Life is stressful and right now, it’s especially stressful. COVID-19, the coronavirus, is impacting everyone. The goal of this article is to give you simple, science-backed tips to ease your anxiety. I want to acknowledge that whether your stress stems from a loss of your income, suddenly homeschooling your children, worry about elderly or immunocompromised family members or another source, your concerns are real and your feelings are valid. But right now, we’re going to focus on what we can control with proven ways to reduce your anxiety, today.
Stop & Smell the Citrus
Several studies have found the scent of oranges and lemons ease anxiety, increase positive mood and may even reduce PTSD symptoms. Place a bowl of oranges or lemons on your kitchen counter or table to remind yourself to stop and inhale the soothing scent of this fruit. Bonus – the Vitamin C in oranges also helps your body regulate mood, so eating one has benefits, too. If you have an essential oil diffuser, try bergamot orange, orange or lemon essential oil. A citrus infused candle will also do the trick.
Turn on the Tunes
Google “music anxiety study” and you will find millions of scholarly articles explaining how music not only alleviates stress, but actually changes the body’s stress response including inhibiting the release of cortisol and lowering blood pressure. Whether it’s classical, contemporary, pop, hip-hop, jazz, R&B, rock, or EMDR – choose the music that feels right to you.
Move Your Body
Exercise releases feel-good endorphins in your body to combat stress, anxiety and depression. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry followed 33,908 people over 11 years and found that even as little as one hour of exercise per week can reduce anxiety and prevent depression. Just one hour – we can all do that, even while practicing smart, social distancing. Go for walk in your neighborhood. Have a dance party in your living room. Practice yoga. Several major fitness companies are now providing free streaming classes so you can sweat from home with your favorite instructors, including Orangetheory, Peloton, Barry’s Bootcamp, CorePower Yoga, Crunch Fitness, Planet Fitness and Gold’s Gym.
Make Time to Meditate
Chances are you know that mindful meditation eases anxiety. Now you have to make time for it. Most people aren’t meditation pros and need some help to quiet and center their mind. There are numerous apps you can download to your phone that offer mini-meditation sessions of five to fifteen minutes to ease you into the habit. YouTube is another free resource. If that sounds uncomfortable to you, take out a notebook and pen and journal, release your worries to the page and end with three things you’re grateful for in that moment…congratulations, you’ve meditated! Research suggests even a single mindfulness meditation session can reduce anxiety for one week.
Make Your Meals Your Medicine
Research has found those who deal with anxiety and depression often have nutrient deficiencies and symptoms can be reduced or reversed with the right foods. Here are a few foods to fend off anxiety and depression. Pumpkin seeds are packed with magnesium and zinc which are critical to brain health and nervous system functioning. Multiple studies have shown an increase magnesium and zinc will decrease anxiety and depression. In fact, one study found that magnesium impacts the same receptors as anti-anxiety medications. Almonds and cashews are two additional pantry-safe sources for zinc and magnesium. Chickpeas deliver a hefty dose of Vitamin B6 which helps the body make serotonin to regulate mood, norepinephrine to cope with stress, and melatonin, which helps you sleep. (A can of chickpeas costs less than a dollar and can be sprinkled on a salad, cooked in a meal or roasted as a crunchy snack. Salmon is an excellent source of Vitamin B6 and omega-3 fatty acids. One study found men who ate Atlantic salmon three times per week for five months reported less anxiety than those who ate chicken, pork or beef and had less anxiety-related symptoms like heart rate variability. When it comes to produce, you can’t be the anti-anxiety punch of spinach, chard, asparagus and bananas.
When you practice random acts of kindness, your body releases so many feel good chemicals that psychologists call it “the helper’s high”. Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate; it’s a habit of giving. We can practice kindness even while confined largely to our homes. Call your elderly relative or neighbor, ask them if they need anything and order it online to be delivered. Send a card to a loved one. Write a thank you email to a teacher. Bake cookies and send to the local fire station. Hit pause on your Netflix binge and play a game with your child. Buy a gift card from a small business to use later. Pick fruit from your yard, place it in a box on the sidewalk with a sign that says “free” and feed your neighbors. You will bless another person and boost your health in the process.
Reach Out for Help
Forty-million American adults, plus children and adolescents, struggle with anxiety. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that you reach out for help. Call a friend, a pastor, a rabbi, a life coach or a therapist. If you don’t have a therapist, consider a telemedicine site like Doctor on Demand, which connect you to a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist to provide emotional support, talk therapy, and medication management from home. You are not alone.