How to Handle Anxiety and Stress

It's hardly surprising that anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues across Canada. Although stress is unavoidable, there are practical ways to reduce the fears and worries that can leave you feeling irritated, on edge and exhausted.

Eat Well

Toronto naturopath Pamela Frank recommends eating protein with each meal to keep blood sugar levels stable, cutting down on caffeine, restricting your intake of refined sugar. There are also vitamins and supplements you can take to improve brain function, nourish the adrenal gland’s ability to cope with stress and anxiety, and increase the body’s production of serotonin, which affects mood. Frank recommends B vitamins, fish oils and magnesium supplements. (This is the healthiest fish you can eat.)

Move More (But at the Right Time)

While regular exercise is a great way to combat stress, try to work out midway through rather than late in the day; too much stimulation close to bedtime can affect your ability to sleep, Frank says. If you’ve ever felt that “runner’s high” that people describe, it can be explained by your body’s release of endorphins, which help to reduce anxiety, improve your mood and even create a sense of euphoria.

Identify Triggers

While it often isn’t possible to eliminate stressors altogether, there are ways to cut back on stress. To begin, you need to identify what is causing stress in your life, and then look for ways to reduce them. For instance, you likely can’t quit your job altogether, but perhaps you can cut back on the hours you work, or negotiate a more flexible work schedule with your boss.

Try Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation and breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness meditation, Tai Chi, prayer and even massage are also useful approaches to handling anxiety. Mindfulness meditation can be particularly helpful, says cognitive behaviour therapist Kim Wickwire, because it helps you to “cultivate an ability to watch your thoughts in a detached way and discern what’s worth your attention” rather than simply worrying about everything.

Need to de-stress, but don’t have the time? Take one minute for yourself; close your eyes, breath deeply and focus on your pulse and the blood rushing through your veins. That one minute will help you take your stress down a notch.

Consider Psychotherapy

When learning how to handle anxiety, a therapist can provide added support, help you to develop insight into your problems and come up with your own solutions. When looking for a therapist, keep in mind that a trusting relationship is often even more important than the type of therapy you choose, according to stress relief consultant Ronnie Nijmeh.

Of the approaches that do exist, cognitive behaviour therapy is considered by many experts as the best way to treat anxiety because of its focus on coping strategies and on identifying and changing negative thoughts and beliefs, says Wickwire. While antidepressants are sometimes also prescribed to cope with extreme anxiety and the depression that often accompanies it, medication tends to be more successful when used in combination with psychotherapy.

Now that you’ve got this advice on how to handle anxiety in your toolkit, find out if your stress levels are a sign of a serious disorder.

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Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada