The latest 2022 data shows nearly 30 percent of U.S. adults suffer from anxiety. It doesn’t take much effort to understand why either. Between the public health crisis of these last two years, all that polarizing content in the news cycle, and a lack of face-to-face connection with other human beings—not to mention the normal work and personal stressors of daily life—there’s no shortage of issues to be anxious about.
But if you’re among the millions of Americans who deal with anxiety, it can seem overwhelming just to make it from one day to the next. The intrusive thoughts, restless or irritable emotions, constant worries, and sleepless nights can seriously affect your mental and physical health. At times, you might even feel too tense to function. But it’s important to know you don’t have to continue like this. The techniques below will help relieve anxious feelings naturally. And best of all, you can start implementing them now.
Form a Healthier Relationship with Social Media
There’s no escaping it—social media is part of life in today’s culture, and it’s not all negative. These platforms make it easier to keep in touch with your friends or family members, raise awareness for important social causes, and come across motivational words from expert thought leaders. Social media is quite enjoyable in moderation.
However, too much social media consumption can cause anxiety to spike. When your feed is overrun with precisely curated, heavily filtered images, it often creates a false impression that your friends’ lives are glamorous while yours is a mess. Of course, this isn’t realistic, but it can lead to comparison, insecurities, and poor mental health. If your current relationship with social media is a source of anxiety, here are some actions to take:
- Recognize that social media is not reality. Remember, just because someone posts about their successful career, impressive fitness regimen, busy social life, or cruise to Jamaica doesn’t mean they have it all together. When you realize social media is not an accurate representation of daily existence, you won’t feel the urge to compare your circumstances to another person’s highlight reel.
- Be intentional about the content you follow. Ask yourself: “Does the content in my feed inspire, motivate, inform and uplift me? Or does it leave me feeling pessimistic, insecure, and self-critical?” If the businesses, influencers, or even friends you follow on social media regularly post content that harms your mental health, it’s time to unfollow them. Protect your mind from unnecessary discouragement.
- Prioritize face-to-face connections offline. Social media is a convenient, simple way to communicate, but it should not replace real-life interactions. Schedule time to log off your accounts and meet a friend for coffee, plan a date night with your S.O., or slot in a weekend trip to visit your parents. You’ll feel less lonely and more connected to those around you when there are no screens to cause separation.
- Set (and stick with) social media boundaries. Determine how much time you can spend using social media networks per day, then create parameters to ensure that you honor those boundaries. Set screen limits and turn off push notifications. Move your phone out of reach at night, so you won’t doom-scroll instead of sleeping. Or be honest when you need to cut off all access for a while to let yourself detox from social media use altogether. Even just a week off can feel so refreshing.
Take Deep Breaths to Calm the Nervous System
When anxious feelings take hold, your breaths will often come in rapid, shallow bursts. Research from the Medicines Journal points out that this can increase your heart rate, cause your lungs to hyperventilate, and restrict your blood flow. Together, those symptoms can lead to a panic attack, intensifying anxiety even more.
While shallow breathing often feels like an automatic reaction in the throes of anxiety, it’s vital to maintain a rhythm of deep, slow breaths from your diaphragm. This will activate the nervous system’s relaxation response, stabilizing heart rate and lowering blood pressure to help soothe your brain and body. There’s a reason breathing is an essential part of meditation—it restores your entire self to a state of balance and calm.
A conscious breathing practice also makes staying present and alert easier since you’ll focus on each inhale and exhale instead of the intrusive thoughts that continue to fuel an anxiety spiral. So use this basic but effective breathing technique whenever a rush of anxiety starts to escalate into a full-blown panic attack:
- Inhale from deep in your stomach and nose for a count of four.
- Hold that breath at the top of your chest, feeling it swell, for a count of four.
- Exhale through your mouth and back into your stomach for a count of four.
- Repeat those three steps as much as possible until the anxiety tapers off.
Step Outside for Some Fresh Air and Exercise
Sometimes anxiety becomes so intense and overwhelming that it feels like the walls are about to close around you. When this sensation hits, don’t just suffer through it—make a beeline for the front door. From the moment you step outside, nature can have an enormously restorative impact on your mental health—even if 10 minutes are all you have to spare.
According to the Population Health Journal, exposure to fresh air and green spaces can clear your mind, increase feelings of hope, lift your overall mood state, and manage symptoms of stress, depression, or anxiety. Combine the benefits of outdoor access with exercise, and you’ll build even more resilience to combat anxious thoughts.
It’s no secret that physical activities release endorphins and serotonin—two mood-stabilizing hormones that boost a sense of pleasure, relaxation, and well-being. It’s hard to feel anxious when the natural antidotes to anxiety flood your brain. No matter how much time you set aside, here are a few tips to make the most of your outdoor exercise:
- Fuel up with anti-anxiety nutrients beforehand. The mineral magnesium has been found to regulate the adrenal and pituitary glands, both of which help moderate your stress response. So before you head out for an exercise session, eat a magnesium-rich snack. Some options: an avocado, a handful of cashews or almonds, a square of dark chocolate, a spinach and banana smoothie, or plain yogurt.
- Choose a gentle, low-impact form of movement. The whole point of this regimen is to calm and relax, so now is not the time for a high-intensity workout. Opt for an exercise that feels gentle on the body, such as walking or riding a bicycle. The movement you choose should feel healing and restorative, not too strenuous. Save the HIIT circuits for when you are in a more stable, empowered frame of mind.
- Head to a nearby green space if at all possible. If there’s a local park, trail, or nature preserve in your area, carve out some time to explore it. Even a small patch of green space in your neighborhood will do the trick. Surrounding yourself with the colors and textures of vegetation is important. Not only does this make you feel calmer, but it helps you breathe easier since plants are natural air purifiers.
- Listen to a playlist of soothing ambient music. Research from the Frontiers in Psychology Journal points out that music can reduce anxiety levels for at least 12 hours. So grab your headphones and turn on a relaxation playlist to listen to while you’re outside. While all musical genres are enjoyable, instrumental or ambient music are two of the most soothing choices if you want to nurture a sense of calm.
Reduce Anxiety with these Natural Strategies
Anxiety is an overwhelming reality for millions of Americans, but relief is available. You don’t have to feel resigned to anxiety as just a fact of life—use these simple, effective action steps to restore feelings of balance, stability, calmness, presence, and functionality. There’s no shame in dealing with mental health challenges like anxiety, but it shouldn’t hold you back either. So when anxious thoughts surface, remember that you are strong, resilient, capable, and worthy enough to combat them.