Anxiety is the experience of feeling fear or worry. It is a signal from our body and our mind that something is out of balance or just not right.
Anxiety can show up in our bodies and lives in a variety of ways, including with heart palpitations, pain, stomach upset, difficulty sleeping and headaches. In terms of behavior, it can manifest as worry, restlessness, depression, anger, difficulty with focus, irritability and impaired memory.
On one end of the spectrum, it is an annoyance and on the other it can be completely debilitating, causing panic “attacks” and interfering with our ability to function and live a normal life.
So how do we approach our anxiety?
First things first – recognize it for what it is. We can use anxiety as a signal to exam what needs extra attention in our life or recognize it as a cue that the impact of a traumatic event from the past has not been processed.
When we look at it as an opportunity to make a course correction, use it to gain momentum and do the thing that we have been putting off, the potential avenues for healing can reveal themselves to us.
Most often, if we are able to transfer our awareness from the racing and repetitive thoughts in our mind- we are able to hear and follow our inner wisdom that is calling us back to balance. Sometimes the sensations are too overwhelming and the perspective and support of a skilled and compassionate friend or guide are needed to help us make the adjustments that our bodies are calling out for.
Here are 10 strategies regain calm and find peace.
Spend more time in nature.
Conventional wisdom and personal experience teaches us that spending time in nature is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing. Multiple studies have confirmed that spending at least 30 -120 minutes (I would err on the side of 120) per week in nature results in a measurable decrease in the experience of anxiety and depression.
I am incredibly fortunate to live close to natural hot springs, floating in spring water – soaking up the heat of the volcanic flow that runs under the mountains is my ultimate form of anxiety and stress release.
Emotional freedom technique (EFT) and other emotional release techniques.
I was taught this technique years ago but didn’t appreciate it until I found myself in one of the most emotionally overwhelming situations of my life – looking at a loved one on a life support machine.
I instinctively used it in that moment and it helped – immensely. Ever since, EFT has been a “go-to” tool for me. It can be done alone or with the support of a facilitator. If you’d like to learn more about it, check out my previous blog post.
Prolonged exhalation engages the portion of the Vagus nerve that triggers the parasympathetic pathway allowing for our nervous system to run in the rest, relaxation and healing mode.
A simple breathing practice is to inhale for 5 seconds, pause for 2 seconds with full lungs, and then exhale for 7 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
There are a number of traditional breathing practices, in particular in the tradition of yoga. Why not try a class some time and see if a particular practice or tradition feels right in your particular body.
When we commit to the practice of writing down even 1 -2 two things per day that we are grateful – our busy, brilliant mind accepts an important mission. Some of the valuable mental energy that was previously spent on worry and anxiety is now dedicated to consciously and subconsciously scanning our environment for things to appreciate (we are creative beings and when we give our mind a task – it delivers).
I was dealing with anxiety when I started this practice and I remember the first few days I wrote things like “I am grateful for my cat and indoor plumbing”. At the time, I judged these things as uninspired but I quickly learned that it didn’t matter – it was a place to start and soon my lists of gratitude came quickly – they felt easy and inspired.
Being seen and heard – connecting with another caring human.
This one can feel tricky for people whose main source of anxiety is social anxiety – the mere thought of calling or meeting up with another person can send anxiety through the roof.
In that situation, remember it’s okay to start where you are and go slowly. If they only connection you can handle today is to talk to the friendly neighborhood dog and the anonymous virtual friend in the anxiety online support group – do it, every step counts. If you are comfortable connecting in a deeper way – reach out, plan that walk in the park with your friend, it’s good for both of you.
Eating mindfully and choosing foods that facilitate balance in our bodies.
We were designed to eat foods the way nature delivers them. Today, processed foods have become overrepresented in our predominate modern culture and can wreak havoc on our systems- causing blood sugars and hormone levels to spike and then crash- this can exacerbate underlying feeling of anxiety and depression.
Foods closer to their natural form retain the fiber that regulates our digestion and keep our blood sugars stable. Other such as dark chocolate, avocados and nuts are high in magnesium; which helps our muscles transition to a state of contraction to a state of relaxation. Other foods contain calm enhancing amino acids such as the tryptophan, which is found in turkey.
Plant allies – investigate nature’s pharmacy.
There are a variety of herbs, roots, fungi, vitamins and minerals that support our nervous system in adapting to anxiety provoking stimuli. Some of nature’s most potent anxiolytics include ashwagandha, hemp (CBD), valerian root, passion flower, kava, rhodiola, lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, polygala root and magnolia bark. (To learn more about these roots and herbs and how they support our bodies in decreasing anxiety please visit ligandceptor.com)
Play, do the activities that elicit laughter and joy.
It’s really difficult to worry and experience anxiety while you are laughing and it turns out that the ‘fake it ‘till you make it” works when it comes to laughter. So even if it’s just a few fleeting moments at a laughter yoga class, it’s enough to trigger feel calm and good endorphins to release into your blood stream.
Seek out the activities that made you laugh as a child, the comedian with the most infectious laugh, the people and animals that make you smile and bring you joy.
There are many forms of meditation and you may not be suited to all of them. Some people with high levels of anxiety do better with guided meditations, as it can make it easier to shift the mind from a state of worry to whatever journey your guide is leading.
However, others have experienced profound breakthroughs with meditations that are more focused on “clearing the mind” – sometimes the experience of fully being with and witnessing your mind – with all of its chatter and fears – is exactly what is needed to bring you fully into the present moment where the what ifs of the past and future dissolve.
Move your body.
Movement supports your body in releasing anxiety that your mind may not have even been aware of. There are so many ways to move, you can wring out your hands in frustration or “shake the anxiety off”.
Increasing your heart rate for at least five minutes appears to be the most effective strategy. Pick your favorite sport, lift weights, put on your favorite song and dance, go for a brisk walk before lunch or do a few pushups. Move into what feels good and maintain a regular movement practice.
I invite you to try out one or all of these methods and I wish you success on your journey from anxious to calm. Feel free to check out the Anxiety Formula from Lig & Ceptor for additional support.