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4 Science-Backed Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety

Margaret is a mental health advocate and has studied psychology. She aspires to help people live better lives.

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I've been struggling with anxiety since my late teens. Before I realized it, I started avoiding overcrowded places and refused any kind of invitation to parties or large gatherings. I was afraid of speaking to strangers and in front of large crowds. I found it extremely hard to go on dates.

Throughout the years, I tried almost everything to lower my stress levels — from regular exercise to meditation. And although these practices have been somewhat helpful, the science-backed techniques mentioned below have proven much more valuable in my long-term battle with anxiety. I'm confident they will prove helpful to you as well.

1. Let Water Sounds Ease Your Mind

The science behind the reason why water sounds ease our minds comes down to how our brains interpret the noises we hear.

As this article in LiveScience explains, certain sounds like loud alarm clocks or screams trigger a threatening reaction in our brain that we can not tune out. On the other hand, sounds that are constant and soothing are considered non-threatening sounds to our brain.

Basically, when you’re awake but relaxed (not processing much information), your brain produces alpha waves. These alpha waves can reduce your stress levels and help you feel calmer.

In professor of biobehavioral health at Pennsylvania State University Orfeu Buxton’s own words:

“These slow, whooshing noises are the sounds of non-threats, which is why they work to calm people. It’s like they’re saying: ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry.”

If you feel overwhelmed with anxiety, try to step back and put on a soundtrack with rain or ocean sounds. You can even make a habit of listening to the sound of flowing water before any stressful event — an important job interview or a first date —to ease your mind and get you right back on track.

2. Look at a Photograph of a Loved One

When we feel anxious, stressed, or sad, we usually rely on the people close to us for emotional support.

Unfortunately, they can’t always be by our side to hold our hands. Or, even if they are close, we might not feel 100% comfortable talking to them about our feelings.

For example, even though my mother knows about my anxiety, I usually can’t run to her for support whenever I have an anxiety attack. I either am away from home or simply don’t want to get her super worried about me.

Looking at one of her photos — or even better looking at a photo of us together — can instantly make me feel calmer. My mind is instantly filled with happy memories and images of our good times together.

A study has found that photographs of loved ones have the power to dull pain, while according to this Cornell study, thinking about your loved ones by looking at their photo can make you feel better and reduce your negative thinking.

As assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University Vivian Zayas, explains:

“Simply thinking about an attachment figure, whether it is one’s mother or partner, by either recalling a supportive interaction with them or just viewing their photograph, helps people restore their mood and decreases the tendency to engage in negative thinking.”

Next time you feel your anxiety attacking you, look at some photographs of you with your parents, your best friend, or your partner. You might be amazed by their soothing power.

3. Think About Your Childhood

Recalling happy memories from your childhood can help you battle your anxiety.

According to this study, reminiscing about happy memories can dampen the rise of cortisol — your “fight-or-flight” hormone —, bring out positive feelings, and reduce your stress levels.

And, for most of us, the happiest memories come from our childhood years.

Additionally, your childhood years can teach you some valuable lessons that can help you deal with anxiety in the long term, such as the value of simplifying things in your life.

Personally, every time I look back to my childhood years, I’m reminded of how easy and simple life can be when you learn to approach it as such.

As Angela Schwindt has wisely said:

“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”

4. Visualize Yourself in Nature

Spending time in nature has long proven to have multiple health benefits, including reducing anxiety.

Now, according to this study, nature-based guided imagery (GI) can also be effective for reducing anxiety symptoms (and overcoming the limitation of access to nature).

Guided imagery is a simple relaxation technique/sensory experience that involves envisioning a calm or peaceful scene and its goal is to promote a calm state through relaxation.

All you have to do is close your eyes and picture yourself in nature. On a mountaintop, for example, or by the ocean. It might be tricky at first but with practice, you’ll get the hang of it.

Everyone experiences anxiety differently in terms of frequency and/or severity.

Surely, there’s no quick fix for anxiety, and it might often feel like an uphill struggle. But, once you identify your triggers and start using the strategies that work best for you, you can manage your symptoms and regain control of your thoughts and feelings.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Margaret Pan

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