By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 28 January 2015)
There are a number of lifestyle and environmental changes you can make that may reduce your overall stress levels. Experiment to see which ones work best for you.
For many people, there is a link between clutter and stress. Living in a chaotic, messy environment can trigger anxiety, and creating a cluttered environment may also be a sign of anxiety. In the extreme, a packed, cluttered home can signify hoarding, an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, many people accumulate too much stuff for one reason or another without meeting the diagnostic criteria for OCD.
If the problem is obsessive collecting and/or fear of throwing anything away, cognitive-behavioural therapy can be beneficial. If it’s simply a matter of finding the motivation to sort things out, think about the negative ways that clutter may influence your mood, anxiety levels, and ability to concentrate. Then do a ruthless purge of your belongings – the fewer objects you have to worry about sorting, organizing, and finding places for, the better. If you can’t quite bring yourself to get rid of things that you will probably never need, maintain a transition box (or boxes) where you can store probable discards. If you haven’t used these things within a year, get rid of them. Take this as a good opportunity to determine what’s really important to you. Set yourself a goal, such as donating a certain number of garbage bags full of stuff to charity or paring your belongings down to a set number of items (in each room or altogether). You’ll probably be surprised at how liberating it feels to shed excess baggage.
Design and Decorate for Calm
Is your home a calming space, or does it contribute to your anxieties? Research suggests that cool colours such as blues and greens reduce stress and irritability and make people feel more at ease (Odom & Sholtz, 2009; van Hagen et al., 2008). Natural greens, in particular, are inclined to evoke positive emotions (Kaya & Epps, 2004). See Colour Psychology for more on how colour affects mood and concentration. Other decorative factors may also play a role in maintaining or reducing anxiety. For example, if you like to have art or photos on your walls, consider adding nature scenes, which have a calming effect.
Organize and Simplify Your Life
Disorganization and trying to do too much can lead to excessive stress. Look at all the things you have to do in a day – is every item on your list really necessary? Divide your list into “must do” and “if time permits.” Eliminate anything not strictly necessary (or choose just one “if time permits” item to do each day).You can also look at your list to see if there are tasks that could be combined or delegated to others to save time, or if there is anything you could be doing more efficiently. If you are taking on too much, work on your assertiveness. It’s okay to say “no” when you feel overwhelmed – you can’t please everyone all the time, so there’s no point in attempting to do so.
Connect with the Natural World
Nature has a soothing effect for most people. Research has shown that spending time in natural environments reduces the risk of suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health issues, as well as various diseases and digestive problems (Maas et al., 2009, cited by the National Environmental Education Foundation, 2010). According to Barton (2009), studies have shown that spending time in green spaces reduces stress, aggression, and violence, and provides a sense of tranquility. Furthermore, research indicates that just viewing natural scenes through a window can reduce anxiety and blood pressure. There is evidence that nature can heal not only the mind by also the body. A Texas A&M study undertaken by Roger Ulrich found that surgery patients who had a view of trees suffered fewer post-surgical complications, had less need of pain killers, and were able to leave the hospital sooner than patients with a view of a brick wall.
There are plenty of ways to connect with nature on a more regular basis:
- Go for daily walks through a park or by an ocean or lake.
- Work on your own garden if you have one or participate in community gardening (or at least set up some flowerboxes on your windowsills).
- Take up outdoor athletic pursuits such as hiking, trail running, or outdoor swimming, or participate in an outdoor Pilates, yoga, or aerobics program.
- If you’re artistic, go outdoors to paint, draw, sculpt, or any other creative activity that you can transport.
- Meditate in a park, at a beach, or in the woods.
- If you have time to read and weather permits, take your book outside.
- Meet with friends at a park or other natural outdoor space rather than in a pub or in front of a television set.
Change Your Eating Habits
Some eating habits increase anxiety and trigger panic attacks, whereas others reduce these problems. Caffeine and sugar (particularly on an empty stomach) are common panic attack triggers. Alcohol may calm you down in the short run, but will likely trigger more severe rebound anxiety later on. Skipping meals is also a bad idea, as it can cause your blood sugar to drop, which can trigger panic attacks in susceptible people.The best diet for anxiety reduction is rich in lean proteins, complex carbohydrates (whole grains, brown bread and rice, etc.), and fresh produce. Certain vitamin supplements such as vitamin B and magnesium may help as well.
Get More Exercise
According to Painter (2011), a review of studies has shown that exercise provides anti-anxiety and anti-depressive benefits that are similar to medication, but without the nasty side effects. For more information on the benefits of exercise for anxiety, see Exercise as a Treatment for Anxiety and Panic Disorder.For a full list of natural anxiety and panic disorder treatments, see the main Panic and Anxiety Remedies page.
- Barton, S., & Pineo, R., University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. (2009, January 31). “Human Benefits of Green Spaces.” Ag.UDel.edu.
- Bourne, Edmund J., PhD. (2005). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
- Dryden-Edwards, R., MD (Author), Conrad Stoppler, M., MD (Editor). (25 March 2010). “Panic Attacks.” EMedicineHealth.com.
- Kaya, N., & Epps, H.H. (2004). “Relationship Between Colour and Emotion: A Study of College Students.” College Student Journal, 38. Jgroshek.com.
- Maertz, K. (2014). “Panic/Anxiety Attacks.” University of Alberta, UWell.UAlberta.ca.
- National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). (2010). Fact Sheet: Children’s Health and Nature. Washington, DC: NEEF.
- Odom, A.S., & Sholtz, S.S. (2009). “The Reds, Whites, and Blues of Emotion: Examining Color Hue Effects on Mood Tones.” Missouri Western State University Department of Psychology. Clearinghouse.MissouriWestern.edu.
- Painter, K. (2010, April 26). “Exercise Helps Fight Anxiety, Depression.” USA Today, USAToday.com.
- Smith, M., MA; Segal, R., MA; & Segal, J., PhD. (January 2012). “Therapy for Anxiety Disorders.” HelpGuide.org. http://www.helpguide.org/mental/anxiety_therapy.htm
- Van Hagen, M.; Peters, J.; Galetzka, M., Pruyn, A.T.H. (2008). “The Influence of Colour and Light on the Experience and Satisfaction with a Dutch Railway Station.” Contribution to the European Transport Conference 6-8 October 2008 Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands.
- Wolever, R., Dr. (2009, 13 October). “Anxiety Disorders: Clearing out the Clutter.” EverydayHealth.com.