Anxiety is on the rise. In 2013, the term wasn’t even in the Top 10 health-related Google searches. But 2014, it was the fifth most-searched health term on Google.
More people are suffering from and being treated for anxiety, depression, ulcers, sleep problems and other health issues due to stress. Even children’s anxiety is on the rise. In a recent article in Psychology Today, Dr. Peter Gray, PhD, professor at Boston College, had this to say about the anxiety of young people today, as compared to just a few decades ago:
Today, by at least some estimates, five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or an anxiety disorder as was true half a century or more ago.
Children’s freedom to play and explore on their own, independent of direct adult guidance and direction, has declined greatly in recent decades. Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests.
Why are We so Anxious?
So, what’s going on? I think we’re all working much harder, for longer hours, and with heavier workloads and less job security. Our schedules are incredibly full, with work, kids, family, community obligations, working out, social obligations and so much more.
At the same time, we’re not sleeping enough, eating properly, or working out regularly enough. Instead of doing things that help us relax or work off some steam, we’re getting overstimulated with electronic entertainment. Instead of getting support, fun and intimacy from being with friends and family, we’re socializing ion Facebook and Twitter.
Of course we’re stressed. Of course we’re anxious. We putting out 10 gallons of gas each day and only putting 5 gallons back in our tanks. Doctors, of course, are addressing this problem by prescribing anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine. But, unless you are clinically depressed, you need to be addressing the stress, not covering it up.
Here are 7 ways that you can start reducing anxiety and stress, right now, completely naturally.
1. Start getting enough magnesium.
Our bodies use a huge amount of magnesium on a daily basis. It’s used by every organ in the body, from the brain to the heart to the kidneys. We’ve got to have plenty of it on hand in order to function at optimal levels. Unfortunately, almost none of us do.
According to an article by Dr. Joseph Mercola, 80% of Americans are not getting enough magnesium, and the current recommended daily allowance is only enough to ward off absolute deficiency (this is true of most RDAs, by the way).
There are a few reasons for this. First, we over-consume caffeine and sugar, which deplete stores, we take too many medications that block magnesium, such as insulin and antibiotics, and we have sluggish digestive systems due to waste build up, poor diet and toxins, so we aren’t able to absorb the magnesium we do eat. Which is too bad, because we don’t eat enough magnesium-rich foods, like nuts and seeds.
Without enough magnesium, our brains are unable to create and release mood enhancing chemicals such as serotonin, and so we suffer from things like depression, panic attacks, anxiety and all of the physical health issues that come with these things.
Start taking a good magnesium supplement, but also eat plenty of alkalizing food like nuts and seeds, dark green veggies, fish and avocadoes.
- Is Your Diet Causing You Anxiety Problems? Take this 30-second test and find out.
2. Breathe clean air.
A recent study from Johns Hopkins found that people who lived closer to major roads (read: pollution) had greater anxiety and other stress disorders than people who lived further away (even just a couple of hundred yards further away) from major roads. The thinking is that pollutants increase anxiety by increasing oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which deplete antioxidants, creating fatigue, depression and other issues.
So what do you do about this? Find ways to get more clean air into your system. Stay out of smoky bars and go bowling instead. Skip the gym and run in the woods. Instead of going to a movie, have a picnic by the lake.
You can also install HEPA filters in your home to reduce pollutants indoors.
3. Don’t medicate, talk it out.
New research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that cognitive and behavioral therapy was just as effective, if not more effective, than taking anti-depressants. There’s a very good reason for this: medication dulls you to the stress; talking problems out or talking through ways to relive the stress they cause, is actually treating the stress itself, rather than covering it up.
I think of this analogy: medicating stress instead of getting rid of it is like sweeping dust and debris under a rug. It might make the floor look better when company comes by with five minutes notice, but the debris is still there. You know it. You feel it. You know you still have to deal with it at some point. Talking through your stressors and how to overcome their effects is like getting out a really broom and sweeping that stuff all the way out of the house.
Talk to a psychologist. Talk to a behavioral therapist. Talk to a counselor. Talk to someone who teaches meditation or other stress-relieving techniques. Talk the problems through with your mate, your best friend or a mentor.
4. Get enough sleep.
Stress makes it hard to get enough sleep. Lack of rest makes us more stressed. It’s a really bad cycle to get caught up in.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that lack of sleep actually exacerbates anxiety. Here is how Science Daily explained the study’s findings:
Neuroscientists have found that sleep deprivation amplifies anticipatory anxiety by firing up the brain’s amygdala and insular cortex, regions associated with emotional processing. The resulting pattern mimics the abnormal neural activity seen in anxiety disorders. Furthermore, their research suggests that innate worriers — those who are naturally more anxious and therefore more likely to develop a full-blown anxiety disorder — are acutely vulnerable to the impact of insufficient sleep.
So what can you do? Cut off your electronic time in the evenings. The screens of TVs, phones, tablets and computers actually overstimulate the mind and make it harder to sleep. Try drinking warm milk or chamomile tea about thirty minutes before bed.
Get rid of any distractions in the bedroom, such as lights, books, TV, etcetera. Make it a place of rest and sleep. Buy one of those sound machines and train your mind to go to sleep at the sound of rainstorms or crickets or ocean waves. Set a bedtime, and stick to it. Perform the same ritual every night, such as turning off the house lights, fluffing pillows, brushing teeth, having a time of prayer or thanksgiving, or writing in a journal. These routines actually get your brain prepared to sleep. It takes a few weeks for you to feel the full effect, but it works.
5. Hug someone, and get hugged back.
There’s a reason why hugging isn’t restricted to one culture or something that died out centuries ago, like bustles and leeching. Hugging works. Hugs feel good. They comfort, soothe, encourage and relax us.
In fact, recent studies have shown that hugging reduces blood pressure, stimulates the release of feel good hormones like endorphins and serotonin and help us to relive stress. Hug your children, hug your best friend, hug your mate, hug your dog. Give love and feel love daily and you will dramatically reduce anxiety.
6. Get moving.
Physical activity is absolutely some of the most powerful ant-anxiety medication there is. Numerous studies have found it effective. In one of the most recent studies, researchers at the University of Georgia found that patients with chronic illnesses suffered much less anxiety if they exercised regularly.
Why? Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, helps you to rest better, and is even a great way to work off emotions like anger, frustration and disappointment, so that you can get it out of your system instead of letting it build up.
Take a walk. Go dancing. Play kickball with the kids. Do a ten-minute HIIT routine. Start playing softball again. Just do something.
7. Take a digital detox.
Several studies have shown that social media and the internet in general actually increase stress. Our Facebook friends all appear to have better lives, have it all together, find the best mates. Family members duke it out in public. The news is awful and heart-wrenching and relentless.
Take a weekend to completely unplug. Socialize face to face or not at all. Spend more time thinking about your goals and dreams and less time watching other people supposedly achieving theirs. Get outside, where the world really is. Do fun things. Read a happy book. Remind yourself what real life is all about, and then live it, instead of having other people’s lives fed to you.
Stress is here to stay. There are things we can do to eliminate some of the stress and anxiety in our lives, like cutting back on work or getting out of a bad relationship or miserable job. But for the rest of the stress, simply taking action to reduce its impact will dramatically change your life for the better.