Ten surprising and low-effort ways to feel less anxious

Health correspondent

From eating more yogurt to switching your phone off: we reveal ten tried-and-tested ways to beat anxiety in everyday life.



1. Go for a walk in the park

Even better, get out into the countryside. We all know a stroll in the fresh air can do us the world of good. But crucially, it's natural –  rather than urban – surroundings that make the biggest difference, according to a new study from Stanford University in the US . Researchers found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a rural  area, as opposed to a high-traffic city setting, showed decreased activity in the area of the brain associated with a key factor in depression. 

Discover ten healthy reasons why you should spend more time outdoors

2. Don't always try to sleep it off

There's no denying the healing power of a good night's sleep – but if you're trying to forget a traumatic experience, going to bed may not hold  the answer. In fact, a short period of sleep deprivation can help quash intrusive thoughts, suggests a new study from Oxford University. Having watched a disturbing film,  study participants were either kept awake or allowed to go home to bed. Afterwards, the sleep-deprived group experienced fewer upsetting  thoughts than those who'd slept normally.

Find out more about sleep here 

3. Eat more yogurt

Fermented foods such as probiotic yogurts may play a part in easing symptoms of social anxiety. Yes, really. Researchers at the College of  William & Mary in the US found that people who ate more of these foods displayed fewer signs of the condition. 'It's likely the probiotics in the fermented foods are  favourably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety,' explains Professor Matthew Hilimire, who co-led the study.

Learn more about the health benefits of probiotics

4. Don't be a couch potato

Prolonged periods of sitting are linked to an increased risk of anxiety, says a new study review from Deakin University in Australia. The researchers' advice? Even if you're spending a hard-earned evening in front of the TV, make sure you stand up and move  around for a few minutes every hour, or during the ad breaks.

Two minutes an hour to better health

5. Do a good deed

Actually, maybe this one's not that surprising. Being nice to others can help socially anxious people to relax and mingle more easily,  according to new research from Canada's Simon Fraser University. 'Acts of kindness may help to counter negative social expectations by promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of a person's social environment,' explains the study's co-author Jennifer Trew.

6. Switch your diet

A Mediterranean-style diet - packed with fruit, vegetables, oily fish, nuts and seeds, plus a moderate amount of red wine - can boost quality  of life for people with depression and anxiety. That's according to a recent study from the University of South Australia. The researchers  believe the effect may be due to the brain-boosting powers of omega-3 fatty acids.

7. Don't be permanently 'on call'

In the age of smartphones and personal computers, most of us are now potentially contactable all the time. But people who feel the need to  check their phones constantly are more likely to suffer anxiety, say researchers at Kent State University in the US. The solution? Turn your phone to 'silent' when you're  out and about, and learn to resist the need to respond immediately to anything that isn't an emergency.

8. Quit smoking

About to reach for a cigarette to 'calm your nerves'? Stop! Smokers are around 70 per cent more likely to suffer depression and anxiety,  according to a recent study from University College London. However, anxiety levels reported by long-term ex-smokers are around the same as those among people who have never smoked. 'Quitting  smoking could be the key to improving not only your physical health, but your mental health, too,' concludes the study's lead author Professor  Robert West.

Get help with giving up smoking

9. Give acupuncture a go

Didn't know acupuncture could help treat anxiety? You're not alone. Nearly two-thirds of anxiety sufferers weren't aware of the benefits,  according to 2013 research from the British Acupuncture Council and Anxiety UK. It's believed to work by acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to stress  and pain, as well as encouraging relaxation. Find an acupuncturist at www.acupuncture.org.uk.

10. Take care of Rover or Tiddles

Pet ownership can have a hugely positive effect on your mental health. Nearly nine out of 10 cat-owners say their puss boosts their wellbeing,  for example, while 76 per cent say everyday life is easier thanks to their pets, according to research by the Mental Health Foundation and Cats Protection. 'Looking after a pet can bring structure  to your day, reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness and act as a link to other people,' says Dr Eva Chylarova, the Mental Health  Foundation's head of research.

Find out more about caring for pets 

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