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  • Heather Hildum

21 Ways to Reduce Stress & Lessen Panic Attacks

It has become all too clear that we are more open about stress and anxiety than ever before. Stress increases your chance at having panic attacks and anxiety. More often than not. Stress is confused with anxiety, though stress can have some similar physical effects on our bodies, to have anxiety regularly is different. If you’re trying to reduce your stress, if you’ve just started having what you think is a panic attack, or you are diagnosed with panic attacks, below is a list of activities and consumables that will help. I am not an expert or a doctor, just a nerd who loves science. Over the last few years I’ve had panic attacks and anxiety that has woken me from my sleep feeling numb, my chest feeling like I suffered a heart attack and my body so tense it took a week to get back to normal. Some of what is suggested below you’ll need to look into on your own because, like I said, I am not a doctor. I’m just a recent sufferer of anxiety and need to have some solutions!


Exercise

Benefits of exercise, specifically aerobic, have long been documented that they improve your physical state, mental state, and improve your ability to fight off stress and disease. Boosts in physical activity can increase your energy levels as well. According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), aerobic exercise for as little as five minutes can lower your anxiety.


When our heart rate increases for an extended period of time, our body releases endorphins. These hormones are peptides that have an opiate response within the body, reducing pain and creating positive feelings within the body.


Yoga

Yoga involves mindful practice, guided breath, and relaxation which helps our body through stressful times. Using Yoga as a tool to manage stress will curb anxiety as well.


Breathing

While breathing is commonly recognized and well known to reduce stress and anxiety, people still don’t take advantage of this simple act of stress reduction. There Finding what kind of breathing tactic works best for you will take practice.


Sleep

If sleep is an area of you’re struggling with because of feelings of anxiety, it can be a vicious cycle. It’s not that you aren’t trying to sleep. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to sleep. You can’t! If this is you, try calming yourself down before bed, avoiding triggers of anxiety. Implore other calming techniques to allow your body to prep for sleep.


Eating well

Incorporating nutritious foods into your diet can help reduce stress and anxiety. More than going through the long list of good for you foods, I will share what NOT to eat. Processed meats, high-fat dairy products, excess sugar, higher fat dairy foods, fried foods, candy and pastries all contribute to higher stress and anxiety. Why? Most of these foods tend to cause energy spikes and dips that can cause your emotions to ride a roller coaster. These foods also lend a hand in building up bad bacteria in your gut, which directly alter your mood and hormone balance.


Quit smoking cigarettes

Quitting your smoking habit may temporarily increase your anxiety, due to the nicotine withdrawals. However, the long term effects of smoking on your mood and temporary increases in heart rate can cause even more anxiety.

Drink less caffeine

Coffee is my spirit animal, for sure. It tastes delicious, it warms the soul on a cold day, and gives me all the energy I need for a super productive morning. Unfortunately, caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety since it activates and stimulates the body’s energy levels. The key is to have enough coffee to enjoy, but don’t go overboard.


Drink less alcohol

Drinking moderately can have a sedative effect on the central nervous system. Not such a big deal if you are frazzled at the end of the day once in a while. If you find yourself drinking every day and drinking heavily, then feeling worse, alcohol could be the culprit. Truly stay in the ‘moderation’ lane. Trust me, you’ll know when you’ve been overindulging.

Close your eyes and picture your happy place

Scientifically, taking a moment to return to your ‘happy places’ can boost your mood, get lost in thought, think something through, and find meaning. This kind of lines up with the idea of meditation. Imagining yourself in a state of happiness will recreate that happiness within yourself, giving you all the positive effects of a mood boost.


Use muscle relaxation techniques

Progressive Muscle Relaxation. In short, you start with breathing, then you contract certain muscles of the body for a few seconds and release. Soon you will start to feel the difference between a relaxed muscle and a tense muscle. Maybe you can catch yourself in the act of tensing up and correct this. Check out Very Well Mind’s progressive muscle relaxation techniques. Or you can check out my other post on PMR here.


Find a focus object

Having something to focus on during a panic attack or when you feel ultra stressed such as knitting, crocheting, art, mindless coloring books, journaling...you get the point.


Repeat a mantra

Repeating the same phrase or sound over and over might seem ridiculous. However, what’s fascinating is the ability the mind has to keep from wandering with this simple tool. The mantra doesn’t have to be loud or long to work.


Herbal supplements

Here is where I would advise you to speak with a naturopath, herbalist, or integrative physician for proper dosage and amounts.


Aroma therapy

Using candles that have essential oils with lavender, bergamot, chamomile, lemon balm, jasmine, and basil. You’ve likely heard of lavender or chamomile as a nighttime relaxant. Lavender has been studied to have a calming effect more than others mentioned.


Meditation

Yoga, breathing, mantras... Whether singularly or in combination, make for a wonderful meditation practice. Meditating works to bring clarity to the triggers of anxiety, which helps manage your stress or anxiety better.

Reduce clutter

Clutter in a physical sense creates an overwhelming space that can spill into our mental space. Without realizing it, your messy spaces can be the cause of anxiousness or stress. Extra physical things add extra stimuli to the mind, making it more difficult to relax and focus on what’s important. Untidy personal places tricks the mind into thinking your space is dirty or that there is a long list of unchecked tasks. Try simplifying your special spaces or even one space dedicated to your craft, creativity or relaxation to help with this.


Self care

Find something to do for yourself. Basic habits like keeping our face washed, our teeth cleaned, drinking water, and getting adequate sleep.. These are likely habits that you’ve already instilled in your daily routine. As we feel less in control in our anxious states, some of these daily tasks may slip out from under the radar. Do what feels good and makes you happy to look at yourself in the mirror.


Manage your finances

Finances can be difficult to discuss with others, especially in a relationship. One thing is for sure, if you can’t afford basic necessities, you bet your bottom it will stress you the heck out. Finding ways to manage your money, debt, and savings will make you feel less overwhelmed. Have a plan, have a budget, and be smart about sticking to it. Even the act of choosing to work on your finances can boost your confidence and help with anxiety.


Spend time in nature

It’s not a secret that nature can have a calming effect. Being outside, breathing the fresh air, and even putting your bare feet to the dirt will allow you to feel more grounded--literally.


Practice gratitude

Given the current climate, practicing gratitude every damn day will have a small but might effect on you and your mood. Even picking one thing you’re grateful for, writing it down or saying it out loud will do wonders. There are so many ways to practice gratitude.


Cold water

Yes! Cold showers for the win! Sensations of the cold water will help with inflammation, send more oxygen to the brain and release hormones that will increase overall happiness. Try working your way up to taking cold showers by starting with 30 seconds of cold water at the end of your shower.


Long story short, there are so many tools in your toolbox now. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious, keep from having any panic attacks at all by reaching into your arsenal and putting one of these to use. I am not saying there is one thing that will cure your stress, anxiety, OR panic attacks. What I am saying is doing nothing isn’t going to help either! It may take practice, more in depth research, or the use of many of these tools regularly to truly start to improve. Only you can use your intuition to guide your fight or flight response to a calm and bright response. Stay well, Heath.


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