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Keep Anxiety from Controlling Your Life

Everyone worries and feels anxious at times. But if you suffer from severe anxiety, it can threaten to take over your life.

Man sitting on the side of a bed

The sleepless nights that precede meetings with your boss are exhausting and can interfere with your work. Fretting for days about an ambiguous comment from a friend or an unanswered email can take a toll on your relationships.  And when accompanied by depression, anxiety can stop you in your tracks.

If you are suffering from depression and anxiety, seek medical help—depression is a disease that needs to be treated. Psychotherapy and medications or both can help control anxiety, but a healthy lifestyle is an important element, too, and sometimes that's all you need.

Tips for managing anxiety

Here are ways you can help keep anxiety under control:

  • Make time for sleep. Lack of sleep can worsen symptoms of anxiety and make you feel more stressed out. Although sleep needs are individual, research suggests that adults need at least seven to eight hours of rest a night. When you're battling stress and anxiety, treat yourself to extra sleep when you need it.

  • Work out anxiety through exercise. Getting regular exercise can help reduce anxiety, release endorphins, and make you feel great, not to mention healthier. Try to spend about 150 minutes a week doing exercise that you really enjoy, such as walking, dancing, or playing tennis with a friend.

  • Eat well. When you're stressed out and anxious, avoid junk food. Instead, focus on eating healthy, balanced meals and snacks each day. Make sure that you don't skip meals.

  • Watch what you drink. Cut back on how much alcohol and caffeine you drink. Both can affect your mood. Excess alcohol and caffeine can heighten anxiety and even contribute to a panic attack.

Explore relaxation techniques

Teaching yourself ways to relax can help settle anxiety before it starts to overwhelm you. Try simple lifestyle habits to help you stay calm and in control when you feel the effects of stress:

  • Breathe deeply. Take long, slow deep breaths, and concentrate on feeling the stress leave your body with each exhalation.

  • Embrace humor. If you can't find the humor in a given situation, enjoy an amusing DVD or a funny YouTube video. A good laugh can help you relax.

  • Talk with a friend. When your anxiety starts ramping up, find trusted friends or loved ones to share your feelings with. They can help you put worries in perspective.

  • Meditate. Get away to a quiet spot and get comfortable. Focus by repeating a mantra or looking at an object or on your own slow breathing.

  • Relax your muscles. When you feel yourself start to tense up, focus on each set of muscles in your body, one by one, starting with your toes. Tense the muscles for several seconds, then release and relax them.

  • Step away. Take a break from the matter on your mind. Listen to soothing music, do yoga, or treat yourself to a relaxing massage.

Man with small girl riding piggy-back

Change your thinking

You probably have more control over your mind than you think. Try these tips to take control over your anxious thoughts:

  • Limit your worrying. Set aside a certain time to think about the things that are worrying you or causing you anxiety. Once that time is up, put those thoughts aside until your next scheduled "worry time.

  • Practice dealing with events that cause anxiety. Visualize yourself in a situation that makes you feel anxious and plan how to take control of it. Put this practice into use in real-life stressful situations.

  • Be realistic. You can't be perfect all the time, nor can you control everything. Learn to accept that and be comfortable with what you can accomplish.

No matter how tense you feel, anxiety doesn't have to take over your life. Taking good care of yourself, emotionally and physically, can likely give you the strength you need to keep anxiety in check.