A year ago I never knew what anxiety was. I knew the definition of anxiety, but had personally never experienced it and therefore couldn’t truly empathise with anyone who had it. I remember once saying to someone (suffering), “just relaaaax”. Uh now I want to punch myself for saying that. A few months ago I had my first real experience with anxiety, and to me, having never had anxiety before, it hit me like a freight train. Wow, firstly, I just want to say to anyone who falls anywhere on the spectrum of anxiety – I’m so sorry for not understanding. I apologise from myself (and on behalf of everyone who doesn’t know the feeling), I had absolutely no idea how impossibly inescapable anxiety feels… All. Of. The. Time. It’s relentless. Exhausting. I get it.
I’ve spent months recognising and tackling anxiety head-on (you may recall my recent post about not drinking for three-months) and feel extremely lucky to be feeling like my former self again. Here are a few tips and tactics that have helped me along the way. Take what you like and leave what you don’t;
- Write it down. This is an easy one that can have a huge positive impact. Get worries and concerns out of your head and onto paper (or into Iphone notes). Work, family, money, relationships, friend issues, health concerns… or even trivial things that seem like ‘small stuff’ but keep popping up in your head – anything that has your mind ticking over is ‘sitting’ there in your thoughts. There’s something about, firstly, getting it out (which can sometimes be a positive, acknowledging step in itself) and then secondly about having a reference list that sits separately to your body & mind. Out of you and on a list. I’ve set a daily reminder in my calander/alarm to get anything out of my head and onto the list. Really helpful.
- Watch the grog. There’s research linking Alcohol to anxiety and depression (you may experience this first-hand on mornings after a big night, when you’ve got that anxious haze ‘about last night’, but the impact of drinking can last much longer.) So when you’re experiencing days or weeks of heightened anxiety, try staying off the alcohol for a little bit to help ensure you’ve got full, untainted clarity & control on what’s happening in your head. For me, three months off grog helped me make huge head-way into recovering from anxiety. It’s really interesting because now I have a wine here and there at a dinner, and I can actually tell the difference for the next few days (relative to anxiety I mean). So just keep an eye on this one.
- Acupuncture anxiety away. A few months ago I was going through a few weeks of heightened anxiety. I saw a local Chinese doctor (who had previously treated me for a sore knee) and he popped some fine needles in to areas on my body that relate to anxiety and tension (importantly, he wasn’t treating parts of my body that held tension, but rather the points he was administering needles to relate to overall anxiety levels in the body). I had sessions twice a week for a month and could literally feel the anxiety leaving my body. Now I just go for maintenance once a month … sounds like a car service but hey, it’s worked for me.
- Move it. Research on anxiety, depression & exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can help improve mood & reduce anxiety . This particular point has two different angles because, firstly, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to anxiety… One of the most frequently cited reasons for anxiety is unused energy. CalmClinic notes that “your body was made to move, and unfortunately when it doesn’t move it creates tension.” Then, secondly, actually doing exercise reduces the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol… and stimulates endorphins. I’ve been trying to ensure I do at least 30 minutes of active exercise every single day. Walk, yoga, pushups, skipping rope – whatever. It gets me out of my head and into my body.
- Breathe out more than in. In heightened moments of anxiety and tension (or if you’re just trying to sleep or start the day slowly in the shower), breathe four slow breaths into the belly (not the high-chest/lungs, but the belly so your stomach actually moves) then hold the breath for seven slow counts. Then release for 7 slow counts (breathe out every ounce of breath) – take a 2 second moment at the end of the exhale where you do nothing except acknowledge the space between breaths… and then repeat the process, i.e. breathe four slow breaths into the belly. I asked my Chinese doctor about why this works and it’s because the exhale sends a signal to your head to switch on your parasympathetic nervous system and wind down the sympathetic nervous system (these systems own that ‘fight or flight mode, so balancing them naturally impacts anxiety which is an expression of that sensation).
- Visualise ‘Eliminating’ tension and anxiety from your body when you… release. This one’s a bit left field. You’ve got to work with me here. It’s about visualisation and it’s a bit… well it’s a bit gross. Ever since high-school I’ve practiced this deep breathing cleansing technique where you imagine/visualise breathing IN pure/clear/white air and then visualise breathing OUT grey or black air on the exhale (I vaguely remember learning this practice in a session where Jim Stynes & The Reach Foundation came to our school in year-8 – it was such an impactful experience I remember it vividly to this day). This is best done with eyes closed, at a focussed time like lying down at bed time. You can leave it there if you like. Just visualise clear/white in and grey/black out (thinking of the grey/black as tension and anxiety). Now, somewhere in the last 15 years I decided it would be a good idea to dial this concept up a notch, and visualise anxiety leaving my body whenever anything leaves my body (not just breath). Yes, I’m talking number ones and twos, and even down to the likes of saliva/mucus from spitting. Any moment when your body is excreting or ‘eliminating’ just picture that sh*t as anxiety leaving your body, being expelled, disposed, flushed. Gone. I have no research or evidence… but if you think about it, just coming into awareness of ‘release’ a few times a day in the bathroom is an easy check-in with mindfulness. That’s all I’ve got to say about that. Let’s never speak of it again.
- Legs up the wall pose. Anxious? Lie down with your legs up the wall like this. This reduces my anxiety at least 20% every time I use it.
Hopefully there’s one or some things you can take from the above, like I said take what you like and leave what you don’t, everyone is different and everyone’s anxiety is different. Perhaps you have some tactics you use that you could let me know about to include in a follow-up post?
Depending on how this blog is received, I’ll be creating another which discusses mindfulness and anxiety – Self-talk, Meditation (for beginners), Vedic Meditation, Yoga, Tibetan Singing Bowls, nature walking, chanting, clean eating and… and chamomile tea – hundreds and hundreds of cups of chamomile tea – hey, whatever it takes right?
Please note the above blog is my personal opinion only, nothing within should be taken as medical advice. Please visit Beyond Blue for professional advice on knowing your anxiety.