Anxiety is the worst. If you have anxiety, you know what I’m talking about. Yet, sometimes I see clients who have anxiety and don’t know that they are smack in the middle of a full-fledged panic attack. What gives?
Anxiety lies. It is common to blindly accept the underlying beliefs of anxiety without conscious questioning. Anxiety makes it hard to discern what is what. For example, I am nervous about the stability of my job and working extra hours to avoid being fired. Do I need to do this, or is it the monster of anxiety guiding my actions? Maybe my friend, who was acting super distant at lunch, doesn’t like me. Or was she just having a bad day? Anxiety makes it hard to access our intuition. It takes a situation with a kernel of truth in it, and twists it into the worst-case scenario. We get caught up in the story and don’t realize what is actually happening. We need a reality check as life becomes less and less joyful and more heavy and tedious. We become caught in the rat race and miss the real issue: Anxiety Is Ruling Our Life.
Being human means we have to face some levels of stress. The gift of consciousness increases our ability to stress out over future and imaginary things. Have you ever wistfully looked at your cat or dog curled up in the sunshine, their body completely relaxed and thought, “You have it good, my friend. No bills to pay, food delivered to you on the regular…you’ve got it made.”
Part of being a healthy human is learning how to cope with life’s natural stressors. Many of my clients are empaths. An empath is someone who can feel, in their body, how others feel. Strong empathic abilities often increase anxiety levels, especially when surrounded by other anxious people. (I frequently see this with children and teenagers living at home with anxious parents). Being an empath can be a blessing or a curse. It is a blessing to the degree that it heightens our understanding of ourselves and the world; yet it can become a curse if we do not attend to the self-care that it requires.
Coming from an anxious family myself, I have struggled with anxiety and found what works for me. I remember my first panic attack during college. I thought I was chillin, relaxing in a movie theater when my heart started thumping super loud, off-beat and I began to sweat. I was sure I was dying. Several ‘Holter monitor’ tests later, serious heart issues were ruled out and it was concluded I was having common panic attacks. I didn’t consider myself an anxious person at all, so this diagnosis was shocking to me. (Many women have their first panic attack around their early 20’s.) Take heart, anxiety is very heal-able. With awareness and practice, you can make your anxiety much better if not completely a thing of the past.
(Note: This is a big, yet comprehensive list. Don’t get overwhelmed or feel you need to do it all at once. Take baby steps towards making healthy life choices and lifestyle adjustments. The best way to combat anxiety is with a comprehensive plan that incorporates mind, body and spirit. Here’s my rundown of what everyone struggling with anxiety should know…)
1. Cut the caffeine. No matter how you slice it or dice it, adding any caffeine to your diet is like throwing gasoline on a fire if you are struggling with even, mild anxiety. Esepcially if you are having panic attacks or depersonalization symptoms, you need to cut the caffeine. First, try to cut back before you cut out and introduce a new habit to replace the coffee ritual. Replace your daily cup with decaf. I recently spoke with a client battling some pretty intense anxiety that even if he had to eat 3 doughnuts to avoid the caffeine, he should do that for now. I could see that for his energy system the caffeine (even just ½ a cup of coffee) was totally making his daily life hell. (Extra credit if you can replace your caffeine fix with a calming tea such as chamomile catnip, passionflower, skullcap, or kava kava.)
2. Watch your diet. Sugar and flour cause our system to crash. Add these commonly known ‘mood’ foods instead: nuts, soy, milk and yogurt, dark green leafy vegetables, broth soups, legumes, citrus, wheat germ, tart cherries, and berries.
3. Breathe! The most under-rated of all meditations is10 deep belly breaths. I used to work on suicide lines and 10 breaths would always bring anyone, even mid panic attack, into a more calm and centered mental state. Habitual Shallow chest breathing is a common habit and adds to overall stress in the body. To retrain yourself to breathe deeply, put your hand on your belly, just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. I like to breathe out twice the time that I breathe in. So if I inhale for 4, I exhale for 8. (Another great practice is 4 square breathing- in for 4, hold for 4 out for 4, hold for 4.)
4. Learn about your Stinkin’ thinking. The power of the mind plays a huge role in anxiety disorders. Learn about the types of thinking that raise anxiety: black and white thinking, catastrophic thinking (worst case scenario-ing), and instead, learn to replace these types of thoughts with self-loving ones.
5. Get Regular exercise. The body makes two chemicals when we are anxious: adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline wrecks havoc on the central nervous system and can cause headaches, diarrhea, confusion, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, tearfulness, trouble sleeping, changes in eating patterns, and many other problems.When we exercise we burn off the extra adrenaline in our bodies. Studies show that at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms. (If you are really trying to downshift your adrenaline try 30 min every day and see if you get relief).
6. Support your adrenals. Adrenal Fatigue happens. Our adrenal’s work so hard for us. Love them back with some good sleep, a yoga routine, and great vitamins. It can be helpful to find a good Naturopath to help you through find supplements that support these hard-working glands (some common ones are: Licorice Plus or Ashwagandha.)
7. Be Prepared with panic attack techniques. Panic attacks can be debilitating and overwhelming. If you are struggling with them, have a plan in advance of what to do. Curling up into a ball (like child’s pose in yoga) can be comforting if you are in a panic attack, as well as rocking (in a rocking chair or just on the ground). It can also be helpful to take deep breaths while putting the palms of your hands on your cheeks. Sensory feedback helps to bring us into the moment and out of our heads.
8. Prevention. Up your Self Care. Incorporate more anxiety-reducing practices in your life: Listening to ocean waves at work, setting your iphone to remind you to breathe every 2 hours, positive affirmation mantras, hot bath with Epson salts, learning to manage your energy field, somatic practices like yoga, chi-gong, stretching your muscles, essential oils like lavender, learn some stress-reducing acupressure points, incorporate some regular massage. Instead of just reacting to anxiety, learn to be consistent with adding practices in your life that bring down your overall stress level.
9. Learn EFT. Emotional Freedom Technique can be helpful to gain body awareness of anxiety and lower anxiety on particular issues. There is tons of free info online if you are interested.
9. Proactively approach trauma. If you are dealing with more intense levels of trauma than tapping can handle, seeing a good therapist who specializes in EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) can be extremely helpful.
10. Discover Binaural beats. Binaural beats are sounds that alter brain waves and can induce relaxation. Visit amazon.com and type in “Binaural Beats” where you can sample different music tracks that have this brain wave technology embedded in the music. Some are created specifically for relaxation or sleep.
11. Get Sleep. Insomnia is common when dealing with anxiety. I recommend A.M. and P.M. Yoga with Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden for a short routine that can calm you down for sleep. Ask a naturopath if melatonin could also be helpful.
12. Educate yourself on anxiety. Learn about the reptilian brain and check out this book: The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne. ( A comprehensive and holistic take on anxiety, you will find it in most therapists office.)
13. Supplements. Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of Food and Mood (Owl Books, 1999), in Salem, OR, recommends that women take a daily multivitamin and mineral formula that contains between 100% and 300% of the recommended dietary allowances of vitamin B, as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc.
14. Bring on the happy. What makes you happy? Plan to do more of it. Gardening? Getting out in nature? Watching funny movies. Laughing, smiling and looking forward to fun plans are part of your overall anxiety plan. A gratitude joural is a great place to keep optimistic and positive.
15. Meditate. Calming the nervous system is essential for anxiety and meditation is incredibly effective. I have a great guided one, here. I recommend a great guided meditation if you are new to meditation because starting a meditation program can be daunting at first. Keep trying until you find one that resonates with you that you enjoy listening to.
16. Cultivate Your spiritual life. It’s been said that the opposite of fear is faith. I’m not talking about faith in the religious sense, but in something greater, that I call the Divine, that has your back. Meet your soul and give it up to a higher power (no matter whatever name you call it). Creating a ‘Soul Box” is a great ritual for bedtime to move your fears from your head into a container. Just write whatever is stressing you out on a paper and put it in the box as a night time ritual to allow you to stop ruminating.
17. Watch your ‘fear’ intake. If there are anxious or toxic people in your life that are increasing your “fear” you might need to reevaluate how often you see them. Watching the news as you drift off to sleep might not be helping your overall state of calm. Watch your fear intake and cut back on things that increase stress.
28. Medication. If anxiety is not reduced by natural means than medication can be a great way to take the edge off in order to be able to do the inner work to reduce anxiety. Find a good psychiatrist to help talk about your option and who can give you a prescription. (You can definitely get anxiety meds from your primary care but it can be helpful to go to a psychiatrist that specializes in anxiety. Sometimes it takes tweaking brands and dosage to find what works for you. You can call your insurance agency to get names of doctors that specialize in prescription and medication management of anxiety.) Remember it can take up to 6 full weeks for anxiety medication to work at full potential so don’t wait until you are in a crisis if you think you might need medication. Also trying anxiety medication does not mean that you will have to do it “for the rest of your life”. You can always try it and see if it helps to get through a more anxious or crisis period, and then taper down your medication as you heal your anxiety with others tools.
Anxiety can be challenging, but take heart…with a bit of education, action and prevention–much can be done to help this common disorder.