10 natural ways to manage anxiety

Your heart’s racing, you’re overwhelmed with worries, and you feel like you can’t catch your breath.

You’re anxious— and you’re not the only one.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 15 percent of men and more than 20 percent of women say they often feel worried, nervous and anxious. What’s more, approximately 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder like generalized anxiety, panic and social anxiety disorder.

Medications and supplements can help, but they often have risks and side effects. Instead, experts say, there are other, more effective and natural ways to cope with anxiety. Here are 10.

1. Breathe.
Most of us are chest breathers, but diaphragmatic breaths with a slow inhale and exhalecan help calm your body and mind and move your attention away from your worries.

“When you breath deeper, your body sends messages to your brain to slow down,” said Dr. Jenny Taitz, a clinical psychologist and board-certified cognitive behavioral therapist in New York City.

If you’re in the midst of a panic attack or hyperventilating, chest breathing could actually make your anxiety worse so distract yourself with a different activity, Taitz said.

2. Go ahead, worry.
Your anxiety can be a hamster wheel of worries all day long with no end in sight. A better way?  Give yourself permission to worry, but set boundaries. Schedule 20 or 30 minutes each day just to write down or think about your worries. It’s hard to do, but if worries start to creep up at other times, remind yourself that it will have to wait until tomorrow.

3. Eat right.
Even if you have no appetite, eating regular meals throughout the day keeps your blood sugar on an even keel and can keep your anxiety at bay. Be sure to get protein and fiber at every meal and cut down on sodium and processed foods. Avoid caffeine from soda, chocolate and coffee, as it can mimic fear, panic and generalized anxiety symptoms, said Dr. Bret A. Moore, a board-certified clinical psychologist and author of “Taking Control of Anxiety.”

4. Hit the sack.
Even if you get eight hours of sleep every night, if it’s not sound, uninterrupted sleep, “you’re still going to feel stressed the next day,” Moore said. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and exercise right before bed; keep the lights dim and the room cool; and try to avoid watching TV or using electronics before bed.  

5. Tense and release.
When you’re anxious, you may not realize your body is tense.By deliberately creating tension in your body with a technique called progressive muscle relaxation, you can pay attention to it and take the emphasis off your thoughts. Try this: starting from your forehead and working your way down to your toes, tense and hold every part of your body for 5 to 10 seconds and then release.

“You can’t be thinking about something else if you’re totally focused on that,” Taitz said.

6. Exercise.
Studies show that just 2 ½ hours of cardio each week can reduce stress and anxiety. Not only does a heart-pumping sweat session tell your body it’s ok for your heart to race, you’ll likely feel more confident about yourself as you conquer fitness goals, which in turn, can help you manage anxiety, Taitz said.

7. Stay present.
Anxiety is rooted in worries about the future and the past, but a mindfulness practice can help you stay centered.

“If you can truly focus on what’s going on around you in the present moment, it’s impossible to be anxious,” Moore said.

A mindfulness meditation program or app can help you become more aware of your breath, your body and your mind, and allow you to let go of any judgment about your thoughts.

“It’s about being able to accept and experience things as they are,” Moore said.

8. Get organized.
A messy desk, dishes in the sink, and email and text alerts on your phone can make your life feel chaotic and increase  your anxiety. Plus, if you’re always checking your phone, you’re not being productive so you’ll feel even more overwhelmed. Take 10 minutes a day to purge junk, organize your mess and set limits on when you’ll check your phone.

9. See a therapist.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective approaches for anxiety. A CBT therapist can teach you ways to move your attention away from your thoughts, and dispute those that are irrational and self-defeating. Instead of spending time trying to figure out why you’re anxious, you can learn how to change your behaviors as they happen.
“The premise of CBT is that you can learn to be your own therapist,” Taitz said.

10. Aromatherapy
Inhaling a calming scent or essential oil can help calm your body and your mind. In fact, a recent study presented at the Oncology Nursing Society 39th Annual Congress, shows that women who used lavender or essence of jasmine were significantly less anxious while undergoing a breast biopsy.