Stress and anxiety are normal aspects of life. They are biological safety mechanisms that have been put in place to protect humans from dangers that threaten life and well-being. When we are in danger, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) becomes fired up. This activates a chain reaction of neuroendocrine signaling which starts with the release of corticotropin-releasing factor in the hypothalamus of the brain and ends with secretion of stress hormones called glucocorticoids in the adrenal gland. And while we aren’t being chased by wild tigers anymore (hopefully), anxiety-related disorders are disturbingly common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given year around 18.1% of the American adult population will experience some subset of an anxiety-related disorder (1). So it is not only important to recognize when you’re anxious, but also know what to do when you have trouble calming yourself down.
When anxious thoughts arise don’t dwell on them, do something else that takes away your attention from what is making you anxious. The distraction can be anything from a menial task to a hobby.
Several studies have linked healthy diets that include a variety of nutrients such as foods rich in zinc, magnesium, and B vitamins with a reduction in anxiety (2). What may link anxiety and diet together is the gut-brain axis and the release of serotonin when food is injested.
Think through your anxiety
Thinking logically about what you are feeling anxious about is a tried and true method of reducing anxiety symptoms. Remember: anxiety is based on irrational thought. So it is likely what you are becoming anxious about is either not that big of deal or can be solved in some manner. In fact, the cognitive-behavioral model of psychological treatment is based on this line of reasoning (3).
While many, including myself, find it difficult to fit in time for daily exercise, the benefits of continuous exercise on health cannot be underestimated. And while the link between exercise and anxiety isn’t clear, it has been found that symptoms of anxiety are greatly reduced when people exercise regularly. One proposed mechanism of this is through the release of ‘feel-good’ hormones during exercise like endorphins and endocannbinoids (4).
Talk to friends, family, or professionals
Strong social support networks are some of biggest indicators of good physical and mental health. Numerous studies have indicated that social support reduces the risk of developing anxiety and even modulates the symptoms of anxiety. Other studies have also shown that social isolation was linked with increased heart disease and stress levels. So when you are feeling anxious, just being able to talk to someone can help you put things into perspective and receive help.