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By Elaine Pomfrey

Do you recall the last time you felt really anxious? Maybe the time your car hydroplaned on a slick road. Or perhaps when you spent a sleepless night before a final exam or a major sales presentation. These situations typically produce short-term anxiety which disappears after the event. However, for about 6.8 million Americans with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), anxiety is an on-going nightmare that can severely limit their daily activities. Whether you have GAD or just the occasional worry, the anxiety reducing suggestions in this article may be helpful.

People with GAD worry excessively. Typically they fret about a multitude of things, rather than one specific problem. They may be anxious about money, health, family, work or even about facing the day. The anxiety they experience is unwarranted and often unprovoked by an event. Physical symptoms of GAD may include insomnia, easy startle response, fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, headaches, inability to relax, trembling, twitching and feeling out of breath.  The diagnosis of GAD applies when generalized anxiety lasts for more than six months

When people with GAD have mild to moderate symptoms, they can maintain their normal activities. However, they may be known by their co-workers or families as “catastrophizers,” always anticipating the worst possible outcome. When their symptoms become severe, they may become housebound.

What can reduce anxiety? Doctors usually prescribe medication and recommend cognitive-behavioral therapy. However, if you are willing to make a few changes, you can begin to treat anxiety yourself by following these simple, but scientifically proven procedures.

Eat a healthy diet. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry examined the dietary habits and levels of depression and anxiety of over 1,000 women over 10 years. The women who ate a “western” diet of fast food, processed foods, refined grains, sweets and beer were more likely to be depressed or anxious than those who ate a more “traditional” diet – vegetables, fruit, whole grains, meat and fish.

To improve mood, add cheese, peanut butter, nuts, sesame seeds, oats, milk, poultry and bananas to your diet. Why? These foods contain tryptophan which helps the brain produce the neurotransmitter, serotonin. According to research, serotonin promotes feelings of wellbeing and calm.

Starting today, reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake by 50%. Then slowly, over a period of 10 days reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake by 10% a day. People with GAD often turn to alcohol to self-medicate. However, when alcohol is processed in the body, it can create anxiety-like symptoms. Likewise, caffeine increases anxiety and negatively affects sleep in those suffering from anxiety disorders.

Meditate. The right type of meditation can provide profound rest to the physiology. Rest is nature’s way of dissolving stress and anxiety. The human body is designed to efficiently remove stress during sleep. However, in today’s world, stress is often carried over from day to day because the pace of life is intense and insomnia is widespread.

One of the most popular and effective meditations, the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique, has been scientifically proven to produce a deep state of relaxation in the body as well as brain wave coherence.  During the twenty minutes of meditation, a unique state of restful alertness is experienced which reduces stress and fatigue. Research indicates the TM technique contributes to inner calm and peacefulness.  A meta-analysis of 146 studies demonstrated that the TM technique was twice as effective in reducing anxiety as other techniques such as the Relaxation Response, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, EMG Biofeedback, etc.

Exercise can reduce anxiety, according to a publication from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Evidence from six meta-analyses concluded that exercise was significantly correlated to reduction in anxiety. In particular, the following variables showed the greatest effect on decreasing anxiety:

  • Aerobic exercise (swimming, biking, running) compared to anaerobic (weight-lifting)
  • A 12 – 15 week long exercise program rather than a shorter routine
  • Participants who were more out of shape versus those who were more fit
  • People with higher levels of anxiety compared to those who had lower levels

Although the Department of Health and Human Services recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, recent research from the University of Missouri-Columbia concluded that a high-intensity workout had a greater effect on reducing anxiety than a moderate or lower intensity exercise. Women especially benefited from the high-intensity routine. Please check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

In summary, research indicates that you may eat, meditate and exercise your way to a calmer, more relaxed life.