6 Lifestyle Changes to Help Keep Anxiety at Bay
A couple months ago I wrote about 3 ways to relieve anxiety, and in December, I wrote about how to find a therapist. While coping skills and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are awesome ways to learn how to manage anxiety when it rears its ugly head, there are small daily lifestyle changes that can help keep your anxiety at bay before it starts.
Here are 6 small day-to-day changes you can make that may help you feel less anxious throughout your day:
1. Creating a Schedule / Making A “To Do” List
Are you a Gmail calendar person, or a handwritten daily planner kind of person? Do you carry a notebook around with you, or do you keep track of things on the Notes app of your phone?
Whether it’s all of the above or neither, having a consistent way to keep track of your day can be helpful in implementing some structure and predictability.
For what it’s worth, here’s what I do: I keep a running list of “To Do’s” on Evernote (an app on my Macbook and my iPhone). I’m also a visual person, so I keep a wall calendar in my kitchen that I glance at from time to time to get an overview of my week. I’m an avid user of the Gmail calendar to keep tabs on my schedule. I’ve found the “reminder” feature extremely helpful – I set 24-hour and 1-hour reminders for appointments, phone calls, bill payments, dinner with friends – you name it.
Try out different ways of structuring your day and keeping track of things, and see what works for you.
2. Practicing Acceptance and Self-Compassion
A few weeks ago I wrote about accepting anxiety. It sounds counterintuitive, but if you think about it, how often have you ended up feeling more anxious after putting forth the energy toward trying not to be anxious?
When we’re already feeling anxious, getting upset with ourselves often leads to feeling more anxious. We end up in a vicious cycle of feeling anxious about the fact that we’re anxious.
Acceptance, on the other hand, is recognizing that we’re experiencing anxiety and choosing to live life anyway. Another component of this is self-compassion. Instead of being hard on yourself for experiencing anxiety, try going easy on yourself and speaking kindly to yourself.
“Ugh, what’s wrong with me, why am I so anxious?” vs. “You’re feeling anxious right now, and that’s okay. You’ll get through today.” The second one likely feels better to hear. Try practicing acceptance and self-compassion this week and see what happens.
3. Having A Consistent Morning and Nighttime Routine
Routine, routine, routine – I can’t say it enough, but routine is the crux of structure and predictability, and structure and predictability can help prevent anxiety from taking over your day.
I know that a nighttime routine (especially for those who experience anxiety) is one of those mystical, foreign things that sounds great in theory, but not-so-great when it comes to execution. One symptom of anxiety is difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep due to racing thoughts and feeling on edge. However, having a consistent time in mind for starting your nighttime routine each night can help with sleep.
The same goes for the morning. Even doing something small, like making your bed, can go a long way. Having a clean, organized room and doing something productive first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day.
4. Practicing Gratitude
My clients sometimes find it odd when I ask them to do a “gratitude rush” – a term that I use to describe listing off a bunch of things that they’re grateful for.
When we’re experiencing anxiety, it’s common to get stuck in black-or-white kind of thinking: “I’m going to fail out of college,” “I’m never going to fall in love again,” “I have nothing going for me,” “I’m always such a failure,” the kind of talk that makes us feel anxious for the future and down on ourselves.
Thinking of the things we’re grateful for – even if it’s just a few things – can help offset negative self-talk. Whether it’s your cat, your best friend, your favorite pair of slippers, that awesome pizza you microwaved for dinner, or even your favorite Netflix show (I am ever so grateful for The Office), try it out. It might help get your mind out of that slippery slope of unhelpful self-talk.
5. Exercising, Eating Healthy, Getting Enough Sleep, all that good stuff
There’s a reason these three things are at the front and center of all the self-help articles you read (and probably among the first few things your doctor asks about at your physical).
I’ll be the first to admit, these are the things that I let go by the wayside when I get super busy. However, when we take care of our bodies, we take care of our minds (cliché, I know). A step forward is a step forward, no matter how small. Try making one small health change this week and go from there. You can always start over.
6. Decreasing Social Media Time
Have you ever just finished scrolling Instagram and felt amazing about yourself? If so, that’s awesome – you’re following the right people. But it’s not uncommon to feel worse after going on social media.
It’s a passive distraction, sure, but it often leads to comparison and feeling “not good enough.” Usually when people are posting on Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook, they’re showing the highlight reel of life. It’s usually not an accurate representation of real life.
I’m not saying social media is bad. Social media can actually be good – staying in touch with friends, following inspirational accounts, spreading the word for positive acts of change – just be mindful of who you’re following and take what you see with a grain of salt.
If an account makes you feel worse about yourself, just click that “unfollow” button.
Try out some of these six lifestyle changes and see if it helps anxiety feel more manageable. Feel free to learn more about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in St. Paul, MN, or schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation with me so we can connect and see if we would be a good fit.