I had my first panic attack this last year. I didn’t know it was a panic attack at the time because this was something I had never experienced before. I was anxious about the situation I was in and felt my heart racing. I became dizzy, shaky, and it became hard to breathe. It was even scarier because I was driving on a highway in the middle of nowhere and had no cell reception where I was.
Luckily, after a rest, food, water, deep breathing and a lot of prayer, I made it safely to where I was going.
For a few months after that incident, I became very anxious whenever I was driving because I was afraid it would happen again. It was during this season of my life I experienced a lot of anxiety. Even if I felt like my mind was in the right place, sometimes my body would freak out and I would get dizzy and breathless.
I’m so grateful to Christ for keeping me safe and that he helped me work through it, but it was a challenge.
An Anxious Nation
Nearly 19% of Americans struggle with anxiety?[i] Anxiety is a disorder that is characterized by nervousness, fear and worry. Often times it is over things we cannot control. Thankfully we can find comfort in this verse in Matthew 6:25-27 where Jesus states:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
How great it is to have a Father in heaven that loves us and takes care of us. That being said, there are practical things we can be doing every day to help manage worry, stress and anxiety. Here are some tips of things you can be doing in your daily life to reduce the grip anxiety has over your life:
Your diet has incredible influence over your body. Here are some steps you can take to improve your diet to help manage anxiety:
Limit Sugar Intake: Studies show that diets high in sugar are correlated to increased levels of anxiety and depression in individuals[ii],[iii]. Diets low in sugar seem to have the opposite effect. Try to cut out sugary foods and drinks as much as possible.
Take Care of Your Gut: We are starting to learn that there is a strong relationship between gut health and mental health[iv],[v]. Replenish your gut bacteria by eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha and greek yogurt and keep them healthy by eating lots of fibrous fruits and veggies.
Reduce Caffeine Intake: Caffeine is a stimulant, and it can increase the effects of anxiety by increasing levels of your body’s main stress hormone, cortisol[vi]. If you do struggle with severe anxiety, I would suggest eliminating all caffeine if possible or switch to green tea.
Eat Healthy Fats: Diets high in Omega – 3 Fatty Acids have been shown to have preventative benefits when it comes to anxiety disorders[vii]. These typically come from marine food sources like salmon, oysters and sardines, but also can be found in flaxseeds and chia seeds. I highly recommend daily omega-3 supplementation.
This is just a start, but try to implement a few of these dietary strategies if anxiety is something you struggle with.
Everyone knows exercise is great for…well, basically everything! People who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those who don’t[viii],[ix]. Exercise helps lower your body’s levels of stress hormones over the long run and may release endorphins, which help improve mood. Start with any activity you feel you can do, even if it’s just walking. Try to work yourself up to 30 minutes a day for 5 days each week. Do something you love and try to get your heartrate up!
Stress Management Strategies
Find stress management strategies that work for you. It will be different for everyone, but here are some stress management strategies that have been proven to work well for most people:
Meditation – There are many different ways to meditate, so find a way that works for you. Use apps like Calm, Headspace, or Pray as You Go for assistance.
Essential Oils – Certain essential oils, like lavender, ylang ylang, bergamot and chamomile have been shown to calm the body’s nervous system, promote restfulness, and induce sleep. Try using them in a diffuser.
Drink Some Tea – Teas like chamomile and lavender have calming effects on the body.
Breathe – Our breath is significantly connected to our state of mind. Try deep breathing exercises.
Gratitude Journaling – Studies show that focusing on being grateful can make you feel more positive, optimistic and happier. Try to dedicating a few minutes a day to writing in a gratitude journal.
Positive Social Interactions
Interacting with others, laughter and receiving social support are great ways to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress[x],[xi]. Spend time with friends and family. If you don’t feel like you have those people in your life, try to get involved in clubs, groups, churches, or sports teams! Find something that interests you that could help you build healthy relationships in your life.
If you have a relationship with Christ, then prayer will be your most powerful anxiety management tool. In Philippians 4:6-7 we are told,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Christ always hears our prayers and always takes care of us. When we turn over control to him, it takes a huge weight off our shoulders and he gives us peace. If you trust in Him, He will help you manage your anxiety however it is in his will to make it happen. I may still have experienced some anxiety symptoms for a few months after my panic attack, but as I was prayerful about it, he took care of me and helped me overcome it.
That verse in Philippians also encourages thanksgiving and gratitude as well! Don’t forget to thank him as he works in your body, heart and mind.
One of a Kind
Every person is different, and what may work for you in managing your stress and anxiety may not necessarily work well for someone else. Find activity that you enjoy doing. Find healthy foods that you like. Figure out what stress management strategies work best for you. Consult with your physician and/or counselor to come up with a plan for taking care of yourself.
I pray that God would use your struggle with anxiety to glorify him in the end, and that you allow him to help you manage and overcome it. God bless!
“Even though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” – Psalm 23:4
This post was written for the Milk and Honey Magazine.
[ii] Knüppel, Anika, et al. “Sugar Intake from Sweet Food and Beverages, Common Mental Disorder and Depression: Prospective Findings from the Whitehall II Study.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 27 July 2017, www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-05649-7.
[iv] Clapp, Megan, et al. “Gut Microbiota’s Effect on Mental Health: The Gut-Brain Axis.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Sept. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/.
[v] “New Light on Link between Gut Bacteria and Anxiety.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 24 Aug. 2017, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170824221455.htm.
[vi] Land JD, Adcock RA, Williams RB, Kuhn CM. Caffeine effects on cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses to acute psychosocial stress and their relationship to level of habitual caffeine consumption. Psychosom Med. 1990 May-Jun;52(3):320-36.
[vii] Su, Kuan-Pin, et al. “Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Prevention of Mood and Anxiety Disorders.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540034/.
[viii] “Regular Exercise, Anxiety, Depression and Personality: A Population-Based Study.” Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics, Elsevier, 24 Jan. 2006, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743505002331.
[ix] Anderson, Elizabeth, and Geetha Shivakumar. “Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/.
[x] Cadzow, R B, and T J Servoss. “The Association between Perceived Social Support and Health among Patients at a Free Urban Clinic.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19331256.
[xi] Bennett, M P, et al. “The Effect of Mirthful Laughter on Stress and Natural Killer Cell Activity.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2003, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12652882.