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Guide to Relaxation

 Call it what you like - Stress, tension, anxiety or worry. It all comes down to you feeling bad both physically and mentally. Anxiety has become one of the most prevalent forces in modern life, with more and more people feeling overwhelmed and anxious when dealing with the many challenges and problems life puts on their path. When this happens, don't blame yourself, many are in the same boat. Read this guide and you'll find there are many ways to reduce your worries and anxiety.
Part A: Symptoms
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If you're not sure you really are disproportionately anxious, know that anxiety can manifest in three types of symptoms:

Emotional Symptoms
•    A sudden feeling of apprehension, dread or unexplained guilt.
•    Feeling worried for large periods of time without the ability to stop the worried thoughts. 
•    Intrusive thoughts about things that make you anxious even when you're in the middle of doing something else. 
•    You find uncertainty intolerable, if there is a problem, you must know about it right away. 
Behavioral symptoms
•    Finding it extremely hard to relax or enjoy a quiet time.
•    Frequently putting things off because you feel overwhelmed.
•    Avoiding situations that make you anxious.
Physical symptoms
•    Feeling like your muscles are tense, that your body aches from being held rigid.
•    Having trouble either falling or staying asleep, as your mind will not stop working. 
•    Feeling cranky, edgy or jumpy.  
•    Stomach pain, nausea, and other stomach issues often occur. 

Part B: Treating the Anxiety

Step 1: Understanding what worrying really is
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We often feel like our worries are generated from the outside. From other people, problems or situations that trigger this worried anxiety within us. But the truth is that worrying comes from within. There are triggers all around us, but it is the anxiety machine within us that spins it over and over again, making a running dialog that produces worry.

Once you realize that your worries are not really helping you plan but are just wasting valuable energy, you can start dealing with the irrationality of these worried thoughts. This may mean challenging these irrational thoughts, learning to accept uncertainty, and postponing the act of worrying.

Step 2: Physical Relaxation Techniques
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A big part of anxiety is how we physically feel when it happens. Anxiety is our body's reaction to perceived danger. It used to help us escape predators. Our hearts pound in our chests, we breathe faster, more shallow breaths, our muscles tense up and we feel light-headed. All these things are great when you're escaping an angry tiger, but in everyday life, this reaction can also be triggered by much smaller threats, like being late to work or doing something embarrassing in front of other people. 
That is why it is important to know a few techniques to physically relax your body. The most important thing is REPETITION AND REGULAR PRACTICE. Set aside 30 minutes once a day, or when you're anxious, to practice some of the following:
Progressive muscle relaxation
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Start releasing all the muscles in your body. First clench your toes, as hard as you can. Then unclench them. The move to your calves and do the same. Repeat this for every part of your body that has muscle, working your way from the toes to the legs, the middle of your body, up to your arms and hands and finally neck and head. Do it patiently, give attention to each muscle as you clench it. This will help relax your body, and with it your mind.
Deep breathing
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When we're anxious, we start breathing faster, causing hyperventilation. This, in turn, leads to symptoms such as lightheadedness, feeling out of breath, dizziness, and tingly extremities. These scare us, creating a loop of anxiety that gets higher and higher. By forcing your breath to become slower, deliberate and coming from your diaphragm, you'll be signaling to your body that it is time to relax, and you'll be surprised how effective it can be.
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Countless studies have proven beyond doubt that there are many kinds of meditation that lead to reduced anxiety. Meditation can not only reduce your physical symptoms, but, over time, help you control the flow of thoughts in your head. As you gain more control over your thoughts, you will be able to stop their persistent nagging.

Click here to read our guide to meditation at home.

Use your senses to calm yourself down quickly.
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Sight: Look at something you find beautiful, walk around somewhere pretty or look at photos  that make you feel good, such as family photos or treasured photos from your past. Animal photos have also been proven to have a calming effect on our psyche.

Sound: Listen to something relaxing. Slow music, the sounds of nature. Listen to crashing waves and the wind passing through the leaves.

Smell: Certain smells reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. A great example is lavender, which is great for relaxing both body and mind, as well as promoting healthy sleep.

Taste: Cook yourself something delicious. Slowly eat a favorite treat. Do NOT start treating anxiety with sugary sweets, because you will create a sugar spike that will only lead to more anxiety later on. Not to mention you can develop a nasty habit of calming yourself down with fattening foods. Eat something slowly, enjoy the taste and let it overwhelm everything else.

Touch: Take a hot, scented bath. Pet your dog or cat. Wrap yourself in something soft like a good blanket. Enjoy a good massage or sit outside and feel the wind caress your skin.

Step 3: Connecting with others
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Being under stress, being worried and feeling anxious is worst when you are dealing with it alone. Without any objective feedback, everything just becomes bigger and worse in our mind. A quick and honest evaluation from someone else can drastically reduce the amount of time we spend obsessing and worrying over a problem.

However, being anxious can also negatively impact your relationships with others. You may seem cranky, or you may come across as needy and weak. That is why many don't disclose their anxiety, fearing to be judged.

Build a strong support system
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Offer your trust and your help to others, and use them to lean on when your anxiety gets too bad. Have people you trust and who you find steady and calming to help you through this difficult time.
Talk about your worries
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This may sound easy, but many find it hard to talk about their deepest, darkest anxieties, because they are afraid to make them more real. The truth is usually the opposite, and when things come out and you tell someone about what's bothering you, it usually makes your problem seem much smaller and a lot less scary.
Avoid those who make you feel anxious
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Certain people may make us more worried and increase our anxiety. Remember, you probably picked up your anxiety from someone in your life, and so that person may make you more anxious if you're around them. Similarly, some people may make you feel guilt, shame or fear, and they too should have limited appearance time in your life. So considering who to turn to for that talk, remember those people that make you feel safe.

Step 4: Change your lifestyle

A huge part of our anxiety stems from improper lifestyle choices. These can be easily fixed by:

Adopting healthy eating habits

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Don't skip breakfast, and continue having small meals throughout the day. Going too long without eating may lead to low blood sugar levels, which will make you feel anxious and cranky. Eat lots of complex carbs such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. 
Limiting your caffeine and sugar intake
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Carbonated drinks, coffee, and tea can increase your anxiety and disrupt your sleep. Sugary snacks and treats will spike your blood sugar levels and then crash, leaving you feeling drained.
Similarly, avoiding alcohol and nicotine
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Alcohol may be used by many to 'drown their sorrows', but it actually increases anxiety as it leaves you. Drinking away your worries may also take you on the path to alcoholism. Cigarettes may seem like they have a calming effect, but, in fact, are stimulants, even powerful ones, and will eventually lead you to more anxiety, not less.
Getting enough sleep
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We can't stress this enough. A lack of sleep or disrupted sleep will have a terrible effect on your anxiety and will always make it worse. Also, your ability to deal with anxiety and with problems in general will decrease once you are sleep deprived, which will in turn make you feel helpless, increasing the anxiety.
Part C: When should you seek professional help?
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Knowing the difference between being worried and having a condition is hard. What start as normal worrying can become what's known as 'General Anxiety Disorder' or GAD. People who suffer from GAD cannot stop worrying, and this worry becomes a normal state for them. GAD is a well-known condition and is very common these days, especially in Western society. It can be handled with either medication or therapy.

The first and most important sign that you need to seek some help is the length of time you've been feeling anxious. If you have been having this feeling for over six months, that's a clear sign that something is wrong and that you need some actual help.

Another sign is that your worries are significantly disrupting your everyday life, job, relationship or other social activities.

So if you find that you can't stop worrying, and nothing you do will stop these obsessive thoughts and tense muscles. Please don't try to fight it alone. Never be ashamed to ask for help. It is not your fault, it's a fault in your brain chemistry that you have no control over. Do the brave thing and go seek some medical assistance.

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