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Alleviating Anxiety

Through self-soothing techniques like deep breathing, you can alleviate anxiety.

| September 20th, 2011

Guiding Your Way Through Anxiety

Treating anxiety depends on several factors. Is the anxiety stemming from specific life circumstances, or is it constantly interfering with your life?

“If you really find yourself suffering from a long-term stressful period, engaging someone else’s help is really useful,” Psychology Advisor Art Markman, Ph.D. says.

When anxiety is related to finances, family or other life circumstances, a clinical social worker may be the person to see. “They’re well-attuned to thinking about your life situation and can help you rearrange elements of your life to create pockets of stress-free living,” Dr. Markman says.

If you experience occasional, low-level anxiety, there are many self-soothing techniques to explore on your own.

“The first thing is to try out great resources like the ‘Anxiety and Phobia Workbook’,” says Susan Albers, Ph.D., psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic. 

One of the best places to start is with breathing exercises, according to Dr. Albers.

Breathing Exercises: For some people, it really can be as simple as learning to exhale.

Brian has not had a panic attack in five years, largely in part because of a simple breathing exercise. “I eventually saw someone about it and she told me to exhale,” Brian says. “I’d do breathing exercises—deep breaths counting to three, breathing in and out” he says.

Why does such a simple thing help so much?

“It slows the physiological response of anxiety. With anxiety you may be really focused on sweating and trembling but your mind is really feeling it and feeding into it. Breathing redirects your thoughts from your mind onto your breathing. It doesn’t add fuel to the fire,” Dr. Albers says.

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Alleviating Anxiety

Meditation: Another very powerful technique is meditation.

“Our brains are really smart at perceiving the past and future, and we spend most of our time there,” YouBeauty reader Paige* says of people with Generalized Anxiety.

Perhaps this is one reason why training yourself to be in the moment through meditation is so effective. Studies show mindfulness meditation changes brain regions associated with stress. It’s been proven to reduce heart palpitations, rapid breathing, high blood pressure and sweating. It also improves other side effects of anxiety, such as trouble concentrating and feeling restless.

MORE: Your Guide to Meditation 

When should you work on self-soothing techniques? “Practice when you are not in the midst of anxiety so it becomes second nature. Learn how to swim the moment you hit turbulent water. Practice it everyday,” Dr. Albers says.

Relaxing activities: Other ways to slow things down include listening to relaxing music, which lowers heartbeat. Petting a dog or cat has been proven to lower blood pressure and anxiety. Don't have a pet? Housesit for your friend!

Yoga can reduce anxiety and boost mood, more than other forms of exercise. Practicing yoga can boost levels of gamma-aminobutyric (GABA), a neurotransmitter than regulates muscle tone and is lower in people experiencing anxiety disorders.

MORE: Your Guide to Yoga

Food & supplements: Your diet can affect mood.

In one study, those taking omega-3 supplements showed a 20 percent reduction in anxiety. You can get these fatty acids from foods in addition to supplements.

MORE: Where to Get Your Omega-3s

On the Dr. Oz show, YouBeauty founder Mehmet Oz, M.D. called out valerian root for its ability to soothe anxiety symptoms. It’s also used to treat restlessness and sleep disorders. The amount suggested: 200mg 3-4 times daily.

Dr. Albers agrees, suggesting tea with valerian root, like Celestial Seasonings “Extra Sleepytime tea.”

“I recommend it particularly because that’s one of the main ingredients, it’s easy for people to get,” says Dr. Albers.

MORE: Guide to Alternative Medicine 

Tags: Mood
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