I’ve been reflecting on my relationship with anxiety and how it’s changed over the last four years. I had a really rough go of it from the time I was 11 until about 24, and it’s interesting to look back at my journey and compare it to where I am now (which is a story I’m considering sharing, but it’s definitely a post for a different day).
Without getting into the nitty gritty of the struggle I went through to find these techniques, here’s what I, personally, have found to be most helpful in combatting anxiety. Some of these ideas might make you uncomfortable, and I encourage you to entertain those ideas, because in all my studying the ideas that made me uncomfortable or stretched the boundary of the reality I had created were the ideas that helped me the most! What made me so uncomfortable was how foreign they were to my way of thinking, and yet they yielded the most beneficial change. With whatever I share here on this blog, entertain the possibilities, but take what speaks to you and leave the rest. 🙂 Everyone’s story is different and what works for one might not work for the other. I’m sharing in the off-chance it will speak to someone. I’ll share some short-term fixes that provide relief when I’m feeling overly anxious as well as some philosophies about anxiety that may help you the most in the long run.
As for short-term relief, If you aren’t in an environment where you need to be awake and alert, drinking chamomile tea has proven to be one of the quickest ways to help lessen anxiety. There’s a loose leaf mix that works the best for me that contains chamomile, lavender, and lemongrass (update: just got home and checked, the company is dewdrop herbal tea co. and brand is called “The Favorite”) It tastes delicious and I’ve found it to be quite soothing. I drink it when I’ve had a stressful day at work, or on those days when I wake up with anxiety and just can’t kick it no matter what I try, and it helps me wind down tremendously so I can go to sleep .
Chamomile tea contains apigenin (source: http://www.sciencedirect.com), which seems to have a sedative effect similar to the effect some Rx anxiety medication does, except it doesn’t make your anxiety worse when it wears off like I’ve experienced in medication like Xanax. I honestly think just the ritual of preparing tea and drinking it has become associated in my brain with chilling out so now even the act of making tea is soothing so that helps too.
Yoga and meditation is one of the most effective tools I’ve found for relaxation. The great thing about yoga is that when we practice we focus on our breathing; concentrating on breathing deep through the nose (expanding the belly and the chest) and breathing out through the nose. Even just practicing this when you can’t “bust a move” (like Young MC? Anyone?) for example, when you’re driving, can go a long way toward relieving anxiety. Often when we are feeling anxious we begin taking shallow breaths or hold our breath without noticing and understandably, our brain goes “Wtf. Why aren’t we breathing? We need some oxygen please!” and we get even more anxious as a result. So one of the first things I check when I’m feeling anxious is to see how my breathing is. A lot of times, taking a few deep breaths goes a long way toward me feeling a little less panicky.
If you want to try yoga but aren’t sure where to start, feel free to leave a comment about that and I’ll see about putting together a yoga sequence that helps and posting it, or see about posting a video how-to on my tumblr page.
Yoga practice is much more than just breathing or moving, and that, too, is a post for another day.
Another thing I try to check is how I’ve taken care of myself for the day, as in, how much sleep have I had? When was the last time I drank some water? When did I last feed myself something nutritious? Have I had caffeine today? (Coffee, I learned, is NOT for me. I’m way too sensitive to that much caffeine and it does more harm than good). Did I drink alcohol recently? Honestly, sometimes when I’m feeling anxious I realize I haven’t had any water that day, or all I’ve eaten is crap, and by checking in with myself the way I would a friend, I’ve tuned in enough to see that I need to do something to remedy that, and when the symptoms of anxiety dissipate. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a hundred times most likely, but anxiety is not your enemy. I know, it sounds all wrong, because sometimes it genuinely feels like anxiety is out to kill you, but it’s really not. Anxiety is your body, mind, or spirits way of saying, “hey. I love you, but something isn’t right here, and I need your help to fix it, because it’s making me feel terrible and I can’t do it on my own.” Anxiety is trying to tell you something, more often than not. Try to tune in and see what it’s trying to tell you, and if you can’t determine what it is right away, go by process of elimination.
I like to go from the silliest option to the most logical (in an unpatronizing way) because it helps me calm myself down a little and not take it so serious, for example: “is a bear or axe murderer chasing me down right now? No?” *checks it off my mental check list* “did a cop just pull me over? Negative” *another check* “am I standing in front of my old classmates naked/only in granny panties” no, brain, and again, that was just a dream. *checks it off the list*, and so on until I feel ready to address the deeper that might be the actual cause of it, because for me at least, sometimes I’m too keyed up and I just don’t want to face it. The problem is, when you ignore and bury whatever your anxiety is trying to show you, it just keeps coming back. We’ll talk in the next post about going toe to toe with your anxiety and staring it dead in the face.
Some more things that ease my anxiety naturally:
Walks in nature, (walks with your pup are a bonus, they get so happy you can’t help but be happy and in the moment with them). Walks are super important for me because I sit at a stressful desk job all day and it overstimulates me and I don’t get to release that negative energy all day so I gotta do it in the form of a walk after work. If you’re holding onto stuff from work when you leave, go on a walk and let it go, man, we already devote way too much of our lives to that shit. Go live a little!
Taking your shoes off and standing in the grass, or just taking your shoes off and letting your feet breathe while you breathe. This is called “grounding” or “earthing” , where you re-connect with the earth and realize everything is small compared to the miracle that you’re on this amazing earth orbiting a sun and you’re alive for another day, even if you’re anxious. Earthy folks like me will tell you how beneficial it is to your well-being. Be sure to wiggle your toes and stretch your feet, they’ve been in those damn shoes all day and they deserve it.
Get moving. I’ve picked up the habit of getting up every half hour to hour at work to do lunges, push ups, jumping jacks, etc to get your stuck energy moving and flowing. Especially important if you sit at a high stress job all day because, let’s face it, we weren’t meant to sit all day and it’s wreaking havoc on us and we freakin deserve to get up and move, damnit. I like to go home after a long, stressful, crappy day and dance it out, Meredith Grey style.
I’m considering this a part 1 because it’s already way longer than I meant for it to be. I’m sorry! I hope it doesn’t give you anxiety, like it would probably give me to see all this stuff to read. Just take it in chunks if it does.
Goal for now: try to implement a new technique for dealing with anxiety. Maybe try to reorient yourself around anxiety to begin to see it as a vehicle or tool for discovery. I promise anxiety is not “bad”. It feels like it’s out to get you, but it’s not. It’s there to tell you something.
All this being said, I strongly believe we are all exactly where we should be in our journey at any given moment. As Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect the dots looking backward.So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life”
Don’t try to force yourself to be anywhere but where you are. If you want to work toward being somewhere different, then as my favorite author Pema Chodron says, “Start Where You Are”. You’re doing terrific. Truly, you are. Life gets rough and I’m so proud of you for hanging on another day.
Give yourself credit for anything you did today, even if it was opening your eyes and “nope”ing yourself straight back to bed. I’m glad you recognized what you needed today, whatever that may be. Tomorrow, maybe we try something different. Either way, as Bob Marley would say, “don’t worry, about a thing, cause every little thing, is gonna be alright” p.s. this is my dog Maggie, I took this picture yesterday after she figured out how to climb on this fallen tree. She was so proud. This is her telling us “we can do hard things!” 😉
Sending lots of love and good vibes your way. You’re important, you matter, and I believe in you. So does Maggie!