Decrease stress and improve your mental health by learning how to deal with anxiety using 5 holistic strategies.
Your heart is racing. Your stomach is burning. Your chest feels tight. It is hard to take a deep breath.
You have anxiety.
And you are not alone.
Everyone experiences anxiety to varying degrees.
In fact, at its best anxiety is a natural and even healthy human response – at times empowering the body to respond in a fight or flight situation.
The systemic release of adrenaline (epinephrine) elevates the heart rate, increases gastric acid, dilates the pupils, and grants the body the necessary surge of energy to respond in cases of emergency.
Under healthy circumstances, the body returns to its physiologic baseline over the next hour or so.
At its worst, anxiety can become a debilitating chronic condition that can result in a sustained state of increased adrenaline (elevated heart rate, chest tightness, acid reflux, etc) and systemic cortisol contributing to high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, obesity, and even diabetes.
Anxiety is the number one mental health disorder in the U.S. with over 40 million adults reportedly diagnosed (ADAA, 2021).
Having worked in emergency medicine for over a decade, I am a firm believer in pharmaceutical treatment as a means to stabilize an emergent condition with the intent of treating the underlying cause, and ultimately, living free of preventative disease.
For some, maybe these holistic strategies will help to manage anxiety and prevent the need for pharmacological therapy.
For others, pharmacological intervention may be necessary to stabilize one’s mental health allowing for strategic implementation of these holistic techniques with the hope of being able to safely taper down prescription therapy while treating the underlying cause.
Either way, I hope these 5 strategies will help you learn how to decrease stress, improve your mental health, and better manage anxiety.
1. Cardio Endorphin Blast
You have heard it said that food is the most overused anti-anxiety drug and exercise is the most underutilized anti-depressant.
In my experience, it may be more accurate to say that food is the most overused anti-depressant and exercise the most underused anti-anxiety treatment.Ahna Fulmer
To be clear, a cardio endorphin blast is not the same as “exercise,” per se.
A cardio endorphin blast is a high-intensity workout that sustains a targeted heart rate of >130 bpm for 20-30 mins in order to systemically release high levels of endorphins which in turn resembles the euphoric effects of narcotic drugs such as morphine.
Depending on your level of fitness and cardiac endurance a speedwalk may be enough to obtain this.
For others, it may require a higher intensity workout to sustain a heart rate >130 bpm for 20-30 minutes.
One way to maximize this strategy is to get a cardo endorphin blast BEFORE a known trigger (you should be journaling your triggers, BTW).
If you have been noting in your phone or a journal the circumstances surrounding your anxiety, then you may be able to help prevent severe attacks by getting in a cardio endorphin blast before that known trigger.
Speed walk, run, elliptical, bike, treadmill, swim, HIIT – without significant breaks to keep the HR >130bpm for 20-30 minutes.
Check out these top-rated heart rate monitors on Amazon to help practice this strategy.
2. Maximize Deep Rem Sleep
Maximizing deep rem sleep as regards anxiety quickly yields way to a chicken versus egg type of conversation.
Many who struggle with anxiety often have difficulty sleeping well, but it is also true that when one routinely does not maximize enough deep rem sleep the likelihood of experiencing poor mental health increases as well.
How then does one improve sleep?
First, read this blog post on 13 Tips to Sleep Better at Night for lots of practical tips you can do starting tonight.
Second, be sure to read to the end of this post for the BEST technique to reduce anxiety and fall asleep faster! (I personally use this technique with great success).
3. Prioritize Phone-Free time.
There are many studies to suggest a strong correlation between the presence of one’s cell phone and depression/anxiety, and I have no doubt we will continue to see more.
Prioritizing phone-free time in your day is essential to optimizing emotional and mental well-being.
There are several ways to implement this strategy.
First, get it out of the bedroom.
If you use your cell as an alarm, then buy an old-fashioned alarm clock. Train your bedroom to be a place of quiet, stillness, and rest (kids and teens especially).
For tips on how to design a relaxing bedroom be sure to check out:
- 5 Ideas to Design a Relaxing Bedroom
- 5 Things Every Bedroom Needs for Winter
- 5 Cozy Bedroom Essentials for Kids
Second, put your phone in a different room for a set period of time each evening.
This can be especially hard to do when one’s job is virtual (such as mine), and I myself keep working at this strategy because I want the time with my kids each evening to be as free of a phone as possible.
Do what you need to do, and then put it away out of sight (your pocket does NOT count).
4. Establish an Early Morning Quiet Time.
There are so many benefits to establishing a consistent early morning routine, but one of the great benefits to this practice is learning how to still one’s mind.
Too often the first thing we start our day with is swiping open our phones which for many of us is like rolling out of bed only to step right into the door of school or work.
Instantly flooded with the overwhelming chaos of virtual information and psychological noise.
Practice starting the day without your phone for a set period of time and journal self-affirmations, things you are grateful for, read religious texts, pray – fill your mind first thing with calming truths instead of busy nothings.
Discover the many benefits of establishing an early morning routine here, and learn my 7 tips on how to start one yourself.
5. Utilize the 4-7-8 Breathing Method
The 4-7-8 Breathing Method is an excellent technique to decrease anxiety and to fall asleep faster.
I personally use this breathing method with success and have encouraged many patients to do the same.
It is super easy and incredibly effective.
Have you tried any of these strategies in the past? Are they helpful?