Nervousness, panic attacks, road rage, and feelings of sadness plague more Americans than you might think. According to CCHR International, 36 million Americans were taking anti-anxiety drugs and 41 million Americans were taking antidepressants in 2014.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the U.S., and many people don’t seek help because they are uncertain of how to cope or where to turn. While seeking professional medical help is a necessary step to start treatment, there may also be some daily habits contributing to your anxiety, moodiness, and even depression. By tweaking your behavior and experimenting, you might be able to alleviate some symptoms of these often debilitating disorders.
1. Drinking Caffeine
Your cup of Joe may be just what you need to get going in the morning, but it doesn’t always come without side effects when taken to excess. While caffeine can help you stay alert when you need to stay up, it can also prevent you from getting to sleep and having a sound night’s sleep. Anxiety and insomnia are common symptoms of excessive caffeine use.
While you might argue that you only have a cup or two of tea or coffee daily, pay attention to other sources of caffeine you might be consuming throughout your day. For instance, an 8 oz. brewed green tea can have between 25 to 30 milligrams of caffeine. One bar of dark chocolate (about 40 grams), which has become a popular and healthier substitute for milk chocolate, can contain as much as 50 milligrams of caffeine. Migraine and headache medications are also a hidden source of caffeine. Finally, pay attention to energy drinks and even some sports waters. Read the labels for hidden caffeine sources in beverages so you can lower your overall caffeine consumption.
2. Too Much Screen Time
While most people have become accustomed to having at least one electronic device at their disposal at all times, looking at or using a screened device frequently can cause anxiety and depression.
The constant blue light from electronic devices can also cause you to desynchronize with nature’s clock and with your body’s natural clock. It can cause disruption of melatonin production, which has been linked to increased risk of:
- Certain cancers
- Heart disease
Excessive use of screen time, especially video games, can also cause elevated levels of cortisol in your body, which increases your stress response and can heighten anxiety. If you like playing games on your phone, you know the anxiousness and stress you experience when you’re trying to get ahead. Even texting someone or waiting for an email response can produce the same kind of physical reaction that leaves you wired.
3. Black-or-White Thinking
You’ve heard the expressions, “Don’t assume” and “Don’t jump to conclusions.” Yet, everyone does it sometimes. Black-or-white thinking usually means you’re living in a continuous thought-loop and tunnel vision that you can’t escape. Feelings of despair, anger, and lack of hope come from this sort of thinking. You get frustrated because you can’t see the bigger picture.
For example, if someone cuts you off on the highway, your normal reaction might be, “Jerk, they are trying to get me killed!” Then, your body goes through a whole host of reactions based on your thinking, which can include a fight-or-flight response where your body experiences acute stress. On the other hand, if you’re reaction is, “Wow! That person is in a hurry. I wonder what’s wrong,” you are opening up yourself to many possibilities about the same scenario.
Here’s another example: if a person you’re dating doesn’t respond immediately to a text, your mind might say, “He doesn’t want to date me anymore. He’s not interested.” But if you’re able to think of ten different and interesting possibilities as to why he hasn’t responded, your body and mind enter a much less stressful state. This will take practice. Daily meditation can help you enter a state of calm awareness, and by practicing entertaining infinite possibilities, you can experience more lightheartedness.
4. Being Sedentary
Living a sedentary life can have negative effects on your health, including an increased risk of anxiety. One way to combat this is with exercise, which releases endorphins. Everyone needs the release of endorphins and serotonin to help them feel good on a consistent basis. Your brain is wired with all the healing chemicals you need.
As Tor Wager, an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University, explained on an episode of Radio Lab, “For every pharmacological agent or drug there is, there is a chemical produced by your own brain that does essentially the same thing. Like an internal pharmacy, it’s stocked full of drugs; we just have to figure out how to unlock it.” Exercise can release endorphins and serotonin, which can help combat the effects of anxiety.
For some, the thought of exercise can bring about feelings of anxiety. If you get anxious when you think about hitting the gym and actually working out, then try just moving. Get up and move for at least 35 minutes each day, five days a week. It can help stimulate serotonin and endorphin production. Or you can try to exercise for 15 minutes, three times per day. Ayurveda recommends getting up and walking after every meal.
5. No Downtime
If you’re like many people today, your to-do list is overambitious and way longer than anything you could ever accomplish in a day. As a result, you plow through your list, and crash and burn by the end of the day. At which time, you realize your only downtime was a quick run to the coffee shop to grab a quadruple shot latte to keep you going. Your body and mind were never designed to have constant activity. Non-stop activity is partially a by-product of the invention of electricity and the light bulb. Before then, humans had to stop when the sun went down or at least slow down. Our biology hasn’t quite caught up with technology.
Notice how much time you’re taking for daily downtime, meaning non-directed activity and ideally activity without a screen, to help decrease your stress levels. Here are some ideas:
- Walk in nature
- Take time to daydream
- Eat a meal with a loved one with the TV and all electronic devices off
Through modifying these five behaviors, you may find that your levels of anxiety, moodiness, and depression lower significantly.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
Let go of habits that are no longer serving you and commit to new, healthy mind-body practices at Perfect Health, our six-day Ayurvedic cleanse retreat. Learn More.