With unemployment heading into double digits in many states, foreclosures at an all time high, and no end to the current banking crisis in sight, anxiety is a natural human response. Almost anyone would be worried and tense in the current economic climate, but acknowledging the realistic fear that hides behind anxiety is rarely enough to calm the feeling. Overcoming anxiety is challenging when you’re out of work or short on funds, but there are lots of good reasons to learn to overcome feeling anxious.Sustained anxiety is known to cause the level of the body’s ‘flight or fight’ hormone (called cortisol) to become permanently elevated. Elevated cortisol levels are associated with greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and some forms of cancer, and are also known to cause fat to accumulate around the midsection even when a person is eating normally. Plus, feeling chronically anxious makes it difficult to make good, rational decisions when quick thinking is necessary. The tendency to overreact is strong, and besides, anxiety feels lousy.Luckily you can tap into any or all of a number of good natural cures for anxiety. Dealing with anxiety naturally becomes a habit after awhile, and leads to better all-around health even when times are good. The following tips and tricks are common free or nearly free cures for anxiety. Use any or all of them to manage your mood without drugs, alcohol, or a big doctor bill.
Get at Least Half an Hour of Exercise Every Day
Studies have shown that mild anxiety and depression respond as well or better to daily exercise as they do to medication. Plus, exercise is free and doesn’t produce harmful side effects. Most people don’t get nearly enough exercise even when they feel happy. When you are on edge, a brisk daily walk or jog is essential to maintaining calm and clarity of mind. Forty-five minutes is even better—if you find that fitting in that amount of exercise is too challenging, try taking a 20 minute morning and evening walk. Break it up into segments, mix it up, but make sure you do it.
Reduce or Eliminate Sugar and Alcohol
Many people crave sweet, sugary foods when they are upset. Sugar is comforting but is full of empty calories. Sweet foods spike blood sugar temporarily and then cause a crash in blood sugar about an hour after you eat them. When blood sugar drops rapidly, you want more sugar again, leading to a vicious physiological cycle that leaves you feeling lower and lower and more and more jumpy. Alcohol is made from fermented sugar. Alcohol calms you down temporarily, but when taken before bed it actually interferes with normal sleep. Also, alcohol is a chemical depressant, and on top of inducing a cycle of craving similar to sugar, can cause extreme dependency in some people that leads to illness and even death. The last outcome you want is anxiety, depression and alcohol addiction too.
Junk food is expensive and bad for you, and it will leave you feeling horrible. Many people think that it is too expensive to eat vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats; but even at 69 cents a pound a bunch of bananas, it costs less than a Big Mac. Plus, you’re probably not going to eat the whole bunch at one sitting. Choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible: lean grilled fish, chicken, and beef, fresh vegetables and salads, fresh fruits, whole grain cereals and breads, and olive or canola oil instead of butter. Limit dairy to low fat products, and try to munch on a handful of nuts once a day instead of a candy bar. Nuts have been shown to ward of a host of chronic diseases and are satisfying and filled with mood-stabilizing minerals like magnesium and zinc. Drink plenty of water.
Reduce Caffeine Consumption and Try Herbal Tea Instead
Coffee is great stuff. But if you are already anxious because of job loss or money trouble, main-lining coffee probably isn’t a great idea—at least not until times are bit better. Green tea has a fraction of the caffeine of coffee and is rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants. Valerian and chamomile teas naturally make you sleepy at the end of a nerve-wracking day. Chai tea is a mixture of black tea and spices that you mix with warm milk and honey; it has a comforting, rich taste and yet is low in calories and caffeine.
Get Plenty of Sleep
You need at least eight hours a night. Most people in the United States are sleep deprived. If you are not getting enough pillow time or sleep restlessly, step up your exercise regimen and go to bed an hour earlier. Drink a cup of warm chamomile tea with honey about an hour before bed, and don’t do anything that is going to rile you while drinking it. Read, knit, or listen to soothing music. You can’t expect to sleep well if you end your day watching political pundits discuss the end of the world as we know it on cable TV.
St. John’s Wort is a natural antidepressant that can be purchased over the counter in the vitamin section of any pharmacy. Most people who are anxious or depressed benefit from taking a B complex vitamin daily and also a vitamin E supplement. Gingko Biloba has been shown to help with memory and mental functioning, and has very few or no side effects.
Keep a Journal
If you can’t stop negative thoughts from racing through your head, put them on paper instead and leave them there. Give them a half and hour to rule the page then let them go. Studies show that people who keep a daily journal have lower levels of stress hormones than people who don’t.
Americans get in trouble with meditation because they make it into a ‘no pain no gain’ proposition and get discouraged and bored before ever reaping the proven benefits. You can see a real improvement in mood by spending as little as ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes at night in quiet meditation. Almost any method will do, and in fact there are several websites you can visit that offer guided daily meditations for free, so all you have to do is sit there and look at your screen until the daily practice is over.
For some free programs, check out:
Talk to a Friend or Join a Support Group.
People who have regular social support networks and/or a solid network of friends and family have lower rates of heart attack, stroke, depression, and clinical anxiety disorders than people who try to go it alone. If you don’t have such a network, find one and maintain it.
Volunteer to Help Others
While you may be consumed with worry about your own financial well being, volunteering to help others will get you out of your own head and at the same time help you to make human contact at a time when your overwhelming instinct is to withdraw. Plus, helping other people feels good in any economic climate.
Anxiety feels bad and is the root cause of many serious illnesses. Plus, anxiety isn’t helpful when it comes to making sound decisions or quick thinking in a crisis. Take steps to address your anxiety before it gets out of hand and you will feel better, make better decisions, and weather the storm more competently than you might expect. Plus, you just might find that life isn’t as bad as it seems. In the end, change is the only thing any of us can really count on. Learn to roll with it and you will help others and yourself.