Anxiety is about more than just worry. It’s an emotional burden and psychiatric disorder that can paralyze us into frustration, irritability, or inaction. There’s a physical element to anxiety as well. Anxiety triggers the release of stress hormones, like cortisol, which have an impact on the way your body functions. Emotions like dread, unease, or guilt produce symptoms you can feel such as increased heartbeat, fatigue, headaches, difficulty with concentration, nausea, and sweating. Over time, the flood of stress hormones is capable of weakening the immune system, causing serious digestive problems and other health issues.
It would be almost impossible to completely eliminate worry, stress, and anxiety from your life. However, you can prevent those negative emotions from destroying your emotional and physical well-being. Lifestyle changes are a good starting point for reducing anxiety. Following are four practical changes that, when implemented, can significantly reduce the amount of anxiety you experience on a regular basis.
Prioritize Your Life
If you’re like many people, as you become trapped in an endless cycle of work, errands, and other responsibilities, you begin to lose sight of those things that are important to maintaining a good emotional state and a good quality of life.
Make a list of what is genuinely important to you. It’s not uncommon to allow the quest for unimportant things to rule our lives. Take time to write down what is vital in your life. You may want to…
- Nurture personal growth
- Achieve career goals
- Have a positive impact within the community
- Spend time with family or friends
- Express yourself creativelyIt’s likely you’ll discover that the items on your list are not material goods but rather characteristics or activities that fulfill you emotionally or spiritually.
Make a list of how you actually spend time. Keep a time log for a week or two to determine what you’re doing with your time. How many hours do you actually spend working? Relaxing with your loved ones? Enjoying a hobby? (Or fretting about all the things you can’t control?) When your log is complete, compare it to your priorities. If you’re feeling the strain of anxiety, you’ll probably find that the way you spend time currently doesn’t support those priorities you laid out in the first list.
Set goals. Make change a reality by setting realistic objectives. Do you feel you’re not spending enough time with a well-loved grandparent? Commit to visiting him or her once a month or once a week. Use the same goal setting to ease out of the activities that cause anxiety but don’t add to your emotional happiness. For instance, excuse yourself from a committee that takes up a lot of time but fails to further your life priorities.
Create a Schedule
Scheduling reduces stress by empowering you to divide time according to your priorities.
Find a system that works. Give yourself a good foundation for sticking to a schedule by using a system that’s comfortable for you to use. Some people might prefer a giant paper calendar hung in a prominent place, while others will work better using planning software. For those who are managing multiple schedules (i.e. a son’s soccer practice, a mom’s doctor appointments, etc.) consider using family organization software, which allows multiple people to add and share appointments.
Build a time cushion. Reduce anxiety levels by padding the schedule with extra time throughout the day. For example, your typical dental cleaning might last 30 minutes, but by planning for a 60-minute appointment you reduce the chance you’ll be rushing to your next commitment because the dental office was behind schedule.
Schedule "me" time. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to living a reduced-stress lifestyle is the inability of many of us to take time for ourselves. Combat emotionally- and physically-draining anxiety by scheduling time away from activity and chaos each day. Here are simple strategies:
- Eat lunch away from your desk
- Wake up 20 minutes before the rest of the house to enjoy tea or coffee and sit with a favorite pet or book
- Start the workday with a few minutes of stretching or deep breathing
From school papers littering the dining room table to pairs of shoes scattered randomly throughout the house, your home likely has its own unique clouds of clutter. Fighting through that mess, especially when you’re on-the-go, creates frustration that raises anxiety. In fact, a disorganized home or office can quickly transform a normal day into a stressful one. Organizing your corner of the world is a good first step toward reducing anxiety and making the day smoother and less stressful.
Prioritize. "How will I get this cleaned up?" When the act of living has overrun your life, all that clutter can seem overwhelming. Start by re-organizing the areas critical to your everyday existence. Perhaps that means cleaning out years of junk from the closet so you can store clothing in it instead of frantically hunting through piles on the floor. For others, it might involve setting up the foyer so the family can easily locate backpacks, computer bags, and coats in the morning. Once you’re comfortable organizing one space, you can move onto others.
Maintain. To benefit from the reduced anxiety that comes with organization, you’ll need to maintain it. If, for example, you’ve reorganized the foyer, it may take a few days or weeks for everyone to get into the habit of putting items in their proper place. You’ll also want to plan a quick "spruce up" once a week to make sure the space stays organized and isn’t drifting out of control.
Learn to Say "No"
Saying "no" can be hard. Sometimes we agree to a task out of a sense of responsibility. Other times we do so because we don’t want to offend or upset the person asking us. Regardless of why you agree to take on an extra load, over-commitment is a big contributor to high anxiety levels. Keep your focus on your priorities, and politely decline additional requests for your time, talent, and energy.
Worry is normal to a point, but when it turns into full-blown anxiety it can take over your life. However, you can take positive measures by learning strategies for managing stress. Give your emotional well-being a boost by using the steps above. As your anxiety dissipates, you’ll be able to focus on building a more fulfilling and enjoyable life.