10 ways to ease anxiety
I was born a worrier – I’ve spent most of my life slightly concerned about what’s coming next. I realised my worry was more than a quirk when I started to experience physical side-affects in my late teens – racing heart, dry mouth, stressed muscles. However, it wasn’t until I started practising yoga (at the age of 21) that I realised how deep and all-consuming anxiety actually was/is. In class I was encouraged to stop. So I stopped. I was encouraged to be here now. So I ceased thinking of everything outside and allowed myself to come inward and be still. And listen. And just like that I came into my body; aware of its tension and resistance. Aware of my racing thoughts and nervous tendencies. It was a practise that forever changed the way I view and deal with my anxiety.
Like any illness, anxiety comes in many forms and is experienced to different extents. It’s prevalent in our society, more specifically in our motherhood collective. I don’t write this as an expert or as a medical professional, nor as someone who has experienced clinical anxiety. But I have found that over the years there are a few things I do that can ease the severity of it; things I’ve learnt from personal experience and shared with my yoga students, friends and now you.
1. Stop ignoring it – it won’t go away by itself. I tried to ignore my anxiety for a while there, pushed it down, turned the other way. Trouble is that kind of behaviour just makes it worse. When you admit that you’re feeling anxious you’re taking responsibility for it – the load lightens a little.
2. Don’t be ashamed – ever. Anxiety is never a fault. Be gentle on yourself.
3. Talk about it. A problem shared is a problem halved. Talk to your partner, talk your family members or your friends. If you feel like you need to speak to a neutral party or require professional help, go to your GP and request a referral to a counsellor or a psychologist. It’s quite empowering to speak to someone that brings no judgement (none whatsoever) to the conversation.
4. Identify the causes of your anxiety. What triggers it? What makes you feel overwhelmed? Write a list – sometimes it’s not so daunting when it’s on paper. And then? What can you change to ease the stress? What can you shift so you can be comfortable? These are all good questions but remember, the answers won’t come immediately and you can’t fix everything at once. Baby steps, baby steps.
5. Prioritise sleep. When you’re anxious your nervous system is in overdrive…and your nervous system is aggravated when you’re tired. However, anxiety can prevent you from getting a good, restful sleep. Yes, it can quickly become a vicious circle. The best thing you can do to ensure beneficial sleep is to establish a bedtime routine, complete with no technology an hour before bed, a bath, chamomile tea, lights off by 10pm. Once you’re lying down mentally travel around your body and contract and then release any areas that are tense. Let out a few sighs for good measure.
6. Connect with your breath. If you catch yourself in a stressful moment you’ll probably be breathing short, shallow breaths – definitely not conducive to calm. When you connect with your breath you’re encouraging mindfulness…and when you’re mindful of your thoughts you’ll find that you can catch them before they spiral into overwhelm. Practise by mentally repeating “let” as you inhale and “go” as you exhale.
7. Shift the way you think. Positive thinking it not a cliche – it’s a useful tool for mental wellbeing. So too is recognising that you might be feeling sad, angry, frustrated, jealous – and knowing that it’s ok. We can’t always be happy and joyous! Being aware of how you’re feeling is quite enlightening, as is practising gratitude. We live in a world of wanting; it’s really easy to dismiss what we already have. Look around you, look at what you have, be grateful for it – say it aloud!
8. Go outside and walk. Walk on your street, walk on the sand, walk beside trees. There is a lot to be said for getting into nature and getting distracted by the sky (and getting away from the often confronting and anxiety-inducing online world).
9. Be mindful of what you eat. Sugar and caffeine are known to exacerbate anxiety so steer clear of them if you can. But did you know that there are foods that help quell worry – like chicken soup (for the soul), foods high in healthy, natural fat (avocados, olive oil, coconut oil), plenty of water and nettle tea (love it!). Eat slowly with awareness – enjoy the opportunity to slow, chew and digest. When life is overwhelming and the witching hour is imminent drink a glass of water, look out the window and breathe (it’s little practices like this that can really make a difference to your day).
10. Simplify. Gosh I harp on about it but simplifying my life has been the biggest step in easing my anxiety. I started with the physical clutter in my home and then moved on to things like bills (I rang every company we deal with and organised a regular payment plan so I was never hit with a big bill). Then I started writing down a list whenever I wanted to buy something (I’d return to the list a week later and realise the wanting was quite fleeting). I simplified my work life by keeping a clear list and working on it daily – a little bit at a time, slowly but surely it all gets done. By simplifying I’ve been sensible – recognising my limits, understanding my priorities, reminding myself of what really matters.
For immediate help visit beyond blue or call them on 1300 22 4636
For pre and post-natal depression and anxiety visit PANDA
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use meditation (that doesn’t require any prior experience) I highly recommend Smiling Mind – for you and your children.
If you have anything you want to add to this list, please do! I look forward to reading your comments.