Regular exercise can reduce anxiety in both healthy individuals
and medical patients with a wide range of diseases to worry about. In fact,
when scientists from the University of Georgia reviewed 40 rigorous studies,
they found that medical patients who exercised regularly decreased their anxiety
symptoms by about 20 percent, on average.
The studies looked at activities such as
walking, jogging, cycling, and weight training. Workouts lasting longer than 30
minutes were better at calming anxiety than shorter bouts.
One form of exercise that seems to be particularly soothing
for many people is yoga. In a study from Boston
University School of Medicine, yoga worked even better than walking for improving
mood and lessening anxiety in healthy volunteers. That may be because yoga
increased a brain chemical called GABA. In people with anxiety disorders, GABA
activity tends to be reduced, and some anti-anxiety drugs are thought to work
by boosting GABA function.
Mindfulness meditation involves intentionally focusing
awareness on here-and-now experience, and noticing and accepting it without judging
it. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness can reduce anxiety and
stress. Now a brain
imaging study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital helps explain
In the study, MRI scans showed changes in certain areas of the brain after
an eight-week mindfulness meditation program. Among the changes was a decrease
in gray matter density of the amygdala, part of the brain that plays a key role
in emotional processing and the fear response.
Listening to relaxing music is another proven way to ease an
anxious mind, and it seems to work well even for people who are under considerable
stress. For example, in one study of 30 women undergoing
mastectomy for breast cancer, half were randomly chosen to listen to music
before, during, and after surgery. Women in this group had a greater post-op
decrease in anxiety compared to a no-music control group, and they also
reported less pain.
Participants who took the supplements had a greater
decrease in anxiety than those who got a placebo. But because this was the
first controlled study of chamomile for anxiety, more research is needed before
any firm conclusions can be drawn.
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