Most of us have anxiety from time to time, but for 31 percent of Americans, it’s a persistent problem, typified by excessive worrying, restlessness, tense muscles, and fatigue. Prescription meds help, but they’re pricey, easily costing over $100 a month depending on your insurance and the type of medication. Many also come with side effects like dizziness, brain fog, and GI distress. Better to try these natural home remedies first, which cost nothing at all (assuming you’ve got a well-stocked pantry). Here are five easy, free —and science-backed! — tricks that can ease your anxiety.
Lift soup cans.
Surprising research in the journal Sports Medicine reveals that lifting weights is as good at reducing anxiety as meds or psychotherapy. That’s because building muscle boosts the production of mood-lifting chemicals in the brain — and two 20-minute sessions a week is enough to benefit, says study author Brett Gordon, M.Sc. An easy to-do: Hold a 23-ounce can of soup in each hand, curl your right hand up to your right shoulder, then bring it down. Do this 12 times, then repeat the moves with your left arm.
Try a whiff of vanilla.
The sweet aroma of the vanilla extract you have in your pantry stimulates the production of alpha brain waves, which produce a happier mood, plus dampen anxiety for up to 92 percent of people studied at Chicago’s Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. Simply take six slow, deep sniffs of vanilla extract when you feel tension.
Indulge in comfort foods.
The beneficial bacteria in your gut play a vital role in making the serotonin that curbs anxiety and increases happiness, but they need nourishment to do the job! Their favorite foods? Onions, leeks, asparagus, and sweet potatoes, which are loaded with inulin, a unique fiber that energizes. In fact, studies show that eating just a third cup of inulin-rich foods daily cuts edginess by 25 percent in six weeks!
Whether with a friend, in a choir, or even along to a favorite tune on the radio, singing cuts tension and anxiety by 55 percent in two minutes for 90 percent of women studied. Psychologist Julie Lynch, Ph.D., explains that adding your voice to a song prompts your brain to release the calming, mood-steadying hormone dopamine. Feel self-conscious about belting out tunes? Cornell University researchers say even just quietly humming along to much-loved music can make your stress levels drop by 45 percent!
Mute cell phone sounds.
A new University of Illinois study confirms what other research has suggested: The more time we spend on our cellphones, the more anxious we become. Luckily, shutting down the worry is easy, says NYU psychologist Adam Alter, Ph.D., author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (Buy on Amazon, from $11). His advice: When possible, turn off the bossy pings and keep your phone out of arm’s reach so you have to walk to get it. Also smart: Shut it off during meals and stash it out of your bedroom during sleep.
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This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Save on Healthcare (Buy on Amazon, $12.99).