In my coaching practice, I work with people who have difficulty managing their stress and anxiety. They find comfort in my experience and the fact that I, too, have suffered from this.
A few years ago I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder, and was placed on medication. Within two years, I was battling a life-threatening addiction to my anxiety meds and survived an overdose.
To save my life, I embarked on a personal journey of self discovery. Eventually, I was able to gain better control of my anxiety and go off the meds. I learned to do this by first discovering that my anxiety wasn’t the problem, my lifestyle was.
Throughout my years of dealing with this disorder, I learned that we all have anxious moments (like having to give a speech in public), but everyone doesn’t suffer from an anxiety disorder. Here are 11 ways you may be inadvertently making yourself more anxious:
1. You're drinking too much coffee.
Coffee has been linked to increased anxiety. Dealing with chronic anxiety, I try to avoid coffee and other caffeinated foods and beverages. Instead of a cup of Java in the morning, try a green juice for a nice pick-me-up. And be careful with decaf: some brews have more caffeine than others.
2. You're not moving enough.
Staying active is vital to reducing stress and anxiety. Remember: exercise does not have to be a chore. Take a yoga class. Go for a walk in the park. Join a dance class. Just get moving! It’ll do wonders for your mind, body and spirit.
3. You're not sleeping enough.
Anxiety and depression have been linked to chronic sleep deprivation. Keep in mind that rest and recovery is just as important as your diet and exercise, so work hard to find a balance. Aim for at least seven to nine hours of sleep.
4. You're getting too much booze.
After a long, stressful day, it’s common to unwind with a drink. While an occasional glass of Pinot Noir may have some health benefits, too much alcohol can actually increase your anxiety. Look for other ways to relax that don't involve booze. A hot cup of chamomile tea always calms me. Bonus: cutting back on alcohol will help your body and your wallet.
5. You don't have time to meditate or manage stress.
So much of anxiety is worrying too much about the past and/or future. Meditation teaches us to stay in the present moment, where anxiety is (often) nonexistent. If you don't have a regular practice, start by sitting quietly for five minutes everyday, then add time gradually. You’ll be surprised at how small steps can have an incredible impact.
6. You're not eating (or drinking) enough greens.
I feel my best and most calm when I'm eating lots of fruits and vegetables. My advice? Make sure to include green, leafy vegetables in every meal. If you don’t like to eat them, do what I do — drink them.
7. You haven’t made friends at work.
Having a strong social network is a great way to feel happier and less stressed. And having friends at work is great for your wellbeing. Many of us spend at least eight hours at work everyday, why not make the best of it? Invite a coworker to grab a green juice or take a yoga class.
8. You don't make time for fun.
Self care is not selfish, it’s selfless! Become your greatest priority. Immerse yourself in the activities that you enjoy most and treat yourself to the things you love. Make relaxation a priority, not a luxury. Take a day trip to the spa. Get a massage. Make time to enjoy yourself and appreciate the life you live.
9. You work too much.
For many people, their biggest stressor in life is their job. While most of us can't control everything in a workplace, it's important to focus on what we can control. When your work day is over, let it be over! As much as you can, don’t bring issues from your job into your personal life. Managing your anxiety should not come at the expense of your happiness (or your partner's). If you need to discuss issues on the job, find a trusted health care professional who can help you find coping strategies.
10. You eat too much sugar.
Studies have shown that eating too much sugar puts you at risk for heart disease. Other studies have compared the effects of sugar to hard drugs. Sugar often provides a quick burst of energy, followed by a crash — similar to the effects of caffeine. This causes your body to release adrenaline and cortisol, which can create increased anxiety and panic. Instead, I suggest eating real, whole foods.
11. You're consuming too much television and social media.
Involving yourself in the trivial matters of other peoples lives is a surefire way to feel stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, a recent study from the Pew Foundation found that many social media users absorb the stress they see on social media. (Not to mention that time you spend in front of a screen is time you're not exercising or meditating!)
Separate yourself from anything that is not serving you. Go on a social media cleanse for a weekend. Replace your obsession with The Real Housewives of Orange County with a good book or an evening yoga class.
Anxiety is simply a way for our bodies to communicate with us — we must listen to it. We have to learn to provide ourselves with healthy tools for continued growth and development. Your anxiety is in your hands, what will you do with it?