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Mind Body Connection: Changing Our Habits/Environment to Manage Anxiety and Maintain Mental Health

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Anxiety is a common concern heard by therapists and physicians. Clients describe their anxiety as coming out of nowhere to I've always had a hint of anxiety but it's getting worse. Anxiety is one of the most commonly reported mental health concerns, developing healthy habits is one way to address this growing concern. What exactly is anxiety? According to the American Psychological Association: "Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness, or a rapid heartbeat." For more information about what the APA has to say about anxiety visit their website at: https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety


Although there are various types of anxiety and the onset varies from person to person there are some changes you can begin to make in your habits and environment to manage it's impact on your life. As you begin to explore the root cause of your anxiety, there are effective steps you can begin to take. I would like to share 5 pillars of mental/physical well-being that can make a big impact.



pillars

The 5 pillars shared here are not a cure and it may be necessary for you to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional and/or physician.

1. Wellness visits with a primary care physician and considering dietary habits

2. Good sleep hygiene

3. Daily Structure

4. Exercise

5. Interactions/Connection with others


Medical and Nutritional Concerns:

Did you know there is an actual gut-brain connection? The two are sending and receiving messages from one another constantly. Neurotransmitters travel the super highway between the two, communicating well-being, alerts and needs back and forth. Our gut microcrobial health is directly tied to our brain and the signaling of fight/flight/freeze or homeostasis. How is your gut health? Have you considered the foods that you put in your body to nourish both body and brain? Hormones are another factor that influence our sense of well-being or dysregulation. An overwhelming number of clients who report anxiety also report a struggle with food and/or gut health (intestinal problems). Consider having a full blood work-up conducted by your medical provider to rule out any deficiencies or hormonal imbalances.


Sleep Habits:

Most people don't like to consider changing their sleep habits, it's almost as bad as cutting back on sugary drinks, caffeine and processed foods. :)

Two puppies sleeping soundly

Did you know that sleep is a restorative state for body and mind? Good sleep hygiene consists of regular bed times, winding down at least 2 to 3 hours before bed, dimming the lights in your house in the evening as bed time approaches, turning off electronic devices to limit exposure to blue screens that interfere with sleep. Limiting caffeine and sugary snacks (yes, this includes that bowl of ice cream you like before bed). Reducing noise level prior to bed. Snuggling with your pet or significant other and tucking your children into bed are known to increase levels of oxytocin and help the body enter into a calm state. There are also apps like Calm and Headspace that you can download which provide meditative exercises, breathing techniques and sounds to calm the body and mind, so that your body can relax.


Daily Structure:

Like it or not, routine and structure can help with feelings of anxiety and depression. We are wired to engage, move and meet challenges. If our mind and body are not challenged we grow complacent, stagnate, bored and restless. We need focus whether that's with our job, volunteer work or meeting a new personal goal. It's imperative to always strive to learn something new and challenge yourself to reach a new goal regardless of how small it may be. Structure that you set in your life can include these new challenges and development of healthy predictable habits. Such habits include getting up by a certain hour, making your bed, showering, getting dressed for the day, commuting to work or school, regular exercise, making dinner and bedtime routines. If you lack routine in your life that consists of both learning something new or meeting some kind of challenge and predictable daily habits take time right now to consider what you would like to incorporate in your life. Start with one thing. Integrate one new habit in your life to build structure.


Exercise:

Our bodies are meant to be in motion. We are not meant to be sedentary. You don't have to sign up to compete in a marathon or even join a gym. Exercise can be daily walks, a yoga practice at home, hiking, swimming or a class at your local recreation center. Getting some form of exercise daily is not only good for your body but it helps clear our mind.

weights

This being said, it is also recommended that if you are the type of person who may be extreme in your exercise habits, this too can have an adverse impact on your body. A day dedicated to restorative care helps give your body a much needed break and you may find that you come back refreshed, stronger and faster. Listen to your body!


Connect with Others:

Dr. Susan Johnson, founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, teaches that from cradle to grave we are wired for connection with others. Without a sense of belonging or connection we may become isolated and run an increased risk for anxiety, depression and other mental health related disorders, as well as, physical health disease and disorders. Find a group to connect with if you don't have a social group. Connect with family, a supportive significant other or people within your place of worship. Consider learning how to play pickle ball, engage in an exercise class, or Meet-Up groups with people who have interests similar to yours (i.e. hiking, skiing, knitting, or gardening to name a few). Volunteering in your community is an excellent way to give back and make new connections.


Conclusion:

It can feel like a lot to take on. Start small and start with one thing. One small change can make a difference as you begin to take back control of your mental and physical well-being. If you find that you need support (and who doesn't need support at some time in our lives) reach out to a trusted friend, family member or support group in your area. You might consider finding a qualified mental health professional if your anxiety doesn't improve. If you are new to the therapy process, just know it may take a few different therapists before you find the person you most connect with. Not every therapist is the best fit for every person. It's ok to look around and ask questions.


Anxiety, depression and other mental health related concerns are nothing to be ashamed of, we all find we need a little extra support at some point in our life. You don't have to do this alone, there are people just like you who have struggled and professionals who know how to help. For more information on the treatment of anxiety and other mental health issues or support groups in your area you can visit: https://www.nimh.nih.gov or https://www.nami.org/Home


Best wishes to you as you continue your journey of mental and physical well-being!

Desiree Murray, LCSW

Desiree Murray, LCSW, CAC III

Canyon Pines Counseling

ICEEFT Approved Supervisor/Therapist

EMDRIA Approved Consultant/Facilitator














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