Taking Control of Your Nerves: The 21-Day Anxiety Challenge.



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The worrying experienced by people with chronic anxiety is distinguished by its persistence and intensity, which is characteristically out of proportion for the present situation. In contrast to worry arising from normal fear, related to the specific behaviors of escape and avoidance, anxiety is the result of threats that are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable. Additional symptoms and signs of anxiety include: heart pain, difficulty concentrating, headaches, trembling, twitching, difficulty breathing, trouble falling or staying asleep, sweating, muscle tension, hot flashes, rashes, difficulty swallowing, numbness in hands and feet, unrealistic views of problems, nausea, and irritability.




Deep Breathing Exercises

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Day 1: Deep Breathing Exercises. Breathing deeply, in and out slowly while holding your breath after each exhale for a few minutes. Think how your body feels when you are tense, upset, scared, angry or stressed. It constricts. Your muscles get tight and your breathing becomes shallow. When your breathing is shallow you are not getting the amount of oxygen that your body needs. Oxygenation of the brain reducing excessive anxiety levels and nourishes spinal cord and nerves. Pay attention to your breathing! Breathe slowly, deeply and purposefully into your body.


Mood Music

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Day 2: Listen to Mood Music. You may not understand how deeply music affects your brain chemistry. In Trends in Cognitive Science, McGill University psychologists found that music engages the body's neurochemical systems for rewards, motivation, pleasure, stress, arousal, immunity, and social affiliation. They found that music's neurochemical activity can boost the body's immune system, reduce anxiety, help regulate mood, and increase social bonding. The researchers believe music enhances the brain's natural opioids and the brain chemical dopamine, which is linked to the reward system, can lessen anxiety while being noninvasive, inexpensive, convenient, natural with zero adverse side effects.


Meditation

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Day 3: Meditation. 20 minutes each morning focusing quietly, silences the overactive mind. Regular meditation allows the brain to develop new pathways besides the old worry grooves. The mind begins to experience itself without being overshadowed by anxious thoughts. Being able to center yourself is a skill that anyone can learn, once they have the intention and the experience of what it feels like. Numerous scientific studies have found meditation to be effective for treating anxiety. One study, published in the Psychological Bulletin, overall conclusion was that meditation produced beneficial results, with substantial improvement in areas like negative personality traits, anxiety, and stress.


Phone Calls with Friends

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Day 4: Phone conversations with friends. Healthy distractions like lengthy phone conversations with good friends, or family help by eliminating worrisome thoughts because you focus on other topics. When you are distracted you can overcome your fears, because you will finally allow yourself to forge things you fear instead thinking about them. Dentists and doctors use distraction techniques frequently to distract the patient from a physical discomfort they may be experiencing, by giving them something else to focus on (usually the bill). When you are fully engaged with life you can forget about your anxiety disorder.


Jogging

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Day 5: Jogging. Jogging helps ease symptoms of anxiety because beneficial chemicals are released when taking part in physical activities. The body responds to excercise by releasing "feel good" chemicals, such as serotonin and endorphins, which act as natural pain-killers. These ease the symptoms of anxiety and reduce symptoms of depression, which often accompanies anxiety. Jogging helps decrease the level of chemicals in your body which cause feelings of anxiety, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Increase the positive effects of exercise by increasing the intensity and amount of exercise each week, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Positive Affirmation

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Day 6: Positive Affirmation. According to Psychologist Thomas A. Richards the benefits of using positive affirmations stops the thoughts leading to anxiety, and replaces them with realistic, rational meaning. As rational self-statements are practiced and learned, your brain takes over and they occur automatically. This is a form of gentle conditioning, meaning that neurotransmissions change as a result of new thinking habits. His favorite: "Initially, my anxiety was powerful and scary, but as time goes by it doesn’t have the hold on me that I once thought it had. I am moving forward gently and nicely all the time."


Yelling

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Day 7: Yelling! Anxiety provides a continuous supply of adrenaline in your system. This puts your entire body on edge, because it's preparing you for "fight or flight" - an evolutionary system designed to keep you safe in times of danger. A healthy yell can trick your fear filled mind and pent up energy and reduce agitation by working off that energy. If no one is around you and you're in a place where no one will hear you, try yelling as loud as you can. It is a very effective method for reducing built up agitation, negative energy and anxiety.


Journal or Blog

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Day 8: Journal or Blog. Write down your feelings once the nerves and anxiety begin to overwhelm you. You do not need to share this with anyone if you prefer. It's simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. And if you struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, keeping a journal can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health says academically certified clinician Beth Holloway, RN, M.Ed. Write whatever feels right to you, even if it wouldn't make sense to anyone else and keep it simple.


Coloring in a Coloring Book

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Day 9: Color in a Coloring book. Coloring offers distraction and an outlet for meditation while physically doing something else. It's not just for children; it's an affordable, drug-free method for adults to help reduce stress. Ever notice how relaxed and peaceful children are while coloring? Adults react similarly, allowing them to zone out and "be fully present, mentally absorbed, and engaged in what you’re doing in the moment,” says Chris Aiken, MD, an instructor in clinical psychiatry at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. This causes calming and a stress-less effect on the nervous system.


Crossword Puzzles

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Day 10: Crossword Puzzles. Anxious people engage in mindless distractions to keep from thinking troubling thoughts. A brain imaging study by Berkeley psychologist Sonia Bishop suggests that brain-sharpening activities, "rein in a restless psyche by activating the region of the brain that commands logical reasoning and concentration. Hard tasks can keep anxious people from being sidetracked and can help stay on task. People who are overly anxious have a hard time concentrating on mundane tasks to tune out negative thoughts, so the results suggest that anxious people might want to train their brain to stay focused on a tough crossword puzzle."


Quit Caffeine

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Day 11: Quit caffeine. According to the American Psychiatric Association, caffeine and caffeine-withdrawal induces anxiety disorders as well as restlessness and tremor, palpitations and raised blood pressure. Withdrawal symptoms and anxiety issues start slowly, are at their worst at 1–2 days, and recede within a few days. They are rapidly relieved by intake of caffeine, suggesting that they are genuine withdrawal and anxiety produced symptoms. Caffeine use has been linked in specific disorders such as anxiety disorders, sleep disorders and eating disorders, and there is a possible association with schizophrenia according to Dr. C.F. Chait in Behavioural Phamacology, in 1992.


Just Dance

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Day 12: Dance, dance, dance. You will find dancing when you are worried or anxious alleviates your nerves, anxiety and stress. The dance movement therapy, as defined by the American Dance Therapy Association is "the psycho-therapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual." Dancing brings us back to a more primitive, and consequently, more liberated state of mind. Registered Dance Therapists with the ADTA report for most people, dance movement therapy seems to decrease anxiety and increase quality of life, well-being, mood, affect, and body image.


Stress Ball

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Day 13: De-stress with a stress ball. Stress balls are small balls or objects filled with a malleable gel or clay held in the palm of your hand. The act of repeatedly squeezing the ball releases tension and helps to relieve stress. The benefits of stress balls also include boosting blood circulation and helping with the treatment of carpal-tunnel syndrome -- and they're used as a tool for meditation. The balls can also be used as a physical therapy tool to strengthen the muscles of the hand and wrist. According to LiveStrong.Org "decreasing stress can help improve the quality of your life...and generating well-being."


Take a Hot Bath

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Day 14: Take a hot bath. According to The Calm Clinic, taking a hot bath is an effective relaxation strategy adding, "Warm water provides the human body with a level of relaxation that can be incredibly beneficial for reducing the anxiety symptoms that can be so disruptive to your life." Like most treatments, bathing isn't going to be a one stop cure, but those that find that physical aches and pains from anxiety are causing them sufficient anxiety should realize benefits to taking a warm bath for an hour or so every few days. Relax with some bubbly.


Watch Funny Videos

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Day 15: Laugh. Occupying your brain with humor not only improves your mood, it distracts your mind. Watch some funny videos when you have worries. Search for 'Funny Videos' on websites like Youtube for a great laugh to keep your attention away from the negative feelings that paralyze you. You know what they say about laughter being the best medicine, right? It will help.


Work on an Art Project

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Day 16: Art. Studies show that doing arts and crafts projects can significantly lower anxiety levels. Neuroscientists are beginning to see how studies on cognitive activities such as doing crossword puzzles might also apply to someone who does crafting projects. Think of the correlation between the mental health benefits of meditation and the zen reached while painting or sculpting. "There's promising evidence coming out to support what a lot of crafters have known anecdotally for quite some time," says Catherine Carey Levisay, a clinical neuropsychologist. "Creating -- whether it be through art, music, cooking, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography (or) cake decorating -- is beneficial to us in a number of important ways."


Practice Yoga

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Day 17: Yoga. Whether you take a class or follow an online video, give stress-relieving yoga a try. According to Harvard, in a 2005 study, 24 “emotionally distressed” women took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Afterwards, they reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality resolved as well. Other studies of yoga practice have found improvements in mood and quality of life for the elderly, people caring for patients with dementia, breast cancer survivors, and patients with epilepsy.


Digital Detox

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Day 18: Go on a Digital Detox. Alleviate your stress by leaving your work at the office when you go home. Don't look at your smart phone for any emails or work updates as a study suggests "high-frequency cellphone users" -- report higher levels of anxiety, less satisfaction with life and lower grades than peers who use their cellphones less frequently. This applies to people of all ages who have grown accustomed to using cellphones regularly, day and night. "People need to make a conscious decision to unplug from the constant barrage of electronic media," said Jacob Barkley, an associate professor at Kent State University. "There could be a substantial anxiety benefit."


Take a Walk

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Day 19: Step outside and take a walk. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, when stress affects the brain, the rest of the body feels the impact. If your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Scientists have found that aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. At the five minute mark, walking can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.


Schedule Your Worrying

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Day 20: Schedule your worrying. Many psychologists recommend scheduling an hour each day for worry time. That way, your stress is not open-minded; you're only allowed to worry in a given time period. Don’t leave it open-ended, because worry compounds itself, magnifies the fear and heightens the severity of the crisis. You can assign yourself a worry period where you can go ahead and worry, obsess and fear all you'd like. When you catch yourself slipping into the worry loop during other times of the day, you just have to postpone any negativity until its 'scheduled' time.


Accept Your Feelings

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Day 21: Accept your feelings. It's OK to have anxiety. Once you recognize your symptoms and nervousness, you can then learn how to control it. According to the Social Anxiety Institute, Acceptance is a foundational step in overcoming Anxiety. You have to accept yourself before you can begin to make progress and overcome your anxiety. You are accepting yourself for who you are today -- with the knowledge that by being proactive, you are improving, making progress, and you will overcoming anxiety.

Simply: Accepting yourself changes your life.