Many people have anxiety or a child or family member who is anxious. It might be that there is a history of worrying or stress. Maybe the person avoids doing things that are scary, like approaching dogs, making speeches, or driving. Maybe the person tends to be overly careful or repetitive about hand-washing or cleaning. If the anxiety is distressing to the person, or interferes with the way s/he wants to live her life, she may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are common, and recent research has found that 1 in 3 people are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
When people seek treatment for anxiety, they often consider therapy. This is a great choice! Cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness-based therapy are two types of therapy that have been proven in research to be very effective for anxiety and worry. They teach people how to live their lives so that anxiety is not in control, and so they feel better. In addition, many people seek medical care from a physician. Another important aspect of managing anxiety is good self-care.
There are many types of self-care for people with anxiety that can be very helpful.
Get good sleep
People with anxiety tend to have disrupted sleep. They can also develop poor sleep habits, and as a result, have increased anxiety and alertness. It is important to make sleep a top priority in your household.
- Go to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends.
- Try to wake up at around the same time every morning, even on weekends. A little variability is ok, but it should not vary by hours, or it can start a pattern of sleep disruption.
- Turn off screens and devices an hour before bedtime. The artificial light from screens has been found to interfere with sleep onset and maintenance.
- Have a nightly ritual to ease into bed. It may be something like snack, bath, brush teeth, pj’s, relaxation or story time, and then sleep.
- Practice relaxation. The more you practice relaxation during the day, the more it will help you or your family member at night when it is time to go to sleep, or if you wake up in the middle of the night.
Eat in healthy ways
- Eating a balanced diet and taking a daily vitamin if necessary will help ensure that the anxiety is not related to nutritional imbalances. Furthermore, good nutrition helps our bodies and brains what they need when they need it.
- Talk to your doctor about vitamin D, especially if you live in the northern part of the world. Vitamin D deficiencies can be common in these places, particularly winter months, and certainly can interfere with mood and anxiety.
- Consider increasing Omega 3 fatty acids, either by eating more salmon (or other cold water fish) or flax, or through nutritional supplements. There has been research that to support reduction in irritability and anxiety symptoms while taking these supplements.
- Do not allow large binges of unhealthy foods. These can interfere with digestion and cause stomachaches, interfere with sleep, and contribute to fatigue and/or poor health. None of these are good for anxiety or depression.
- Do not skip meals. People with anxiety are often more sensitive to the effects of low blood sugar. Make sure there is healthy protein at every meal, and regular snacks throughout the day. Oftentimes, children in public schools have very short lunch periods, and may not get the nutrition they need at these times. If so, it may help to speak to your child’s school about an extra snack as an accommodation, and/or make sure that he receives a healthy snack (with protein) when he gets home or starts after-school care.
- Make sure everyone in your family is getting enough water throughout the day. Dehydration can also result in poor health, which contributes to fatigue, lethargy, and stomachaches. Although some children in public schools are allowed to keep a water bottle in their classroom, many are not. You may want to ask your child’s principal or teacher if she can have a water bottle to keep in her desk. At home, serve water at every meal, and give every family member a designated glass in public view to encourage regular water usage.
Watch your family’s schedules
For many of us, there are not enough hours in the day. Time is needed for work and school, friends, sports, religious organizations, and activities. Many times families may participate in fitness activities, music lessons, and volunteer work as well. There are also the chores, shopping, and household care are required for families. An important point, though, is that an over-scheduled family is not a happy family, particularly if one family member has anxiety. It is very important for the family to consider their commitments, and try to focus on those that are most important.
Although there may be interesting activities for you or your child almost every day of the week, it is not in anyone’s best interest to be so busy there is no down-time or quality family time. Try to make a commitment to have family time daily, even if it is a meal, some time before bed, or a game-night. Those connections are important to support one another and communicate about issues that arise throughout the day. Placing a commitment to family time is an important life-long lesson for your child to learn.
It is often very difficult for people to give up the habit of “too many activities.” They may even convince themselves that it is good for them to be so busy. However, if the busy-ness is serving as a distraction from the anxiety, it is not healthy. It is far better to have down-time, and learn skills to cope with the fears and distress.
Have some electronic-free time daily
In today’s culture, our children and teens are plugged in almost constantly. Research has found the average teen is on screens 16-17 hours per day. Teens socialize through screens today, date through screens, and live through their screens. Adults also are frequently on computers and phones, even when it is time to unwind. However, our bodies need a balance of activities in order to be most healthy. Try to model healthy screen behavior. Unplug and spend time with your children. Encourage them to unplug and spend time with you in activities that you both enjoy.
Use a mindfulness practice regularly
Mindfulness is life-changing. It is not hard, nor time-consuming, but has the potential to decrease stress, increase health, and improve our well-being. Please refer to some of our previous writings to learn more about this practice by clicking here and here and here. It works best if everyone uses these practices, as it helps everyone to live happier and healthier lives.
Get out and exercise, play, and move
Exercise should be fun, especially if it includes your kids. Ride your bikes, shoot hoops at the local elementary school, or walk through the park and admire the leaves. Even playing silly games, like “Mother May I?,” “Red-Light Green Light,” or “contests” using hula-hooping and skipping count. Exercise is a natural boost to our brain functioning, and it keeps us healthy. It can be a natural release for everyone’s energy and enthusiasm.
Build up social support
Take time to spend time with people you genuinely care about. Make it a priority. Take time to return phone calls, and engage in meaningful conversations with people. If you feel isolated, join service groups or religious organizations where people are connected to something you care about. It could be a group that helps other people, or even an exercise group. Research continues to underscore the buffering effects of social connections, especially when it is face to face.
Every person is different, and every person with anxiety is different. For those reasons, there is no one easy cause or fix. But, good self-care is helpful for everyone, and can truly make a big difference.