Last month, I began talking about things that can fuel anxiety, with sleep (a lack of it) being but one such issue. I want to start here by noting other things to be aware of. Food and drink can also play a role, especially chemicals such as caffeine. My fear here is that most people do not take the role of diet seriously, choosing to believe that food is more of a potential weight-related issue. Many people may say “Well, I’m eating well enough (or even okay), so I don’t really need to think about it.” I disagree.
Caffeine can wreak havoc on an already overactive mind. We already know caffeine can negatively affect sleep, so that’s a problem. Studies have shown that higher doses of caffeine can cause anxiety, among the other possible effects (Smith, 2002).
Now, we may all know that coffee and teas (unless decaffeinated) will contain some of the highest levels of caffeine, but don’t forget the energy drinks, sodas, chocolate, cocoa, many desserts, some cereals and so forth. We may think “a little won’t hurt me,” but watch how it can add up. If you have anxiety, you do not need these things to artificially raise your levels.
Getting Your Energy Out Physically
A sedentary lifestyle is also important to address. Exercise offers us so many different benefits when we think about our overall body and health, so let’s not forget the benefits with anxiety. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and increases endorphins that can have a positive effect on our mood. Exercise may also trigger a neurophysiologic high—a shot of adrenaline—that produces an antidepressant effect in some, an anti-anxiety effect in others, and have a general sense of “feeling better” in most (Sacks, 2007).
View all the worry and stressful experiences as energy that can get trapped in the body. We need as many ways as possible to get the energy out and not fuel levels of anxiety. Now, I am not talking about having to run marathons or anything; I am simply recommending that you examine your lifestyle and current exercise and see if there are more ways to get the energy out. Even consistent walking can be a wonderful way to help.
Avoiding Negative Thinking
Other things that can fuel anxiety include our own mind, with negative thoughts, catastrophizing, and, for some, trying to be perfect. Our minds are powerful. Let’s say you wake up and it is a hot day. If you say things to yourself like “It’s going to be too hot; I’m going to sweat and be tired,” imagine how you will feel. Many people would be discouraged or not excited. Now imagine you like the warm weather and might think, “Great! I can’t wait to get outside and soak in the sun.” In this view, you might feel excited and upbeat. The fact is, the situation outside did not change—only your mind and views changed. If we point our focus in a negative direction, with doubt and uncertainty, we are more likely to see the negative possibilities and miss all the positive ones.
Catastrophizing is not going to help either. This is where something happens (such as the boss asks to meet with you), and even though it may be only step 1, you may have already played out all the negative possibilities, even though they have not happened. For example, let’s say that in asking you, your boss did not share more about the upcoming meeting. When we catastrophize, we might think things like, “Oh my gosh! I’m in trouble. He must be upset about ____ (fill in the blank with whatever you think you may not have done so well or as good or “should” have done).” Another example might be if you have a disagreement with someone and then just expect or fear that every time you see that person in the future it will go poorly and that you may argue again, that person will not like you, and so forth. These are negative automatic thoughts that can come up in seconds, only growing that potential angst inside.
Next month, I will offer ways to address our anxiety and internal struggles.
- Smith, A. (2002). Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 40, 1243–1255.
- Sacks, M. (2007). Exercise for stress control. Retrieved from http://www.holistic-online.com/Remedies/Anxiety/anx_exercise.htm
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