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Pick and Choose: A Chocolate Box of Healthy Ways to Deal with Modern Stress

by Morgan Randall MA LMHC

A shorter version of this article was published in the Skagit Valley Co-op’s Natural Enquirer newsletter in 2013

Anxiety is what we feel on the inside when stressors (stress) come at us on the outside. A rattlesnake on the path is a stressor. The feeling of jumping out of my skin when I see one is anxiety. Many health professionals are converging at the doorstep of anxiety. We see it at the core of disease, disorder, addiction and other personal and family problems. Our modern way of life assaults the human bodymind with excessive stress. The brain is biochemically overloaded by levels of chronic reactivity called “anxiety” we weren’t designed to cope with when homo sapiens evolved in slow-moving preagricultural societies.

Anxiety can directly cause a health problem like arrhythmia or a mental problem like agoraphobia; it can be a disease’s epigenetic trigger (turning gene expression on) to cause cancer or schizophrenia; or simply make difficult matters worse by stimulating unhealthy coping behaviors such as domestic violence or drug addiction. Reducing anxiety in healthy ways is being recognized as central to good health.

There are plenty of unhealthy ways to help calm down. Yes, overeating “palatable” foods such as potato chips or chocolate cookies may calm down your hyper-activated amygdala, but can also contribute to Alzheimers, obesity and diabetes. Smoking pot will initially reduce anxiety, but also your IQ and your bank account. The next day, due to spring back effect, it causes you to be more anxious than you would have been without it, so around you go.

Alcohol and benzodiazepines work great to help calm down in the moment, but are highly addictive, cause greater anxiety the next day and can destroy your health and your relationships in a dozen different ways. There are simply healthier things you can do to calm down. If you wish to recover from whatever ails you or your family––relationally, mentally or physically––check out these anti-anxiety activities I’ve shared with clients over the years.

Notice my use of the word “avoid,” as opposed to “eliminate” which can be anxiety inducing in itself. Please give yourself a break. Do what you can when you can to maximize your enjoyment of the only beautiful life you have.

Anti-anxiety activities

1. Breathing. Taking extra-long, slow, deep breaths throughout the day. Out breaths longer than in breaths calm emotional centers of your brain. Notice when you have a tendency to hold your breath and bring breath to these moments, e.g. when driving a car. Yoga, T’ai chi and Qigong are simple exercise protocols that emphasize breath work and relaxation.

2. Drinking at least six glasses a day non carbonated water.

3. Eating a fresh, low-acid-producing probiotic diet. Avoid caffein, carbohydrates, cooked fat and oils, and processed foods, particularly “the whites,” i.e. refined wheat, sugar and dairy. When your body is well nourished, so are you.

4. Eating protein within one hour after waking helps the brain not feel anxious from lack of protein. The greater the stress, the more protein the brain needs to function.

5. Adding vitamin and mineral supplements to enhance nutritional supplies received from food, e.g. Vitamin E. You are constantly replacing stress-damaged cells. Get the good nutrition your brain needs to feel calm.

6. Substitute unrefined sea salt, high in minerals, for refined salt that strips minerals from your body.

7. Consider pro-biotic supplements to balance the intestinal environment. Did you know 95 percent of serotonin is in the small intestines? See BeingNbalance for more information.

8. Bathing in a tub as opposed to taking a quick shower. Aromatherapy oils and candles may enhance a peaceful experience. Massage and body work reverse anxiety effectively.

9. Walking minimum 6,000 steps per day. Walk whenever you can, e.g. park farther away, use stairs instead of elevator. A 20-minute walk a day in fresh air has marked anxiety-reducing benefits.

10. Using your hands to attain “effort-driven rewards” stimulates production of calming brain chemicals, e.g. picking blackberries, baking, handicrafts such as knitting or wood working.

11. Limiting computer time to less than one hour a day for non-work activities, e.g. Facebook, email. Avoiding hyper-stimulating television shows and bad news media.

12. Turning off all electronic devices 2 hours before sleep to calm down or you may not fall asleep. The brain thinks the light from the device is the sun and won’t allow you to go to sleep, because it thinks the sun just set!

13. Meditating or centering prayer 20 minutes a day. Take private reflective time for yourself. Practice choosing positive thoughts rather than habitual worrying. It’s your mind!

14. Singing, storytelling, making or listening to music, dancing or appreciating dance, creating or appreciating art, theatre, puppetry.

15. Journaling, poetry writing and collage support therapeutic self expression.

16. Relating to something greater than oneself, e.g. attending religious ceremonies or AA, labyrinth walking, reading spiritual texts.

17. Being in nature. Hiking. Biking. Gardening.

18. Noticing the objects and others in the world around you. Look deeply at one object at a time. Allow yourself to feel its presence and feeling tone. Feel how you feel when you do this. Carry this connection with you throughout the day.

19. Sun bathing up to 30 minutes a day when possible. Just being in the sun makes us feel happier. In the Pacific NW, we never get the Vitamin D we need even on a sunny day due to the slant of the sun’s rays. Take a Vitamin D supplement everyday to avoid anxiety and depression.

20. Avoiding toxic chemicals that can agitate the nervous system, i.e. pesticides, household cleaning agents, perfume. Use essential oils such as lavender or frankincense instead.

21. Avoiding anxiety-producing legal drugs (e.g. alcohol and cannabis), illegal drugs (e.g. cocaine or meth) and pharmaceuticals (e.g. steroids or benzodiazepines).

22. Making and keeping appropriate boundaries, e.g. learning when to say “no” to friends, family or coworkers.

23. Cultivating healthy family relations. Differentiate your life from others (do your own thing) while remaining connected by being helpful, understanding and present. Enhance responsibility to the group behavior by being in integrity, using consistent rewards and consequences, not emotional blackmail.

24. Hanging out. Cultivating personal friendships outside of work.

25. Ending parasitic relationships with family or non family members and organizations.

26. Helping others stimulates anxiety-reducing self esteem. Volunteering distracts you from your own problems, e.g. food bank, visiting the elderly.

27. Participating. Working together for common goal, e.g. community garden, cooking or housework.

28. Enjoying and caring for pets.

29. Organizing at least one room in your home to create a hygienic, orderly, uncluttered environment in which to live.

30. Maintaining houseplants in the home and office for added oxygen and companionship. “Seeing green” calms the brain.

31. Enjoying non-stressful healthy sexual activity with yourself or another.

32. Sleeping minimum seven hours uninterrupted, eight is better! Afternoon nap of 20 minutes when possible. People who short nap get more done!

33. Lighting up your life. Full spectrum light bulbs to prevent light deficiency syndrome (SAD) during dark months. Supplement with Vitamin D.

34. Using side-effect free homeopathic and/or Bach Flower Remedies for anxiety reduction or as sleep aids when possible. Anxiolytic pharmaceuticals are addictive, have negative side effects and cause “kick back” when use is terminated, i.e. you are more anxious afterward than you were in the first place.

35. Vacationing close to home. Traveling is inherently stressful. Try taking a mini vacation closer to home or playing croquet, cards, board games, Scrabble or cross word puzzles without leaving the house or apartment.

36. Downsizing material responsibilities. Ask yourself if there is more on your plate than you can maintain without undue anxiety.

37. Reading inspirational self-help books. Knowledge illuminates dark corners of the mind helping us to forgive ourselves and others.

38. Learning to ask for help when you need it. Call a counselor, doctor or pastor.

39. Quieting the internal critic. Reduce judging yourself and others. Tell your inner judge “Thanks for sharing. Now beat it.”

40. Imagining your “safe place.” Envision somewhere where you feel safe. It could be a beautiful beach you once visited, your grandmother’s kitchen or simply an image of your own cozy bed.

41. Mental health counseling to help resolve emotional issues and trauma. Supports positive change. The therapeutic relationship provides anxiety-reducing emotional holding.

42. Committing to a full series of weekly neurofeedback, acupuncture and/or structural integration therapies such as Rolfing or therapeutic massage. Each can have amazing results to help clear and calm a jangled nervous system.

43. Gently letting go of memories and expectations. Live in the present moment with contentment.

Morgan Randall LMHC has a masters in applied behavioral science from Bastyr University and is a licensed mental health counselor with an independent practice in Mount Vernon WA. For more information, call 360.202.2722 or visit

November 2nd, 2013 | Permalink

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