinated drinks 10 hours before bedtime; shut down all electronics (TV, iPad, iPhone, laptops, etc.) 90 minutes before bedtime; stick to a regular bedtime including weekends. Take full advantage of these practices to get the most from your sleep.
- STAY ACTIVE: Exercise at least 5-7 days a week for 30 minutes aiming for moderate intensity. When you are calculating calories burned while exercising, visualize the calories burned as anxiety burned.
- EAT WELL: Fill your diet with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins – and avoid processed foods. Sugary foods may be delicious but they come with a high price tag in terms of our physical and mental health. Avoid caffeine as it tends to trigger anxiety. At a minimum, consume it in moderation.
These are lifestyle changes rather than quick fixes. Do you best to make them part of your daily routine.
If this proactive approach to managing your anxiety is not providing enough relief, seek professional help. Either speak to your family practice clinician or find a mental health practitioner that specializes in anxiety disorders. Remember, proactive is always better than reactive no matter what the source of conflict or discomfort.