Lifestyle / Health

Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
4 minute read
3 Nov 2021
2:36 pm

7 things to do when you feel anxious

Renate Engelbrecht

While we appreciate the importance of identifying anxiety, it’s just as important to know what to do when you feel anxious.

Anxiety. Picture: iStock

The topic of anxiety has enjoyed much attention over the past two years, as Covid-19 and its repercussions had a huge effect on many people’s stress levels.

Dr Ade van Heerden, a medial officer running a primary healthcare clinic for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) says: “Having families locked in a house together for extended periods has increased the feeling of loneliness in kids and adults alike. Kids reported worrying about the future of school and their ability to succeed, while financial burdens, remote working and limited social interactions have all contributed to increased feelings of isolation, irritation, fear and anxiety in adults.”

“Kids and teenagers have also greatly increased their social media screen time, which is proven to escalate anxiety and depression symptoms. There has also been more interpersonal conflict within families, putting more stress on all parties involved. The truth is that we have seen an unprecedented increase in suicide in men, women and teenagers due to lockdown restrictions globally.”

“This tells us everything we need to know about how the pandemic is impacting our mental health.”

Although anxiety can be normal under stressful situations like public speaking or taking tests, it can also be an indicator of underlying disease when your feelings of anxiety become excessive, all-consuming and start interfering with your day-to-day life.

In order to cope with anxiety, the first step is to be able to identify it. Dr van Heerden says there are key symptoms to look out for when you suspect that you or a loved one are struggling mentally, with the most common symptoms including feelings of sadness, hopelessness and emptiness. “They might also be more tearful, agitated, distracted or angrier than usual. Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies or sport is also common, while weight fluctuations, unusual or disturbed sleeping schedules and unexplained physical issues like headaches have also been reported.”

The second step is to know what to do once you feel anxious. Dr van Heerden suggests that the focus should be on lifestyle and psychological interventions, assisted with natural, over-the-counter medications like Emozac by Releaf Pharmaceuticals.

ALSO READ: Covid and lockdown deepening SA’s mental health crisis

Here are seven lifestyle and psychological interventions you could try when you feel anxious:

Chamomile tea

Chamomile tea may reduce anxiety
Chamomile tea may reduce anxiety. Picture: iStock

Studies have shown that chamomile is effective in aiding with relaxation and helping with anxiety, depression and insomnia. The natural herb has meaningful benefits and long-term use may even help to reduce moderate to severe symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder.

Exercise and eat healthy

Van Heerden says that if done regularly, exercise is proven to decrease the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.

“Exercise releases feel-good hormones to improve your mood and lower your stress levels, while it also boosts confidence and general physical health.”

With that, a healthy balanced diet also plays an important role.

“For the body to function optimally, it needs a wide range of micronutrients and minerals to keep your gut and brain happy.”

Breathe to reduce anxiety

Breathing exercises have been used for relaxation for centuries. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body, because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax.

Breathe to reduce stress
Breathe to reduce stress. Picture: iStock

Do yoga when stressed

Various studies have found that yoga may assist in reducing stress and anxiety. It can enhance your mood and overall sense of wellbeing and it might even help you to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety due to difficult situations.

Spend time in the sun

According to Van Heerden, spending time outdoors will enhance vitamin D and melatonin levels, which play a crucial role in your mental health.

“Some time outside every day will keep these nutrients topped up naturally.”

Aromatherapy reduces stress

Aromatherapy oils like lavender oil can be used to calm anxiety. It also has a sedative effect and may help with sleep troubles, including feelings of stress or anxiety that might be keeping you up at night.

Eat your favourite (healthy) food

Although no one is advocating eating a bowl of your favourite ice cream to make yourself feel better, there are certain foods that may help calm your nerves. Sugar is a definite no, but berries have lots of antioxidants, which help protect your cells from stress and may help ease feelings of depression.

Nuts, beans, walnuts and green vegetables may have a similar stress-reducing effect.