We are able to function in life because we have habits to rely on to keep us going each day. For example…we eat, sleep, and brush our teeth. We know how to get to work and tie our shoes. You barely think about these things. There is a place deep in the brain called the Basal Ganglia designed to store data and create habit for how we do things so we don’t have to relearn things every day. When those habits are helping you create a happy and healthy life, life feels easy and productive. You might even feel like you are floating down a gentle river enjoying the ride. We’ll call these healthier habits. Sometimes, though, our habits are counterproductive, causing chaos in our life and anxiety in our body and mind. Anxiety makes life feel harder and less joyful than we’d like. Luckily, it’s never too late to rewire your habits to feel your best! I know because I was riddled with anxiety growing up, and was dragged back down the rabbit hole over the last several years. I believe that anxiety has a lot to teach us, which I will share more on in another post. In the meantime, let’s rework some habits to help you create an anxiety-free lifestyle:
Kick caffeine. Here’s an inconvenient truth: research shows that caffeine activates your nervous system’s “fight or flight response.” Sadly, while you may crave the kick, you’re likely to get kicked into symptoms of anxiety from your beloved hot cup of morning happiness. I’m not even remotely suggesting you give up your coffee or tea! If you have anxiety, try cutting back to one 8 oz cup per day, or switch to decaf and see if this helps. If I even have one cup of caffeine, my anxiety gets triggered, which takes hours to recover from. I value my sense of peace more, so I’ve found the balance by having an occasional oat milk and maple latte, which I thoroughly enjoy!
Drink more water. Mostly we need a jolt of energy in the morning because we are dehydrated. The magic elixir is simply a tall glass of water right when you wake up, followed by regular doses throughout the day to maintain your natural energy and a sense of calm in your body.
Fuel your body well. Your body knows what to do with “real food." When you eat foods that were created in laboratories, you can break your body. Artificial sweeteners and dyes are some of the most toxic, anxiety-provoking chemicals we consume. Some of the most intense are aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, Red #40, Yellow #5, and flavorings like MSG. True story: I once helped a client manage his anger by eliminating Skittles and Twizzlers, which are loaded with red dye…
Sleep savior. Strong clinical evidence suggests that lack of sleep and inconsistent sleep cycles can create anxiety. Developing good sleep habits sets you up for hormone balance and a calmer nervous system, which influences “feel good” chemicals that keep you level. Have a consistent bed time with a specific routine as many nights per week as you can so your body learns to wind down naturally, making it easier to get to sleep and stay asleep. You need at least 7 hours per night to recover from the day and restore your body.
Present mind practice. We tend to get anxious when we are overthinking our past or future. It’s impossible to change what’s already over, and worrying about the future without all of the variables is madness. To live anxiety-free, it’s critical that you train your mind to focus on the here and now. A daily mindfulness practice can be as simple as sitting quietly and writing stream-of-consciousness style about what is happening in this very moment. You could also just sit quietly and listen for all the sounds you hear for 15 minutes. When your mind floats back or forward in time, just listen for another sound and you’re back in the present in a flash.
There’s so much more to say about this, but if you suffer from anxiety, try a few of these over time and see if you get some relief as I and my clients have.
I’ll share more about what anxiety has to teach us in my next post. In the meantime, here’s to a peaceful and easy day.
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