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Self-regulation is the key to living your best life with anxiety.

Many people suffer from anxiety these days and when left unchecked, it can become all-consuming and even debilitating in our lives. The good news is that with proper daily habits, a toolbox of effective coping mechanisms, and the discipline to self-regulate, you can not only manage your anxiety but still live your best life.

In fact, about 1 in 5 Americans – or 25 million of us – have some sort of anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental health condition in the U.S. Almost a third of us (31%) will experience an anxiety disorder in our lifetime.

Here are a few more notable facts you may find interesting:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects about 6% of U.S. adults at some point in their lives. While it’s treatable, about half of people with GAD experience symptoms for more than two years before reaching out for help and seeking treatment.
  • One of the most common forms of anxiety is social anxiety, which affects around 12% of U.S. adults at some point in their lives.
  • Females suffer from anxiety disorders at a higher rate than males.
  • Anxiety is particularly troubling among young people. In fact, about 1 in 12 (8.5%) of all children aged 3-17 suffer an anxiety disorder. The prevalence of mental health conditions among younger populations is fast-growing due to the ubiquity of social media, FOMO, and other pressures.
  • Anxiety goes hand-in-hand with other mental health and lifestyle factors. For instance, almost 50% of people diagnosed with depression also suffer from an anxiety disorder.
  • Many factors contribute to our anxiety, including genetics, environment, preexisting conditions, lifestyle factors, past traumas, childhood issues or experiences, learned behaviors, and social influences such as poverty.
  • I should also note that some level of anxiety is healthy and even necessary. From a biological perspective, anxiety is hard-wired in human beings as a means of self-preservation, heightening our senses and triggering action (fight or flight) when faced with imminent danger.

Of course, the problem arises when our over-activated minds perceive danger, displacement, or problems where none occur, such as is the state nearly 24/7 with many people in our society these days.

Self-regulation: the key to living with anxiety

Self-regulation is the most important aspect of living your best life with anxiety. Before you reach for medication – and definitely instead of masking your anxiety with alcohol, drugs, or other harmful habits, there are things you can do on a daily basis to mitigate the prevalence of your uneasy nervous feelings.

Simply put, you hold the power to treat your own anxiety with self-identification, daily habits, and implementing coping mechanisms. In fact, when you go to a therapist or engage in psychotherapy, the goal is often to give you the tools for better self-regulation.

It’s not easy, especially at first. But, like building any habit, with disciple and practice, self-regulation will prove to be a panacea to living your best life with anxiety.

Ways to self-regulate and cope with anxiety:

  1. Whether just taking a long walk or hitting a hard gym workout, physical activity boosts feel-good chemicals and endorphins in the brain, helping you feel more relaxed and reducing anxiety.
  2. Get out in nature – a little sunshine, fresh air, and reconnecting with the outdoors does wonders for our mental health and regulating anxiety.
  3. Slowing down your breathing and taking in full, measured breaths helps reduce anxiety, which causes you to breathe more rapidly and shallow. Deep breathing is also the natural byproduct of exercise, meditation, yoga, etc.
  4. There’s no better way of slowing your mind and improving your mental health in general than daily meditation and mindfulness practice. They will also improve your mood, sleep cycle, and just about every aspect of your health. Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment, reducing anxiety triggers about future troubles (that usually don’t come to fruition).
  5. Progressive muscle relaxation is a great technique for some people with anxiety. While sitting in quiet meditation and breathing deeply, one-by-one tense and then relax each part of your body, starting with your toes all the way up to your face and head.
  6. Write it out! Pick up a journal and clarify your thoughts, fears, or what’s triggering your anxiety. Putting your negative feelings on paper helps to define and alleviate them, and you’ll also notice patterns that emerge.
  7. Turn off your phone and step away from social media! Being connected all-too-often online is one of the biggest contributors to the rising prevalence of anxiety. So, stop the useless scrolling, put down your phone, and disconnect from devices to temper your anxiety.
  8. Listen to (or create) music, enjoy art, read a book, or take a bath.
  9. Reduce or eliminate the intake of caffeine and alcohol, which can contribute to increased anxiety levels.
  10. Self-assess your anxiety in the moment, measuring it on a scale of 1-10. Focus on getting it down just one number on that scale. By doing so, you’ll feel less overwhelmed, empowered, and more efficient at reducing your own anxiety by a “point,” two, or many more.
  11. Change your diet. Certain foods and supplements help reduce anxiety over the long term, such as foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, eggs, avocados, etc.), lemon balm, green tea, valerian root, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, turmeric, and more. Of course, junk foods and diets high in sugar, preservatives, fat, etc., negatively impact our gut health as well as mental health.
  12. Engage in positive self-talk and use affirmations. Anxiety can distort your assessment of potential threats or the downside in any situation, so it’s important to challenge those negative thoughts with your own intentional and uplifting self-dialogue.
  13. Aromatherapy activates specific receptors in your brain, helping you relax and easing anxiety. Try essential oils like lavender, jasmine, and rose oil, incense, or even naturally scented candles to see which you like and respond to.
  14. Just talking it out often helps – to a friend, family member, or your therapist. You can even join groups or online communities with others who suffer from anxiety, exchanging feelings, tips, and support. After all, the best way to feel better is sometimes to help someone else feel better!
  15. Learn to identify and manage your triggers, those stressful, emotional, or even traumatic events or factors that magnify your anxiety. For many, it can be being overworked, the ending of a romantic relationship, a death in the family, withdrawal from drug or alcohol use, or other momentous occasions. Knowing your triggers and how to avoid or manage them – even with extra sleep, exercise, a better diet, or just talking to someone, is an effective long-term strategy to minimize anxiety.

But if your anxiety feels completely beyond your control, keeps getting worse, or impacts your life in a profound negative manner, it’s time to get help.

From cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to medication when necessary, mental health professionals and doctors are equipped to make sure that anxiety doesn’t take over your life.

However, I’m confident that by self-regulating and implementing some of these coping mechanisms into your daily habits, you can still live your best life even with anxiety.

10 Scientifically proven ways to be happy today. 

1“But are you happy?” 

That’s one of the most difficult questions to answer, which sometimes makes us squirm when people put us on the spot. I mean, the default answer is “yes,” but that’s not always true, is it? 

We all have ups and downs; good days and bad, and it’s impossible to be happy 100% of the time (especially these days!).

But scientists and researchers point to something called “baseline happiness,” which is a consistent, long-term range of our positive emotional state. And the great news is that we can do things to improve our baseline happiness – there are tangible strategies to boost our mood, joy, and outlook in life.

If you want to feel happier TODAY, try these 10 techniques. Do these things regularly, and you’ll see a vast improvement in how much you enjoy your life!

1.         Go work out

Exercise and physical activity are one of the most impactful ways to produce natural endorphins, or “good mood chemicals” in the brain. In one notable study, three groups of depressed individuals were treated with either medication, exercise, or both.

They found that all three groups showed short-term improvement in their levels of happiness, but the long-term prognosis was starkly different. 

Six months later, those who just took medication relapsed into depression at a 38% rate. Even the medication + exercise group relapsed at a 31% rate. But only 9% of the group that treated their depression with exercise fell back into that state, a remarkable finding!

2.         Spend time with a friend or family member

Did you know that one of the top regrets from seniors when they’re on their deathbed is that they didn’t spend enough time with family or friends?

Numerous studies point to happiness levels and the quality (not necessarily quantity) of our social connections, especially with family or close friends.

Men especially have a tough time connecting and forming meaningful relationships with friends. But research shows interesting data points on that topic, such as that a man’s relationships at age 47 are an accurate predictor of their health and happiness later in life!

3.         Get outdoors

Most of us just feel better with a little sunlight and fresh air, but science backs that up. Studies show that even 20 minutes outdoors in pleasant weather boosts mood and other brain functions. And while you may guess that we get happier as temperatures climb, the American Meteorological Society discovered that the happiness-boosting effect of the outdoors is maximized at 57 degrees – positively brisk!

4.         Practice gratitude

I said “practice” instead of just “be grateful” because encouraging a mindset of gratitude takes work and diligence before it becomes a habit. But the sunnying effect across just about every aspect of your life is profound. 

According to Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat review, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

5.         Meditate (and breathe deeply) every day

There’s an overwhelming amount of research that now proves that meditation and deep breathing literally rewire your brain, improving mood, clarity, focus, outlook, and yes, happiness. Meditation is also one of the best ways to treat anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness naturally.

A study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging found that after an eight-week course of meditation, the part of the brain associated with compassion, empathy, and self-awareness actually grew in size, while the part of the brain associated with stress shrank in size.

6.         Volunteer and give back (according to this specific number)

One of the single most powerful ways to help ourselves feel better is to help others. Charity work, volunteering, or just performing a random act of kindness all go a long way towards boosting our own happiness. 

But emerging research also points to an optimal amount of time for our philanthropic efforts: 100 hours, or approximately 2 hours per week. More or less than that, and we may still be helping others, but may not experience the same proportionate increase in our own joy.

7.         Plan an epic vacation (even if you never hit the road)

We’d all love to hop on a plane (first class) and fly off to some tropical locale right now, taking the vacation of a lifetime. Whether it’s time, money, or this pesky pandemic, that may not be possible. But the good news is that we can launch our happiness just by planning that trip.

In fact, a study by the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found that we feel the most joy just by planning a vacation before we ever say bon voyage, and those happiness levels drop sharply once we return.

8.         Grow older

Yes, you read that correctly – we demonstrate higher levels of happiness as the birthdays add up. This isn’t just based on anecdotal evidence, but scientific studies where people of different age groups were shown photos of faces in both positive and negative situations. The researchers found that the older we are, the more we focus on the happy faces and tend to remember the negative details less. 

Other research concludes that the simple things – like taking a walk or seeing a friend – will enhance our mood more significantly the older we are. Perhaps it’s because we learn coping mechanisms and techniques to lift our own spirits as time goes on, but we just need get older to be happier!

9.         Step away from social media 

We’re the first generation in the history of human beings who have had to deal with addiction to technology (unless you count Atari and cordless phones), and that’s taking a serious toll on our mental health. 

If you don’t realize how much we’re slaves to our smartphones and social media, just watch The Social Dilemma, or consider this finding by clinical psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle, which she wrote about in her book, Alone Together “Online life tends to promote more superficial, emotionally lazy relationships, as people are drawn to relationships that seem low risk and always at hand.”

So, if you want a near-instant emotional pick-me-up, just turn off the smartphone and log off of social media for the rest of the day or make it a habit to scroll only once per day.

10.  Smile more 

Far from campy optimism, the physiological practice of smiling has been proven to improve mood, mental clarity, levels of optimism, and even reduce pain.

Called the facial feedback hypothesis, psychologists posit that even when we force a smile despite feeling less-than-stellar, it will make an almost immediate and moderate (yet significant) impact on our mood. 

But the real trick is backing up that smile with positive thoughts simultaneously, as a University of Michigan study found that the combination was far more powerful.

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Please try the items on this list and let me know how they improve your happiness – I’d love to hear from you!

Kelly Resendez