The A-word gets thrown around a lot these days, from “Pillowtalk” singer Zayn canceling his tour due to anxiety, to former NBA first-rounder Royce White, whose anxiety disorder was blamed for his steep decline. Selena Gomez also stepped away from the spotlight after she says her lupus triggered anxiety and depression. But what exactly is anxiety – and how do you know if you have it?
For starters, there’s a difference between being NERVOUS and being ANXIOUS.
“Nervousness can be overcome and should have little or no impact on daily activities outside of what is triggering it, says Dr. Jeffrey Alfonsi, a Fellow of The Royal College of Physicians of Canada. “Anxiety, meantime, is a severe form of nervousness that prevents you from being able to do all the things you need and want because you anticipate fear.”
For example: you don’t want to go out and are scared to leave the house because you might experience anxiety.
“Typically anxiety symptoms may persist for months,” Alfonsi says. “Nervousness should come and go.”
Ready to curb your anxiety? Keep calm and follow these six steps.
Sounds simple, but the first thing to do is focus on your breathing. Therapists and followers of meditation alike promote “power breathing,” which can trick your mind and body into feeling more relaxed. Inhale slowly for four seconds. Hold, then slowly exhale for eight seconds. Counting the seconds in your mind helps you focus.
This online course from Udemy works on the basics of diaphragmatic breathing, to help you increase control over stress. You’ll start out practicing when you’re calm and relaxed, then use it in gradually more difficult situations, like in the middle of that challenging business meeting – and no one will be the wiser. Not the right course for you? Udemy has a ton of other easy-to-follow online guides for stress management and anxiety relief. See all the options here.
2. Talk It Out
Don’t bottle up your feelings. Talk to someone friendly and let them know you just want them to listen, not give advice. People butting in with their IMHO rants will just make your anxiety worse. If there’s no one to talk to, it’s not weird to talk to yourself. Ever watch athletes before a big game? They talk to themselves all the time, using positive affirmation (“You got this!” “It’s all good!” “Let’s make it happen!”) to pump up and get focused. Need a push? Start with this book, which works like a motivational magic eight ball. Flip the book open to any page and read the positive quotes, affirmations and exercises in that section. You’ll be surprised at how much it relates — and helps.
3. Have Sex
Stay with us here. Often times, anxiety occurs from having pent-up energy and not knowing what to do with it. Whether you’re having sex or going for a run, physical activity will help re-transfer that energy into something productive – and way more fun.
4. Eat Better
A turkey sandwich could do more than just fill you up at lunch. Nutritionists say tryptophan, an amino acid found in turkey and whole grains triggers “feel-good” chemicals in your brain. Eating a turkey sandwich could help you feel calmer and more relaxed. Other good foods to eat: bananas, cheese, nuts and salmon.
5. Do Something You Like Right Away
“Anxiety usually occurs in anticipation of a future threat,” explains Alfonsi. He suggests finding things to keep you focused on the present. Been wanting to check out that new movie? Don’t wait till the weekend – buy a ticket and watch it tonight. Saw a basketball court down the street? Grab your ball and go shoot some hoops, even if it’s a game of H.O.R.S.E. with yourself (or even if it’s a mini basketball hoop over your office door). Or grab your camera and go for a bike ride. The trick is not to wait, as that could only make your anxiety worse.
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6. Let It Out
That whole idea about screaming into a pillow? It works. Talking to someone sometimes isn’t enough; your body needs a physical reaction to match your verbal one. Buy a punching bag or rip up a box. Letting out your anxiety is the first step to releasing it altogether.
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Above all, don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you think your symptoms are getting more serious. And remember: like all bad things,