In Canada, 5% of our population suffer from anxiety disorders with severe impairment to everyday life while it’s stated that every single person in the country is affected by it through a friend or family member. Anxiety and stress are sometimes hard for people to define as a problem as it can fit under anything from test anxiety which is common in most students to crippling social anxiety which keeps a large part of our population from interacting with other people.

No matter your type of anxiety, however, it’s important that you find ways to overcome or manage your episodes so you can start living the life you want to live. There are many different ways of tackling this kind of disorder, but below are just some of the most recommended and how to fit them into your lifestyle.

Limiting Aggravating Substances

A rather unknown instigator of anxiety is caffeine, but although relatively unknown, it can be the strongest contributor to your anxiety or stress. Because caffeine can be associated with lack of sleep, restlessness, and energy crashes, it should not come as a huge surprise that it might be contributing to your anxiousness. Going off coffee has proven for many to be the only solution to their anxiety with even many self-diagnosed coffee addicts dropping the drink completely in favor of stripping away that anxious feeling.

The science behind the link between caffeine and anxiety attacks is rather simple. Caffeine blocks the function of adenosine, a chemical in our bodies which when repressed results in the energy and “buzz” that we feel from coffee consumption. This feeling usually results in the good, focused feeling most people feel while drinking their morning brew, but in those prone, to anxiety and stress attacks this can turn into a deadly combo and can amplify anxiety symptoms like sweaty palms and jitters.

This effect is also seen in alcohol as well, as it has been proven to trigger panic attacks and spike anxiety episodes in those with diagnosed cases of mild to severe social anxiety. Although certain types of alcohol on a semi-regular basis – like red wine – won’t be that harmful, any hard liquor and excessive amounts of beer or cider will significantly aggravate anxiety.

Most people use alcohol to calm stressful feelings, like unwinding after a long day at work. Which isn’t entirely ineffective, but it’s when your tolerance increases passed the point of these stress-free feelings that it starts to have a negative effect. What’s called “alcohol-induced anxiety” (according to the ADAA) is most noticeable the day after excessive drinking, which arises from alcohol varying the levels of serotonin in the brain and worsening the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks.

The trick to weeding off caffeine and alcohol is to go slowly. Try drinking decaf coffee at your favorite café on the way to work. Only buy alcohol at the bar on your nights out because the lines and money will keep you from over drinking. After a while, see if you can last an entire week without either and go from there. Either of the substances isn’t entirely dangerous in small amounts, but work to lower your consumption to a manageable basis for your lifestyle. You’ll be surprised not only how your anxiety levels will go down, but you’ll have more cash on hand and feel more energized than you ever had before.

Exercise Frequently

This may seem counter-intuitive as one of the many results of anxiety is the absolute distaste for activities like working out in a gym. However, many studies have found that exercise – along with preventing health problems associated with your physical body – can greatly help reduce the symptoms of several mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. It is also said that it can even prevent anxiety and depression from resurfacing once symptoms have dissipated quite a bit, according to Mayo Clinic.

This is mainly due to the chemicals that exercise releases in our brain. All these chemicals are associated with that “good feeling” we get after a good workout. The endorphins we get from cardio, or weight lifting can be on par with most uplifting drugs on the market and has been proven to directly counteract the feeling of anxiousness and panic. Mostly, on a more mental level, exercise is a great way to relieve some built up pressure and tension in your personal life. You’ll see local boxing gyms promote their program as “stress-relieving” and they aren’t wrong, as several studies have shown direct links between boxing and stress relief.

A gym or exercise class is also a great environment to begin testing the limits of your social anxiety. Because gyms are one of the most inviting and also non-aggressive social environments to practice on, it’s a great place to work up from just friendly smiles to even full-blown conversations without any expectations.

To make this a part of your daily activities, try out some local classes or get a tour of your local gym. If you suffer from severe social anxiety as a female, it could be a good idea to find female-specific gyms or classes to start out with, so you know you won’t have to be interacting with the opposite sex. The key to any good exercise plan is to see what you like and what makes you feel good after, so go for diversity and figure out the plan as you go.

Eat Well

A poor diet is one of the biggest contributors to spikes in anxiety and panic attacks. If our physical body is not in good shape, it’s hard for the rest of us to be in the right shape either. Specifically, foods that make you feel tired, that your body can’t process easily, or that contain aggravating chemicals can be what’s causing your symptoms (or at least adding to them).

Some of the most common foods that are attributed to anxiety disorders can also be some of the most common in our diets. Fried foods are a culprit of many health problems, but their effects on our mental health are some of the worst. Because they contain such little nutritional content they lack a lot of the good stuff in food that keeps us energized and feeling good, so they are a must “cut” for a mental health conscious diet.

Similar to caffeine, sugars have a tendency to heighten feelings associated with anxiety-like jitteriness or sweaty palms. These feelings are usually attributed to the “sugar high” we get after dessert or a trip to the sweets aisle. Dairy products are another unlikely culprit because if you drink too much, it can produce heightened levels of adrenaline. Although we aren’t saying to cut out dairy from your diet completely as there are a lot of benefits to dairy products, it might be a smart idea to limit your consumption.

In all, the key here is to try cutting out certain things from your diet (or reducing) to see if it has an effect on your anxiety symptoms. If by switching out your 2% milk for almond milk stops your heart pounding when you speak to people on the phone, then that’s probably a good sign that you have too much dairy in your diet. Continue the trial and error process until you find the perfect diet for you.

Find Your Passion

Do you love painting on your patio but can never find the time? Have you always wanted to volunteer at the community center but don’t even know how to start? Well now might be the time to begin thinking about tackling these dreams because there are a lot of studies saying that the feelings attributed with a fulfilled life can lessen feelings of anxiousness and stress, which may be obvious to some.

Specifically, volunteering has been proven to specifically target anxiety. Because it is so socially oriented as well, it’s a great stepping stone to being more open to communicating and creating relationships with people around you. Volunteering has also been known to boost one’s sense of confidence, purpose, and satisfaction. Because in most volunteering efforts you can see the direct impact of your actions immediately, your brain will translate that feeling of accomplishment into feel-good chemicals. Volunteering is also almost entirely based on intrinsic motivation, which means incentives come more in the form of praise and recognition than money or raises, which have a higher rate of producing good feelings for all those involved.

Anxiety is also attributed to having an overactive mind, so finding hobbies or activities that work to busy that mind and relax you can be a great help. Specifically, if that hobby also fulfills a purposefulness or satisfaction for you, it can be a great way of alleviating stress and anxiousness at the same time, similar to meditation. Some of the most well-researched hobbies are music, gardening, painting, and crafting, which may explain why our mothers spend so much time and money on all of them because they promote feelings of happiness, power, and accomplishment. These feelings obviously counteract those of frustration or uselessness that can be attributed to mental illness.

Although volunteering and almost any hobby will help to reduce your anxiety in some way, finding the one that matters to you is key. If you can find something that fills a deeper need than just busyness than it will produce more of those good-feeling chemicals we’ve been talking about. Find what’s best for you and make time for it no matter what, it will help greatly in all aspects of your life.

Do Your Best

This seems like an obvious one but can sometimes be the most overlooked. When asked what anxiety feels like, most people say something along the lines of “overwhelming fear of failure” or feeling as if “you’re losing control.” This is why anxiety diagnoses are so common in students and high-pressure jobs, where your actions (and the outcomes of those actions) can impact you in the long run. Failing a test in school could mean not getting into the right university or having to retake the class. Disappointing your boss on a big project presentation can mean not getting that promotion, or worse, losing your job completely.

Although anxiety disorders are more than just feelings of fear and today has become more accepted as a true and diagnosable illness, there are some mental tricks that can help reduce your worst symptoms. One of those mental tricks is telling yourself over and over that you are doing your best and working every day to produce your best work to match that. If you can prove to your mind and body that you have put in the work, that feeling of fear or failure will start to dissipate.

This isn’t an easy thing to do in any matter, but if you can train yourself to be more positive every day, it will help in leaps and bounds. Specifically, surround yourself with people with this attitude as well and eliminate or distance yourself from friends or family that create negative feelings within yourself. A healthy life means a healthy mind, and you start that by putting yourself in the right environments to heal.

In summary, anxiety is one of the most prevalent diagnoses in North America for mental health, but if we can start changing our lifestyles a bit, we might be able to combat these feelings better and more effectively. If you’re unsure where to start, talk to your doctor today to see what plan is best for you.