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Self Help - Lifestyle

Andrew has worked with a friend of mine and really helped drag them away from the fire and back to their old, bouncy self. Thanks Andrew!

Dave Gibson

Stress and anxiety can be affected by the lifestyle a person leads (such as lack of exercise, poor sleep, poor diet etc.), as well as psychological factors (such as feeling tense, lack of support etc.) In order to improve feelings of stress and anxiety these factors must be identified with and then changed. Changing your lifestyle includes achieving a healthy diet, good sleep, relaxation, and regular exercise. This knowledge is here to explain why these factors are important and to aid you in achieving this.

How can regular exercise affect stress and anxiety?

Regular exercise can have a very positive effect on your feelings of anxiety. Physically unfit people have less muscle tissue than physically fit people. This includes the heart muscle. Feelings of stress and anxiety are often associated with an increase in heart rate. An unfit person is more likely to feel this increase in heart rate and feel distressed by it. Physical inactivity also reduces the body’s ability to use & process oxygen. Feelings of stress and anxiety increase the amount of oxygen needed, therefore an unfit person is more likely to experience difficulty breathing when anxious, consequently increasing their breathing when anxious. This can lead to hyperventilation and panic.

Regular exercise also has psychological benefits. These include feeling less tired, having more energy, feeling less tense, and feeling more confident. Research shows that just 30 minutes of physical activity a day will improve your level of fitness.

How can a good night’s sleep affect your anxiety?

The Do's And Don't of a Good Night's Sleep:

  • Keep a regular routine. Rising early in the morning will make it easier to fall asleep at night
  • Avoid activities which stimulate the body and mind just before bedtime i.e. drinking caffeine, eating a heavy meal, or taking part in strenuous activities or exercise
  • Have a warm bath - ít relaxes the muscles & warms you up, both of which promote sleep
  • Make sure your bedroom ís suitable for sleep. A warm temperature, comfortable bed, and soothing colours can all promote a good nights sleep
  • Turn off the lights, play relaxing music, and think soothing or pleasant thoughts


  • Have an alcoholic drink; alcohol disturbs sleeping patterns, reducing REM or dream sleep
  • Keep getting up to do things or worry about not sleeping
  • Watch exciting shows on video or TV or listen to lively music
  • Nap for long periods during the day

How does a poor diet affect your anxiety?

A good diet arms the body with the resources it needs to cope with the increased demands which feelings of stress and anxiety place upon it. Eating plenty of whole grains, pasta, rice, and potatoes, as well as lots of fibre, rich fresh fruits and vegetables is recommended. Meat, fish, and poultry should be eaten in moderation, as should dairy products. Fats such as butter and oil should be used sparingly.

A diet with these elements supplies most people with all the vitamins and minerals they need as well as enough energy to deal with life’s challenges. The following dietry ingredients are not advised for a diet promoting psychological well-being:

Sugar produces a surge in energy levels followed by a rapid drop. This rapid rise and fall in energy levels can result in feelings of hunger, weakness, and depression. Try to avoid excess sugar: replace sweet foods with fresh fruit and vegetables, and reduce the amount of sugar in drinks and cooking.

Caffeine in coffee, tea and cola can also increase feelings of anxiety. While a little caffeine can boost mood and energy, too much may cause palpitations, raise blood pressure, increase insomnia, and trigger anxiety attacks. Try to reduce the amount of caffeine in your diet. Switch to decaffeinated coffee, fruit juice, or water.

Nicotine Many smokers believe that smoking helps them to relax. Often this is because smoking forces you to deep breath & therefore helps reduce the risk of hyperventilating. In actual fact nicotine is a strong stimulant which can produce high levels of arousal and increase feelings of anxiety.

How can relaxation affect your anxiety?

Relaxation ís anything that lowers your level of arousal & reduces feelings of your stress and anxiety. There are many ways to relax. Pleasant activities such as going for a walk, gardening, taking a bath, enjoying the company of friends are all relaxing activities.

You can also learn to reduce your feelings of anxiety through techniques such as deep breathing. When you are tense your breathing becomes shallow. A simple and effective method of reducing tension is to breathe deeply and evenly. To practice deep breathing place your hands in the area just above your navel. Inhale so that your stomach rises and your hands are pushed out. Exhale and let your stomach deflate beneath your hands. Repeat.

The more relaxation you do the better you will feel. You need to set aside at least half an hour per day to get the beneficial effects of relaxation. The most important things you can do to help manage your anxiety are;

  • Face your fears.
  • Give yourself permission to feel anxious.
  • Recognise that you are feeling stressed & anxious.
  • Become aware of your body’s symptoms.
  • Don’t let these symptoms scare you, let them talk to you.
  • Seek support from your family and friends.

With all of the above tips put into practice, you will feel the benefits of practicing a lifestyle promoting low levels of stress and anxiety as opposed to worsening the affects of stress.

Further Reading


This is the official site of the NHS Direct service.

A general internet health site.

A good British health site with a comprehensive range of information.

Trauma Centre Site, excellent, informative and numerous links. A good first port of call.

Find online support, self-help resources, self-help groups, resources and information from Mental Health Matters!

Chat rooms, forums, email contact.

A complete and downloadable book, "Psychological Self Help" by Dr C. Tucker-Ladd (clinical psychologist).