Anxiety and mental stress are quickly becoming one of the biggest enemies of health and wellness. While a bout of anxiety may not directly cause terminal illness, the secondary effects are deadly. Shortness of breath and panic in breathing leads to lower levels of oxygen in the body, which in time leads to the depriving of vital organs of oxygen-rich blood. In other cases, the self-treatment of anxiety may lead to increasingly bad habits.
Many sufferers of anxiety have reported treating symptoms with alcohol, drugs or even legal medications that can have a long-term effect on one’s health. Anxiety can cause the loss of sleep, the inability to focus and make sound decisions and can have damaging effects on relationships with family and friends.
Without knowing one of the main causes of anxiety, it is impossible to treat it. While many physical and mental factors exist that lead to stress, overthinking is one of the most detrimental. Merriam-Webster defines overthinking as, “to put too much time into thinking about or analyzing (something) in a way that is more harmful than helpful.” The most important word to pull from this definition is “harmful.”
Indeed, no one should fault a person for having an analytical mind that promotes critical thinking, but when those thoughts become harmful, the damage it causes can add up quickly. A simpler definition for overthinking can also be ‘having any thought that is unnecessary.’ Critical and productive thinking leads to results while overthinking leads to distraction and an overall lack of results.
In a world of continuing advanced medical technology, it is hard to imagine that an issue cannot be identified or treated without the help of a medical professional. It is even harder to concede that one of the biggest threat to our health, and the solution to this threat, lies within our own ability to control.
When it comes to managing anxiety, medical professionals can only act as an advisor. Unless your goal is to solely rely on the use of medications and nothing else, eliminating anxiety is an active process in which the sufferer must be an active participant.
While managing anxiety is an active process, it does not have to be impossible or even hard for that matter. Concentrating on simple breathing techniques, implementing a small exercise regimen that fits your physical health, and incorporating a spiritual philosophy in your daily life is enough to mitigate the dangerous effects.
With all of the stress anxiety sufferers must endure, it would seem that breathing correctly would be very low on the list of worries. It is, after all, the very first physical act we complete when we enter this world. Isn’t breathing one of the few things we do that we shouldn’t have to think about? According to staff writers of a 2015 Harvard article in the university’s online medical journal, it should be your primary focus. The study indicates that shallow breathing has become very normal for most people, and it has an adverse effect on both the mind and the body.
“Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious,” the study indicates. “Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.”
It is likely that after long periods of shallow breathing, doing it the correct way will not feel natural. Begin with setting aside time each day to breathe from the diaphragm. When you do this, you should concentrate on taking the breath from your core – the area of the belly button. Rather than thinking about filling up your lungs with oxygen when you take a breath, you should instead concentrate on filling the space of your stomach with air before exhaling. Increase the repetitions of deep breathing every day. After a while, you will begin to recognize when your body enters shallow breathing patterns and be able to take corrective actions with proper deep breathing.
Deep breathing facilitates the productivity of exercise. Working muscles require oxygen, and shallow breathing will not provide the oxygen needed to perform most physical tasks. Once you have mastered techniques of better breathing, you may find it easier to incorporate some type of physical routine. The Mayo Clinic reports that exercise may be the key to both reducing stress and overthinking.
“Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins,” states a report on the clinic’s website. “Although this function is often referred to as a runner’s high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike also can contribute to this same feeling.”
The physical reaction of exercise leads to deeper breathing patterns. It also improves sleep, which facilitates the ability to have increased focus throughout your waking hours. Exercise is a tool that directly combats many of the most dangerous stressors, including insomnia, shallow breathing, rapid heart rate and lack of concentration. Even if a full schedule only provides very brief windows for an exercise routine, the benefits you receive in turn are far from brief.
Movement With Purpose
While a regular exercise routine can bring motivation for other physical and mental activities, it is not always desirable or possible for everyone. Even the thought of exercise can be daunting for some, while others are inhibited by physical limitations. Army veteran and Wing Chun kung-fu instructor Matthew Hone teaches people of all ages and limitations the benefits of simple movements.
“Moving in specific patterns, without doing anything that would cause muscle strain or exhaustion, has been proven effective in minimizing overthinking that leads to anxiety,” said Hone. “My students have had life-changing results.”
Hone says that concentrating on a series of movements that are easy to learn, and combining these movements with deep breathing techniques, has positive effects for both the mind and the body. If kung fu doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there is no need to worry.
“Tai Chi is actually one of the oldest types of Chinese kung fu that is now utilized in the Western World specifically for relaxation and health benefits for people of all ages. Actually, because it is relaxing and non-aggressive, it tends to be attractive to people who are older and have physical limitations.”
The movements are slow and straightforward so the practitioners can learn at their own pace without becoming frustrated. Because the actions are done in a set pattern, a person needs to concentrate just enough to perform the movement. Once this is becomes a regular routine, moving throughout your daily life in a more relaxed manner becomes easier and preferable.
“We teach minimalization, so eventually practitioners find that any unnecessary movement or unnecessary thought is inhibitive,” said Hone. “You can get the same results from other activities like Yoga, or even walking or swimming slowly in a specific way.”
The most important aspect of this philosophy is keeping a set pattern to these movements because the specificity of these movements is what keeps you from focusing on other thoughts that may bring stress.
Although proper breathing, exercising and focusing on movement are proven to reduce anxiety due to overthinking, not every solution involves something physical. Mindfulness meditation is becoming increasingly popular in treating everything from stress to addiction. This type of meditation has recently been used to treat military veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on only the current moment, whether that be concentrating on breathing or watching something in nature. Whatever the method, the purpose is to stop unnecessary thoughts and keep your mind in the present.
According to a March 24, 2018, article in the Washington Post, scientific studies have not yet determined why mindfulness meditation actually works. Both psychologists and doctors, however, do know that it is an effective way of controlling stress and preventing anxiety. Whatever the reason may be, it is currently being used as a treatment endorsed by medical professionals worldwide.
“Some of the most impressive studies to date involve a treatment called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which combines meditation with psychotherapy to help patients deal with thoughts that lead to depression,” writes Washington Post reporter Bruce Lieberman. “Randomized controlled trials have shown that the approach significantly reduces the risk of depression relapse in individuals who have previously had three or more major depressive episodes.”
Another intangible method to manage overthinking and reduce anxiety is developing a spiritual aspect to your lifestyle. Managing stress in this manner isn’t solely for the clergy, religious leaders, and disciplined church-goers. Even the Mayo Clinic endorses a spiritual approach to treating anxiety, as much as exercise. Spirituality doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go out and pick a religion or begin a prayer routine; it can just mean developing a connection to something outside of yourself.
“Spirituality has many definitions, but at its core spirituality helps to give your life context,” states an April 23, 2016, Mayo Clinic report on stress. “It’s not necessarily connected to a specific belief system or even religious worship. Instead, it arises from your connection with yourself and with others, the development of your personal value system, and your search for meaning in life.”
Again, if a religious lifestyle seems uncomfortable for you, the Mayo Clinic states there is no reason to be discouraged. Spirituality can also be found in nature, art, community service work, parenting, mentoring or other creative projects. The most crucial aspect in developing a spiritual component to your life for the purposes of stress relief is to connect with something outside of yourself.
Many studies have been conducted on the benefits of travel. It takes you out of your current environment and forces you to live in the moment and focus more on your current environment. The mundane routines that allow you to overthink are absent in new situations. Even if you don’t have the means or the time to take a trip, focus more on the unique experience aspect of traveling. Eating new types of food at a restaurant you have never visited can have the same beneficial effects.
When you put yourself in new situations, your mind tends to shift to a more information-gathering mode. Even watching a new movie or reading different genres of books can have this effect. Try something new. You can also compound the benefits by trying an activity that has already been proven effective in reducing anxiety. Take that new Tai Chi or yoga class that is on offer once a week, or begin a new meditation or spiritual routine. There are a ton of things you can try!
Let It Work For You
While many solutions have been presented to allow you to reduce anxiety as a result of overthinking, none have been shown to eliminate it. Overthinking, along with other factors that lead to mental and physical stress, will always be present. What these solutions allow you to do is to turn a negative habit into a positive one. The hope is – instead of allowing overthinking and anxiety to have an adverse effect on your life – you can recognize it and turn it into something positive.
If exercise is your go-to for eliminating the anxiety that comes with overthinking a problem or situation, take pride in the fact that you are getting in better shape and maintaining your health. If spirituality is what works for you, think about how having this flaw has led you to develop deeper connections with something outside of yourself or even your own creative process. When you start eliminating the word “harmful” from the definition of overthinking, it can turn into something positive that provides nothing but benefits to both your health and your relationship with the environment around you.
So if you’re overthinking and think that you can’t help it, those are some ways you need to try today. They won’t just get your mind off things, but they’ll also be lots of fun. Since overthinking can cause anxiety in many people, it is vital that you clear your mind every now and again. Just remember to keep yourself busy and enjoy what you do!