You’re in the middle of spin class or on the way to an important office meeting when you’re suddenly overcome by a racing heart, shortness of breath and an intense desire to escape. You’re not alone. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults, or nearly one in five people, according to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health. But if you don’t want to pop a Klonopin or another drug every time you’re under pressure, there are natural remedies that can help you reduce your anxiety. Bonus: These strategies will also benefit your overall health.
EAT A HEALTHY DIET
Consuming regular meals of mostly whole foods will prevent blood sugar crashes, and is the first step to help keep stress from ballooning. Good nutrition “is necessary for keeping your mind and body functioning at the optimal level,” says clinical psychologist Adam Gonzalez, Ph.D., founding director of the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center at Stony Brook University.
UP YOUR OMEGA-3 FATTY ACID INTAKE
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon, tuna, sardines, walnuts and flaxseed, can help alleviate anxiety. A 2015 review of recent research in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience found that omega-3 supplements can help prevent anxiety disorders. Including them in your diet will help you every day as well as when you’re going through times of stress.
When you’re physically active, your brain releases endorphins that help elevate and stabilize your mood, improve your sleep and nourish your neurons. According to a 2013 analysis in Frontiers in Psychiatry, “exercise is associated with reduced anxiety in clinical settings.” Even one vigorous session can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Practicing meditation is so effective at reducing anxiety that many psychologists now include this ancient Buddhist technique as a vital part of mainstream therapy, says Gonzalez. For those who can’t sit still, he recommends more active mindfulness practices such as yoga or tai chi.
There’s a reason that “take a deep breath” is the traditional go-to advice for calming yourself down. “We tend to take really short, shallow breaths through our chest because we are always on the go,” Gonzalez says, “but breathing from the belly, like babies naturally do, tells your nervous system to turn on its relaxation mode.” Deep breathing can help relieve anxiety and panic, which is probably why classes focusing on breathwork are popping up all over. Next time you feel like panicking, try this instead: Inhale slowly through your nose until your stomach sticks out. Then open your mouth and gently exhale, pulling your belly back in.
Jot down at least three things you’re grateful for, either on your cellphone or in a journal, every night. “This positive thinking shifts your mind away from fear and from the stuff that makes you anxious,” Gonzalez says. If your goal is to feel better, building yourself a positive-thinking treatment toolkit with a variety of interventions, such as giving yourself pep talks and making lists of ways to address things you’re worried about, can also be very helpful.