As a mental health professional specializing in the holistic treatment of anxiety disorders, like panic attacks, OCD and chronic stress I have a unique view on how people experience anxiety. In particular, how important it is to address the causes of anxiety and how to stop it in it’s tracks. Today, I am going to share my top three anxiety prevention techniques. One of the keys to reducing the amount and severity of your anxiety is to minimize, reduce or prevent anxiety from occurring in the first place. I have found that by making sure to take care of my whole self- mind, body and spirit, my overall anxiety has reduced dramatically. These tips are easy, don’t take much time, and you can start incorporating them in your everyday life immediately.
My number one tip might sound like a no brainer, but I find that many people struggle with it anyway.
#1 Stay Hydrated by drinking water
Your body is made up of about 60% water, and every system within your body depends on water. That includes the hormones and nervous system that affect anxiety. Did you know that mild dehydration occurs before you even feel thirsty? Mild dehydration can mimic the symptoms of anxiety and can interrupt your ability to focus. Most major medical organizations, like the Institute of Medicine, recommends about 13 cups for men and 9 cups of water per day for women. However, your size, weight and activity level can change the amount of water you need. If you are active or out in the sun, drink more.
If you are not a fan of water, you can add lemon slices or mint sprigs. You can also eat foods that have a high water content like watermelon (which contains about 92 percent water), grapefruit (about 95% water) or cucumbers (which have about 96% water).
#2 Tip is BREATHE!
Breathing is the most fundamental process our bodies engage in (and is essentially an exchange of gasses). Our bodies need a balance of these gasses to function properly. There is a control center in the brain that is constantly monitoring these levels. How cool is that? But sometimes, like with any machine, there can be malfunctions (in this case breathing incorrectly) that can disturb it’s overall functioning.
In fact, breathing disorders (that disrupt the chemical exchange of gasses resulting in either too much oxygen or carbon dioxide) have been studied as a central feature of many anxiety disorders. Many people with anxiety have learned to breathe incorrectly over time, causing these breathing abnormalities and symptoms associated with it that contribute, exacerbate or cause anxiety symptoms.
Proper breathing calms the body down and allows it to handle stress and anxiety much better. Simply learning and practicing correct breathing techniques can significantly reduce anxiety and prevent it in the first place.
The most simple technique is diaphramic breathing. Many people who suffer anxiety take shallow breaths just filling up the top of the lungs or hold their breath, often without even knowing it. One way of discovering how you breath is to put your hand on your belly while you are breathing (laying down is preferred). Is you hand rising and falling with your breathe? Can you feel your breath reaching down into your belly? If not, practice until you do. When you breathe in your belly should inflate like a balloon and when you breath out it should deflate.
Once you feel comfortable with diaphramic breathing, you can practice another simple, yet effective breathing technique called the 4-6-8 breath. You can practice this breathing exercise by inhaling for a count of four, holding for a count of six and exhaling for a count of 8. The key here is exhaling twice as long as you inhale. Practice this technique at least 4-6 sets around 3 times a day.
You can use essential oils while you are practicing deep, diaphramic breathing for an even more relaxing experience. Some to consider are lavender, ylang ylang, vetiver, chamomile or bergamont.
#3 MINDFUL MOMENTS
Another key feature of anxiety is to having racing and rapid thoughts about anything and everything future related. What if I am late to my meeting? Then I could get fired. Then I wont have enough money for rent and I will loose my apartment and then I will have to live with my parents….and it goes on and on like an out of control train.
But you have control of when you get on and off the train of thought and how long you stay on. Mindfulness is a practice that simply put is paying attention to the present moment with a non-judgmental and compassionate attitude. There is a multitude of research studies that supports this practice for reducing anxiety among many other benefits.
A simple way to incorporate this powerful practice and prevent and reduce anxiety in your life is to take mindful moments several times during your day. My favorite way to take a mindful moment takes about 1-3 minutes. You can take a mindful minute wherever you are, any time of the day. Here is the script I use to describe a mindful moment with my clients:
During this practice you will be engaging all of your senses. You can close your eyes or have them open. First, start by taking a deep breathe in and out through your nose. Notice how your breath feels at the tip of your nose. Is it cool or warm?
Now pay attention to all five of your senses, one by one – What sounds do you hear around you? Really pay attention now and try to name at least 5 sounds. Now move to paying attention to smells. Do you smell anything? Can you decipher the smell? What about taste? Do you have any tastes in your mouth? Maybe you just ate or drank something. Can you still taste it? Let’s move to your sense of touch. How do you clothes feel on your body? Are you sitting down or standing up? How does the ground feel beneath your feet or the seat feel on your skin? Do you feel any breeze or wind? Lastly, open your eyes. Using your sense of sight, notice what is around you. Take note of the colors, shapes, and textures.
And you did it! Repeat this mindful moment as many times as you can in one day; at work, home, the gym or wherever you are. It is amazing at how refreshing even a moment can be when you aren’t on automatic pilot or allowing the thought train to go wild.
And there you have it. My top three anxiey prevention tips. I hope you find these helpful. Please leave your comments below and share your favorite anxiety prevention tips and how these tips worked out for you.
Juniper Owens, LCSW, CPT, LMT is co-founder, wellness director and therapist with Bridge Counseling and Wellness. Juniper specializes in the holistic treatment of anxiety; OCD, PTSD, panic, phobias, relationship anxiety, worry and fear, general anxiety and stress management.