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10 Habits to Help Manage Anxiety

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In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I decided to refresh and re-share my top ten tips for managing anxiety. I am not a doctor or a therapist, but I have dealt with anxiety, both mine and others’, most of my entire life. I do not portend to be an expert, but this is what works for me.

Especially while part of this lockdown experience may be lifting, or perhaps because, there’s still plenty to keep even the chillest of us on edge. So whether you deal with major anxiety constantly, or the occasional flare-up now and then, below are my best tried-and-true tips to staying calm and centered throughout the day.

1. FEED YOURSELF APPROPRIATELY

That means eating enough, anticipating your hunger, and maintaining a balance of high-nutrient meals combined with soul-nourishing comfort food.

EATING ENOUGH

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gained a few inches since this whole self-isolation thing started. To give you some reference; I used to wear size-1 jeans and am now wearing size-5. When we start packing on pounds due to stress or inactivity, the first inclination can be to limit our food intake. For those of us with anxiety, restricting our calories can trigger low-blood-sugar shakes or worse; panic attacks.

No matter what, make sure you are feeding yourself when you are hungry.

ANTICIPATING YOUR HUNGER

You have to eat when you are hungry but you also have to anticipate that hunger. Don’t wait until you’re shaking-hungry to prep a meal. Determine how long it takes to cook so that you can plan to be hungry by the time it’s ready. If you wait until you are feeling the physical effects of hunger, you are apt to make different choices than the ones you probably want to. 

How many times have you reached for a box of crackers instead of taking five minutes to prep a salad? We’re programmed to wait in line at a drive-through for fast food because we think it’s faster. Meal planning and preparation can go a long way in making sure you are eating enough, and eating enough of the right stuff.

MAINTAINING BALANCE

Proper nutrition is so important for our bodies—we need nutrients to keep everything working properly and to stave off more than just anxiety. Transitioning to a vegan, plant-based lifestyle showed me that my body craved nutrients from fruits and vegetables more than it craved dense sustenance.

However, as important as it is to nourish our body with adequate nutrition, we must also feed our soul. This, for me, means indulging in a tasty treat or two when I need it. One evening of decadence can refuel me in a way a week of salads cannot. The key for me is 80/20; eighty percent of the time I focus on juices, smoothies, soups, salads, and other plant-based meals; twenty percent of the time I feed my inner child her most beloved tastes.

2. MOVE YOUR BODY REGULARLY

Exercise has to be something you look forward to. For me, that’s yoga. I can feel in my body and mind just how good yoga is for me. My motto is yoga every day, if not it’s okay for a reason. It’s a gift to myself, but I never make it a chore. I recommend yoga to anyone experiencing anxiety because it not only eases tension and strengthens the body, it retrains the parasympathetic nervous system to remain calm while under stress.

Perhaps yoga isn’t your thing, and that’s okay. I just ask that everyone give it a chance before they write it off. Beyond stretching and posing on the mat, there are plenty of ways to move our bodies to get the stress-busting benefits of exercise. Go for a walk or run outside while listening to empowering music. Ride a bike, play a sport, dance, jump on a trampoline throughout the day. Whatever gets you moving is going to do wonders to help keep anxiety at bay.

3. TREAT YOURSELF WEEKLY

Find a treat that nourishes your mind, body, and soul in a healthy way. For me, it’s baths. At least once a week, I fill up the tub, add some magnesium flakes for added pampering, and transport to a magical tub-land of relaxation. The water energetically cleanses away the stressors of the day and provides a safe space away from the rest of the world.

Treat yourself to bath time, or whatever that may be for you. Maybe it’s a cup of tea and a few hours alone with a good book. Perhaps it’s pickled green beans that run you $8 a jar but make you incredibly happy with each snappy bite. Maybe it’s turning off all electronics and taking a long nap. Whatever brings you back to yourself and allows you to feel good should be practiced at least once a week.

Photo by Heidi Kaden on Unsplash

4. HARNESS THE POWER OF PLANTS AS NEEDED

Cannabis, and THC specifically, may not be for everyone, but I don’t see why we don’t put CBD in everything. From water, to bath bombs, to oil tinctures, this magical cannabinoid provides relief for many anxiety symptoms. Micro-dosing helps to keep calm during the day, larger doses at night time can help you fall blissfully into a deep sleep, and topical application can manage pain or discomfort in the body.

You don’t have to live in a legalized state to purchase and use this cannabis compound; many local health food stores now carry CBD products. Alternatively, you can find them online.

Photo by Jordan Nix on Unsplash
If you’re not into CBD, try Passionflower
Passionflower
(affiliate link)

I learned about this stuff from watching Down to Earth with Zac Efron and I wish I had always known about it. I’m surprised I never came across it on my many hunts for natural anxiety remedies, but no matter. I used to take a few drops throughout the day to keep general anxiety at bay, and I really appreciated the nerve-soothing effects. What’s great is after going through two bottles the need to reach for it subsided. I no longer need to take it. That, to me, is amazing, and something other “anxiety medications” can’t seem to promise.

Herb Pharm Certified Organic Passionflower Extract for Mild and Occasional Anxiety

5. DRINK ELECTROLYTES DAILY

At least while you are experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety and panic, drinking electrolytes every day does wonders. Sometimes a panic attack is brought on by stress and triggers, and sometimes it’s due to a lack of hydration.

Smartwater practically saved my life one year when I first learned about the importance of electrolytes in my early twenties. I had been struggling with panic attacks, particularly with the heart palpitations that came along with them, and drinking this water helped me stay hydrated and balanced.

Note: if you are having heart palpitations or other scary physical symptoms with your anxiety or panic attacks, please see a doctor to rule out any other serious conditions.

In my early twenties, when first consciously dealing with the terrifying physical side of anxiety, I must have seen a doctor twenty times to check on my heart. Numerous EKG’s kept telling me I was fine, and with no explanation from the doctors, I had to go looking for my own solutions. Electrolytes are so helpful and can be found in supplemented waters, sports drinks, children’s diarrhea-remedy pops, and, my now-favorite, coconut water.

Hawthorne Blend
(affiliate link)
More panic-palpitation relief

I recently discovered Hawthorne Blend from Herb Pharm and holy cow this stuff is amazing. I mean it instantly changed my life. I was having heart palpitations from anxiety, specifically in regards to work. Before every zoom meeting, I was having intense palpitations that I couldn’t will away with my mind no matter how hard I tried. The Passionflower helped with the actual anxiety, but my heart still pounded in rebellion against the forced socialization I’d become so averse to.

The first time I tried some of these drops, the scary pounding sensation disappeared. I’ve been taking it regularly since, and I’ve only noticed a couple times over the past month when I’ve felt the palpitations come back. When that happens, they are milder and nothing a few drops can’t take care of. Seriously, where has this magical plant been all my adult life?

Remember, I’m not a doctor and do not prescribe for any illness, and please, see a doctor if you’re having heart palpitations or other scary symptoms to rule out any disease, or check with your healthcare professional before starting any new herbal remedies. That said, this stuff is truly a miracle for me and my anxiety-induced palpitations.

6. PRIORITIZE SLEEP NIGHTLY

I used to be the deepest sleeper, and had no idea that I took it for granted until the effects of major trauma entered my life. It took me a long time to realize, but after being roofied and raped while unconscious in high school, my body never was able to truly relax again. I’ve since had major anxiety about falling and staying asleep. This is where CBD drops and THC gummies come in handy; they allow me to relax enough to fall asleep, and sleep through the night.

A good night’s sleep can do wonders for our bodies and minds and overall wellbeing. There’s a reason they suggest getting 8 hours—an amount that I keep as a goal while I typically sleep 6 hours a night. We may not notice the benefits when we are getting enough sleep, but we certainly all know how awful we feel when we don’t get enough shut-eye. Driving with insomnia can be more dangerous than drunk driving—though I don’t recommend either.

As much as we need to eat enough, we need to sleep enough. What’s enough? Whatever keeps you feeling whole the next day.

7. SAY “NO” CONFIDENTLY

Saying ‘no’ is all about strengthening our connection with our inner selves. Growing up, people-pleasing equated to survival for me, so as an adult, the resulting fear of saying ‘no’ allowed me to seriously derail my life. By saying ‘yes’ over and over when I really wanted to say ‘no,’ I was effectively telling myself that my wants and needs didn’t matter compared to the demands of others. This breeds major internal struggle and therefore anxiety.

Of course there are times when we need to say yes to things we may not feel like doing, like going to work at a job we don’t love. We can and must learn the difference between doing something for a paycheck we may not want to do, knowing it is a temporary necessary step, and then doing something in life that goes against the core of our selves and values.

A lot of anxiety can stem from betraying ourselves; that’s why gaslighting abuse will send us to our breaking points. In the day-to-day, it is important to stay true to ourselves and say ‘no’ to what doesn’t align with that, even if we may be saying ‘no’ to a “good thing.”

For example, perhaps you had plans to take a bath and have a nice relaxing evening at home when a friend calls last-minute to invite you to dinner. If that’s truly something you want to do instead, then by all means, go out and have a fabulous time with your friend. But, if it immediately makes your stomach churn because you’re caught between giving yourself what you need and giving your friend the attention they’re seeking, you absolutely must know that’s a time to say ‘no.’

Remember, it’s either a ‘f*ck yes,’ or a ‘no thanks.’ Check in with yourself the next time you feel put on the spot and torn to answer. Is you body lighter? Jumping for joy at the prospect? Or, do you feel weighed down? Upset, even? Saying no can be hard if you’re not accustomed to it, but once you start, it gets easier, and will change your life.

8. PURGE & CLEAN EVERYWHERE

I cannot relax when surrounded by clutter, and that goes for my home and my mind. It’s important to purge and clean your space(s), both inside and out, to keep the peace. Each month, I take stock of my physical space and material possessions, making sure to get rid of anything that brings me down. Each week, I organize and clean my space to refresh the energy of my home and set myself up for success. Plus, the time spent purging, cleaning, and organizing is incredibly therapeutic and relaxing for me.

Beyond clearing up my personal space, it is important to regularly purge and clean my inner world. This can be done in a number of ways; writing in a journal, writing a letter and then ripping it up or burning it, crying or even punching a pillow to let it out. Whatever you’ve got to do to bring it up to the surface and let it go, so long as you aren’t hurting or harming yourself or anyone else, is good.

When anxiety builds up, take the time to take stock and then clear out. Feel the emotions you’ve been suppressing. Say the things you’ve been clenching your jaw to keep from coming out. Donate that “gift” that makes you feel guilty every time you look at it. This is your life, and you get to decide what takes up precious space in it.

9. MEDITATE MINDFULLY

It’s incredibly helpful to sit and traditionally mediate daily, but that doesn’t always work for us, especially if we’re struggling with major anxiety. “Quiet my mind? Are you insane?” you may ask. Luckily, meditation comes in many forms. Sitting in silence, reading a book, going for a walk in nature, laughing for any period of time, singing, dancing, knitting, coloring, playing an instrument; any of these activities can be regarded as a form of meditation.

Find what works for you. What puts you in the zone? What makes you forget time? What quiets your mind even just the tiniest bit? What feeds your soul? Do that. And when you can, try traditional meditation. Even five minutes a day can provide amazing results over time.

10. BREATHE FREELY

When I took Alexander Technique training five years ago, I discovered the power of the out-breath. I knew that I held my breath as part of my anxiety and stress response, but I had no idea I was holding it in. Learning how to exhale completely and allow my body to reflexively inhale changed my life. Now, when I am in the midst of anxiety, stress, or even panic, I focus on my out-breath. I push the air out until I can no longer, allowing my lungs to then fill naturally.

Connecting to our breath is connecting to our bodies. Even just taking deep breaths at random moments throughout the day can help. It brings us back to the present moment. Activities involving breathing include singing, dancing, exercise, yoga, playing an instrument, or my new go-to: qigong. Qigong is incredibly helpful in maintaining low stress levels throughout the day. There are tons of free videos on youtube to get you started.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

There you have it! Ten of my best habits to incorporate that I’ve found help to keep anxiety at bay as much as possible. These are trying times, and it’s important to remember that your body responding to the stress is absolutely normal. Be kind to yourself, let yourself rest when you need to, allow yourself to feel happy when you can, and take it one day at a time.

Note: Only you know the severity of your anxiety, stress, or even depression, and I urge you to take care of yourself right now. If you need to talk to someone, if you need more than what you can do on your own, please reach out to a professional. If you’re not sure how, start here.

As I always try to remember; there’s no need to stay suffering if we can do something about it. Anxiety can make it really difficult to take action sometimes, but if we can push ourselves just a little bit, one baby step at a time, we can find a lifestyle that works for us and brings peace back into our hearts.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you’ve found this list helpful!

Happy living,

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