This section focuses on ways to reduce the frequency and intensity of your anxiety, by taking steps to reduce your vulnerability to it. Here, we focus on how you can do this by taking care of your physical needs. Our mind and body are connected in complex ways. If we neglect our bodies, we place ourselves at greater risk for intense emotions and poor emotion regulation. By taking care of our bodies, we can become more emotionally resilient.
Have a think about a time when you were physically hungry, tired or in pain – were you more irritable and prone to anxiety? Has your anxiety ever been linked to your use of substances (e.g., caffeine)? Looking after your body can lower your baseline level of arousal, making difficult emotions easier to manage when they show up.
Here are some ideas for how you can better look after your body and be less prone to anxiety:
Manage illness and physical pain. Simply getting on top of physical illness and pain can help you manage your anxiety better. When our bodies are fighting illness, there are less resources for other things like emotion regulation. Physical pain is also linked to irritability and anxiety, so it is important to do what you can to manage it effectively.
If you notice yourself becoming unwell, take some time out to rest and replenish your body. Make sure to give your body the nutrients and fluids it needs. You may need to take some time off school or work and seek medical advice if necessary. For physical tension and stress, take time out for things that promote relaxation (e.g., meditation, yoga or massage). Any prescribed medications should also be taken regularly.
Reduce drug and alcohol use. The substances we put into our bodies can significantly impact how we feel. Substances including caffeine, prescription medications, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other illicit drugs can alter the nervous system, resulting in short- and longer-term effects on the body and mind. In the short term, these substances can make people feel better. For example, many people report they feel more confident and less anxious in social situations when they drink alcohol. However, the long-term effects can cause serious problems and often worsen anxiety.
Get adequate sleep. Getting enough sleep is essential for effective emotion regulation. Sleep is necessary for the body to recuperate; if we don’t get enough sleep, we won’t have the energy to manage challenges throughout the day. If you’re like most people, you may have noticed that you feel more anxious after a poor night’s sleep. As such, ensuring that you get adequate sleep each night is an important part of reducing your vulnerability to anxiety. If you struggle with sleep, a quick Google search for ‘sleep hygiene’ will give you some ideas to help.
Eat a balanced diet. Like with drugs and alcohol, the food we put into our bodies affects how we feel. There is growing research to support the link between diet and mental health. Eating a healthy and balanced diet has been shown to protect against anxiety disorders. Make sure you eat regular meals, avoid over- or under-eating, and focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, healthy fats (e.g., olive oil) and lean proteins. Limit the amount of sweets and sugary beverages that you consume.
Exercise regularly. In addition to its many health benefits, exercise is a great anxiety management technique. Think about a time when you were recently anxious – did you notice a build-up of tension in your body? Exercise helps to release the energy that builds up in the body when our FFF system is activated. As such, it is a great way to ‘burn off’ the anxiety and prevent it from turning into chronic tension. Regular exercise has the benefit of reducing your overall level of arousal. As a general rule, guidelines suggest some form of moderate physical activity at least five days a week for approximately 30 minutes at a time.
Try to use the above strategies to take better care of your body and your mental health. Forming a routine can be helpful in building and maintaining new habits. For example, you may choose to exercise at the same time every day. Like with the exposure stepladders, it’s best to start small and gradually build up here, especially if these practices are new to you.