One of the biggest challenges of living in our fast-paced, technologically driven, social-media laden, disconnected world, is doing so with ease. Without anxiety.
Anxiety is simply apprehension about future events.
There’s a quote, possibly falsely attributed to Lao Tzu, which says, “If you’re depressed, you’re living in the past. If you’re anxious, you’re living in the future. If you’re at peace, you’re living in the present.” Personally I think it sounds more like something Buddha would say. Regardless, I think it makes a good point.
We’re being inundated with infinite information, infinite dialogue, infinite demand and infinite expectation, constantly. It’s unhealthy and unnatural. So I’ve put together a quick list of tips and ways to help us beat back anxiety.
Harvard Medical School says the following about the effects of anxiety on our health, “Anxiety has been implicated in several chronic physical illnesses, including heart disease, chronic respiratory disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions. When people with these disorders have untreated anxiety, the disease itself is more difficult to treat, their physical symptoms often become worse, and in some cases they die sooner.”
If you’re reading this, then like me, you’re on a journey back toward health. Let us arm ourselves with a myriad of techniques to keep anxiety at bay.
If there’s only one thing that works for you from this list in pushing back your anxiety, cling to it. Tattoo it to your forehead. Use it, and use it often.
- BIOFEEDBACK (BREATHING 5 & 5)
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Biofeedback is a technique you can use to learn to control your body’s functions, such as your heart rate. With biofeedback, you’re connected to electrical sensors that help you receive information (feedback) about your body (bio).
This feedback helps you focus on making subtle changes in your body, such as relaxing certain muscles, to achieve the results you want, such as reducing pain. In essence, biofeedback gives you the power to use your thoughts to control your body, often to improve a health condition or physical performance.”
I have personally been hooked up to a heart monitor and was told to breathe in for a count of 5, and exhale for a count of 5, and to keep doing it. Within SECONDS my heart rate became completely relaxed. It was miraculous and revelatory for me.
Every time I’m feeling particularly anxious I focus on my breathing. Breathing in for a count of 5, and exhaling for a count of 5. I feel relief within seconds. Every. Single. Time.
The next time you’re feeling butterflies or discomfort try it.
If you’d like more information on Biofeedback, which covers aspects of body control beyond just breathing, Google someone local to you. It is worth your time to pursue this path.
The practice of yoga is thousands of years old and has roots founded in religious practice. There are yoga routines for every level of skill, age and fitness. Including babies. It can be a very low-impact, and relieving exercise.
I love yoga. It makes me feel grounded, and relaxed. When life is particularly anxious I turn to yoga for almost immediate relief.
It’s also an exceptional activity to do to improve your lymphatic system’s flow. You’re moving and stretching your body in ways that aid the drainage of fluids and increase circulation. It also aids in decreasing joint pain and toning muscles.
The philosophy that surrounds yoga is often zen-like, introspective and calming. All useful for combatting anxiety.
- SMILE (FIND SOMETHING TO LAUGH ABOUT)
I have read that laughter boosts your immune system for a full 24-hours. When I’m feeling my most anxious, nothing jars me out of the cyclical thinking that fosters anxiety, more than laughing.
Find a YouTube video that’s funny, or Google jokes. Anything you know will tickle your funny bone. The bigger, belly roll kind of laughter, the better.
There are a myriad of types of meditative practices out there, from shamanic journeying, to deep breathing, to progressive muscle relaxation.
Each of them is a mentally and physically beneficial use of your time. Each takes you out of your current mindset and situation and centers your mind and thoughts.
The relaxation is inherent in the quiet centered nature of meditation and has many benefits to your health.
- SELF-CARE (MANI, PEDI, MASSAGE, ETC)
Any chance you have to spend some time and resources on yourself you should take. Get a manicure, pedicure or massage. Drink a glass of wine in a hot bath. Give yourself a facial. In whatever form your self-care takes, spend the time on it. Your body is worth it, and so is your mind.
- DECREASE CAFFEINE
Caffeine gets all of our systems firing on full-throttle. Science suggests that anxiety is a function of an overactive brain. The last thing you need if you’re fighting anxiety is to be drinking liquid energy. As much as I love my coffee, there are times when I tell myself to abstain.
The same should be said about sugar drinks like sodas, or energy drinks. If you’re tired and feeling strained physically and it’s leading to feelings of anxiety it may be tempting to use caffeine or energy drinks as a Band-Aid to get you to the end of your day.
This is counterproductive thinking and while there are temporary boosts to your energy when drinking them, they quickly crash and leave you feeling worse than when you started all the while having real and long-lasting detrimental effects in your body and to your health.
Drinking cold water, breathing fresh air, eating a light snack, getting up and moving all have the same effects as those types of drinks without leaving you feeling worse later.
What does play look like for you? Tennis? Swimming? Hiking? Rolling down a grassy hill? Whatever type of play gets your smiling, do that.
- CUT FAT FROM YOUR BUDGET
There are few greater types of anxiety than financial anxiety. If you’re tormented by constant financial strife take real and legitimate steps to ease your pain. Stop spending money on overpriced lattes at the local coffee shop. Find a phone carrier that costs less. Cancel your cable or television service for a few months. Take a course on budgeting. Whatever the best course of action looks like for you, do that.
- GET RID OF CLUTTER
A cluttered desk makes a cluttered mind. Ever heard that one? It’s true. If you’re anxious because of the ever-growing piles of stuff in the corners of your home or office then dedicate a good chunk of time and get it cleaned up.
While you’re at it, create and implement systems so that those piles don’t come back. Mail goes in the inbox. Laundry goes into the basket or from the dryer onto a hanger. Whatever systems you need, create them. Or find someone who can help you do so.
- SPEND TIME IN NATURE
There is genuine and legitimate benefit to spending time in the woods. Or in the water. Or at the beach. Set aside some time to immerse yourself in the beauty of Mother Nature. It will sooth a part of your primal self you didn’t know was aching for it.
- GO TO BED EARLY
Nothing causes more stress and discomfort than a lack of sleep. The Catch 22 being that anxiety can rob us of our sleep.
You may need to pair going to bed early with some of the other tips on this list so you can fall asleep when you get to bed more easily.
Some people do better with 8 hours of sleep, some with 7, and some with 9. Find your sweet spot. Keep a sleep journal and document how many hours you’re sleeping and how you feel afterward. Find what feels best and aim to get that many hours of sleep as often as possible.
- PLAN AHEAD
If you’re anxious because of upcoming events, write down your plan so you can refer back to it when necessary. Instead of leaving everything to fate, and hoping for the best, take control and make a plan.
Once it’s on paper, you can push the worry and planning out of your head and be much less anxious.
- LAVENDER ESSENTIAL OIL
Some people love the smell of lavender, some hate it. So this suggestion is subjective. If you like lavender, find a real essential oil and not just a fragrance oil. Lavender has a myriad of health benefits, and one of the best is its natural effects of easing anxiety.
Lavender is also one of the safest essential oils, and one of only a few that are able to be used neat on the skin (although I always recommend a carrier oil).
If you put a few drops in your bath and they get on your skin, you should be fine.
- FEELINGS ARE NOT FACTS (NEGATIVE THOUGHTS CAUSE NEGATIVE FEELINGS)
I tend to get myself into negative thought cycles. By that I mean that I have a negative thought about something, which makes me have negative emotions. Then I start to view the next event in my day through the lens of negativity, which gives me more negative thoughts, more negative emotions and et cetera ad nauseum. It’s a cycle of negativity that feeds itself.
Just remember that your negative thoughts are subjective. They aren’t the truth, it’s just how your brain is interpreting events in that moment. And negative emotions aren’t truth either. They’re just a heart response to the thoughts you’re having.
You have the ability, at any moment, to break that cycle. You have the ability to inject rationality into the process and stop the cycle.
I tell my kids that there is no such thing as good or bad luck. Luck is ambiguous, and it’s up to us to make the good or bad from it. There are some people who have gone through the most hellacious experiences and it completely changed their lives. Afterwards they were grateful for the experience.
So just remember that feelings are not facts. Even our thoughts aren’t facts. They’re just our interpretation of events.
I’m a writer by nature and profession. I write everything down. At the start of any writing project I give myself an entire page to write anything I want to. It’s like writing out the sludge at the front of your brain. Writing out the brown water, like you find in an old pipe.
Allow yourself to journal on a daily basis, get the sludge that’s accumulated in your brain out and onto the page. Behind the sludge comes the clarity. The beautiful thoughts, the prose, the insights, the genius.
If you’re anxious, you may just need to feel heard. And often journaling is the best way to do that.
- CREATE ART
Knit, sculpt clay, draw a picture, make a sand sculpture …anything you create constitutes art. I honestly believe there is a part of every soul that NEEDS to create.
Some people create by leading others towards creation. Most of us just create with our hands.
If you’re feeling anxiety, it may be a small voice from inside of you that just needs expression. So give it the time and space and make art.
- PRACTICE GRATITUDE (FORCES POSITIVE MINDSET)
Some people just get caught up in a cycle of negative mindset. Everything sucks. Everything is working against them. They can’t do better. They can’t be better. They’ll never see success. And you know what? They’re right.
Because they’re creating their reality by seeing a reality that’s no good. Don’t be like them.
Practice a mindset of gratitude. Even if it’s just a beautiful ray of sun after a long drive home. Make the time and space to say “Thank you!” for that beautiful experience.
If you have a moment in your car on the way to work and your favorite song comes on, make the time and space in your mind to say “Thank you!”
The more chances you find to say ‘thanks” the more things you’ll find to be thankful for. It sounds simple, but it’s true.
Our minds are super computers, running lines of code at a rate of a billion per second. It’s easy to get lost in the drone of our lives.
With intention and purpose, redirect that flow of data to find the beautiful things in this world. I often think people who have gone through the toughest times have an easier job of this. Because often the simple gratitude and hope is all that gets them through.
Yes, exercise releases endorphins and dopamine and all of the other brain stuff that makes our bodies feel happy even when they ache.
Personally I like exercise because it’s the quickest and easiest way to be in control of my reality.
And often my anxiety stems from feeling a lack of control.
Regardless, exercise. It’s good for you. And good at decreasing feelings of anxiety.
- BE SILENT
Some people thrive in silence, and for others silence is screaming agony. The latter are the ones who need to seek the silence the most. In the silence your brain can take stock of your experiences, organize the information and plan for the next step.
In the silence the parts of our lives or days that need to be assessed and made sense of become front and center.
It’s just us and our minds. And a quiet mind is a beautiful thing. But that quietness can’t happen until you’ve faced the jumble of thoughts that require your attention.
Seek the silence, there you can build the foundation of inner knowledge and strength.
- ACCEPT YOUR ANXIETY (MAYBE YOU’RE AN ANXIOUS PERSON WHO HAS TO WORK DAILY ON DECREASING YOUR ANXIETY. BE OKAY WITH IT, IT’S JUST WHO YOU ARE. DON’T ALLOW YOUR ANXIETY TO CAUSE YOU MORE ANXIETY.)
My mom was a worrier. My brother is a worrier. I try not to be a worrier, but admit it’s just how I’m programmed.
I accept that fact, acknowledge that anxiety is a function of how my brain works, and knowing that, acknowledge that I have to work for inner peace.
Some people can eat burgers all day and be skinny and healthy. I’m not like that. Just like I’m not a natural Buddha either. And that’s okay. Our differences are what makes this world beautiful.
I understand that inner peace is an effort, but also TOTALLY WORTH IT.
- EAT THE FROG
If you knew you had to eat a frog every single day, would you eat it first thing every morning and get it out of the way? Or would you wait until the last possible moment every day and fill your day with anxiety about it?
Eat the frog, as early and as quickly as possible. That thing you have to get done? Do it early, do it well. That way you’re not anxious and unhappy about it all day.
- PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness is a method of meditation that has taken off like wildfire lately. It’s useful for so many situations that I recommend everyone educate themselves about it.
How it’s relevant to anxiety is this. Every time you feel anxious, take a step back in your mind and point to the way you’re feeling and say to yourself, “That’s anxiety.” Every time you feel anger, take a step back in your mind and point to the way you’re feeling and say to yourself, “That’s anger.” Every time you feel sadness, take a step back in your mind and point to the way you’re feeling and say to yourself, “That’s sadness.”
Why do this? You’re interjecting a moment between the emotion and reality. You’re interjecting your own power and free thought between your mind and your emotions to label it for what it is so that you take back control of yourself.
Why is that important? Because situations and emotions are fleeting, they’re transitory. You know in your mind that your anger won’t last forever. Your sadness will melt away. Your anxiety is just a reaction.
You can endure anything if just for a little while. You just need to remind yourself that right now isn’t forever. That’s the importance of mindfulness.
- ALLOW YOURSELF TO WORRY ABOUT SOMETHING FOR A SET PERIOD OF TIME
By definition anxiety is nervousness about an upcoming event. If you’re feeling anxiety, allow yourself to do so. But only for a little while.
Set a specific amount of time, or an alarm for yourself. And allow your brain to tumble along the anxiety stream for 5 whole minutes. Or ten whole minutes. Give yourself that room to acknowledge your thoughts and how you feel.
When your time is up, so should be your anxiety. You have given yourself permission to set that anxiety aside because first you gave yourself permission to feel it wholly.
- ABCs, 123s
We learn in early childhood education that when a toddler is having a strong emotional experience and needs our help that we should get them counting or saying their A,B,Cs. Why? The part of your brain that dominates your emotions, and the part of your brain that dominates rational linear thinking, cannot function at the same time.
If you’re feeling intense anxiety and need a quick switch back to reality say your A,B,Cs or start counting. That old adage about counting to ten when you’re angry? It’s based in science.
If you try this and don’t see a quick relief, challenge yourself. Count by 5’s. Count by multiples of 12. Use equations in your head to find the surface area of your desk, or the circumference of your pencil.
Who knew, all of those years spent in math class could actually pay off?
I’m sure there are 100 more ways to fight anxiety. Take the time to sit down and write out your own list. Tape it to your fridge or stick it in your wallet. Practice these techniques and find what works for you.
Anxiety has its uses, but nobody deserves to live in that space permanently. As Harvard medical has already shown us, doing so can cause a myriad of long-term negative health effects.
You can do this. You’ve come so far. You’re working your way toward peace, and health. I’m proud of you. Thank you for sticking with me. We’ll go on this journey together and learn how to live in a vital life along the way.