The importance of self-care
When a person experiences anxiety, key ingredients of a healthy lifestyle can suffer – diet, physical activity levels and sleep. Relaxation is one of the most straightforward and effective ways to manage anxiety. Additionally, maintaining good nutrition, staying active and sticking to a regular sleep schedule can help relieve tension and stress and leave a person less vulnerable to anxiety and its symptoms.
Breathe low and slow
Shallow breathing and dizziness play a dual role in anxiety. They are symptoms and they also make anxiety worse. Thus, slow, relaxed breathing may help eliminate anxiety. Here is one technique to slow breathing:
1.Sit in a comfortable chair with hands resting on the abdomen below the navel. Breathe slowly through
the nose until the abdomen expands and the hands are pushed outwards by inhalation.
2.Once a full in-breath is achieved, all at once allow the breath to gently escape through the mouth, keeping the
jaw relaxed and lips slightly parted.
3.Repeat these steps as needed until relaxed.Remember, breathe low and slow.Practicing low and slow breathing before entering situations that are stressful or that trigger anxiety (e.g., rush hour traffic, public speaking and difficult workplace meetings) may help to make them less stressful. Begin with situations that are mildly stressful or anxiety-provoking and gradually work up to more stressful situations.
Keep track of anxiety triggers
It is important to learn about anxiety and its triggers to better plan to change or avoid these triggers. One technique for keeping track of triggers is to keep a diary of levels of anxiety throughout the day (e.g., every half hour) using a rating scale from zero (no anxiety) to 10 (extreme anxiety). Is there a pattern to the anxiety?
Do certain situations or circumstances trigger anxiety?
Does anything help alleviate it?
Learn positive self-talk
Self-talk refers to the dialogue that goes on inside a person’s head when faced with a challenge that causes anxiety. Negative self-talk worsens anxiety (e.g., “I can’t do this.”) and positive self-talk can reduce it (e.g., “I can get through this.”). Changing negative self-talk involves first becoming aware of this inner dialogue (e.g., writing down negative thoughts when they occur, noticing if certain thoughts occur when anxiety is worse or better). Next, change patterns of self-talk by changing negative words to something neutral or positive (e.g., “I CAN handle this”, “things will be okay”, “this is a good time to breathe low and slow”).
Reducing or eliminating caffeine may help to reduce anxiety. Since caffeine has addictive properties, gradual reduction is usually recommended (e.g., cutting coffee or tea consumption in half for a week, then in half again, continuing until there is no more caffeine to be cut out of the diet). Herbal teas that do not contain caffeine can be used to replace caffeinated beverages.
Take short “stress breaks”
Physical tension accumulates throughout the day, and this tension may contribute to anxiety. Frequent, short “stress breaks” may help to prevent this tension from accumulating. Some examples of effective stress breaks are walking during lunch hour, reading a magazine during an afternoon break and partaking in an enjoyable hobby on evenings and weekends.
Stick to a regular sleep schedule
■Establish a regular, consistent time for sleeping and waking.
■Do something relaxing before falling asleep like reading (in a different room) or taking a warm bath.
■Don’t use the bedroom for non-sleep activities (e.g., watching TV or eating in bed).
■Avoid strenuous exercise, caffeine, alcohol or tobacco a few hours before bedtime.
■Avoid naps during the day. Get outdoors for some activity (e.g., a short walk) to refresh.
■Talk to a health care provider about using a sleep medication.
■Choose activities that are enjoyable.
■Plan activities for the times when they can be performed consistently.
■Be active on a regular basis. Aim for 10 minutes of continuous activity, three times a week, as a start.
As fitness increases, the duration and intensity of activity can be increased.
■Take advantage of opportunities to be more active by making small changes each day (e.g., take stairs
instead of an elevator, exit a bus one stop earlier than a destination and walk).Keep up with proper nutrition
■Meals should be eaten at regular times (breakfast, lunch, dinner with a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack).
■Include a variety of healthy foods at mealtimes (e.g., whole grains, dark green vegetables, brightly coloured fruits, lean proteins, milk products). Avoid food with added fats, sugar and salt.
■Drink alcohol and caffeine in moderation.
■Drink several glasses of water each day (five to eight glasses is a good goal).
It is always easier to make positive lifestyle changes with the support of others. Involving friends and family in the “get-better” plan may be helpful if a person is comfortable discussing their goals and treatment plan with them. For example, exercise with a friend, make healthy recipes for the entire family at mealtimes and participate in group activities.