Better living through nature
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Do you worry a lot? Join the club. It’s part of the human genetic makeup, because it can boost chances of survival. Anxiety is more than a feeling — it’s rooted in brain activity. Because anxiety is a natural body process, you can take steps to decrease anxiety levels. Many natural methods provide significant benefits. Here are my favorite.
Tea for You
A nice soothing cup of chamomile tea three times a day seems to reduce anxiety. Research from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center found benefits over eight weeks. However, people who are sensitive to chamomile’s plant family could develop allergy symptoms. Therefore, the treatment might not be a good choice if you’re allergic to plants such as ragweed, marigolds, daisies and chrysanthemums.
Is laughter the best medicine? It helps. Laughter is scientifically proven to lessen anxiety. Laughing — even when it’s forced — releases the brain chemical dopamine, which affects pleasure sensations. Look for ways to add some chuckles to your life, such as funny books, podcasts, TV shows or movies. You can even put a laugh track app on your phone.
Belly breathing eases anxious feelings. To practice, put one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest. Exhale slowly and fully, then pause for a couple of seconds. Push out your stomach, and then slowly breathe in through your nose. Pause when you feel comfortably full of air. Exhale through your mouth, pulling in your stomach. After a slight pause, repeat the process.
Make sure you take in sufficient water throughout the day. Your body is seven-tenths water, so you’re stressing it if you’re not well hydrated. The “eight cups of water a day” is outmoded. New research indicates that the best way to make sure you’re getting enough water is to drink it when you’re thirsty. Also, sip a beverage — preferably water — at each meal.
Eating a balanced diet helps your body handle stress. Limit processed foods and sugar. Reach for a variety of natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Choose complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain foods, dried peas and beans, and nuts. Include protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t skip meals — it reduces your chances of getting enough vitamins and minerals.
Wean from Caffeine
Too much caffeine makes most people jittery. When you’re feeling anxious, you don’t need to compound the symptoms. A cup of tea or coffee in the morning is fine, but, after that, avoid anything caffeinated. Anxiety often leads to sleep issues, and caffeine adds to the problem.
Stress increases your body’s need for sleep. Seven to nine hours is optimal. When you’re not properly rested, the part of your brain associated with processing emotions is activated. Increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep by having the same wake time and bedtime every day. Keep your room cool and very dark. Take a hot bath or do some gentle stretches. Many people sleep better if they avoid electronics within an hour of trying to sleep.
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Ties to Exercise
Exercise relieves anxiety through short-term and long-term positive effects on brain chemistry. Exercising regularly boosts self-esteem and improves sleep. It’s also good for your health, and concerns about well-being are a common source of anxiety. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do — just make sure you’re moving. Walking, yoga, running, biking, dancing bowling, badminton — you have plenty of options, so choose one you like so you’ll keep at it.
Even if you’re eating a healthy diet, hunger can trigger anxiety. To compound matters, anxiety causes blood sugar to drop. If it’s not close to mealtime, get back on track with a healthy snack. For example, try a serving of:
• Dark chocolate
• Berries (any type is fine)
• Orange slices
• Pair your snack with a glass of water or a cup of chamomile tea.
Sunshine gives you vitamin D, which reduces symptoms of anxiety. Just a 15-minute walk is enough exposure to make a difference. Plus, you’re adding exercise: another benefit. Any sun is better than no sun, but researchers in Japan found that walks in natural surroundings reduce stress levels better than catching some rays in urban areas.
Mindful meditation brings people into the present moment with curiosity but not judgment. To begin, sit comfortably using good posture. Either a chair or the floor is fine. Add a cushion or blanket, if necessary. Focus on inhaling and exhaling slowly. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing. Need help getting started? Download guided meditation sessions.
Warming up the body is a great way to relax muscles and de-stress. Besides feeling good, warmth may affect parts of the brain that govern moods. Sit by a fire with a cup of hot tea. Use a sauna or steam room. Rest in a warm bath or hot tub. Spend a few minutes sitting in the sun, and you’ll get some vitamin D at the same time.
Feelings of anxiety run from unpleasant to crippling, and anxiety can lead to depression or even addiction problems. Though you may feel helpless, you’re not. Many natural approaches help reduce these negative feelings. Some are remarkably easy, like sipping decaf tea or taking a bath. All are simple enough for you to do on your own to help put you back in control of your life.