Living with anxiety isn’t fun! It can sometimes feel like I have absolutely no control over my body, my mood or my thoughts. Most of the advice I have been given in the past to deal with anxiety wasn’t very helpful. It didn’t help me understand WHY I was anxious or what was happening to my body. After a lot of research, I’ve put together my top 10 extremely practical, natural and proven ways to help deal with anxiety at the moment. Plus why they work!
In the past, I was considered to have “high functioning anxiety”.
Most people would have looked at my life and had no idea that I was barely keeping afloat as anxiety tugged at my ankles trying to drown me in my own life. That’s because I had high functioning anxiety. Anxiety was always there, ever present beneath the surface of my life, but it was difficult for others to see it because I was successful at work. To be honest, I didn’t even know it was there until about 8 months ago when I hit stage 4 adrenal fatigue and became bedridden for 6 months. It was during my recovery (that is still in process) that I began researching anxiety. I discovered that many of my adrenal fatigue symptoms had been exacerbated for years because I didn’t have the tools I needed to recognize or deal with anxiety in my life.
What Anxiety Looked Like In Me:
This list is not exhaustive, but here’s a taste of what my life looked like when I didn’t know how to deal with anxiety:
- Difficulty falling asleep: I would replay my entire day in my head and think obsessively about how I could have done things better
- Internal tremors: I would sometimes wonder if there was an earthquake but it was just my insides shaking. lol
- I would always think of the worse case scenario for any given situation and try to figure out ways to mitigate it before it even took place (which made me great at my job but super duper tired all the time).
- Exhaustion: especially after being with large groups of people
- Breaking out in a rash on my chest and neck if I was in a confrontational situation
- Headaches, dizziness, and nausea in stressful situations
- Diarrhea/IBS almost every day for 3 years (sorry if that’s TMI)
- Frequent heart palpitations
- Complete numbness in my left hand that sometimes lasted for 5-30minutes
- Panic attacks and difficulty breathing
- Difficulty making decisions
- Forgetting things (especially right before my adrenal crash)
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sweating through my shirts and socks every day (thank God for black shirts and wool socks!)
Anxiety: a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.
Our bodies have something called the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). In threatening circumstances the SNS will call for adrenaline to pump through our bodies, putting us in “fight or flight” mode. Adrenaline rushes through the body to speed up our heart rates, dilate our pupils, give energy to our muscles and more. All so we can either stay and fight or turn in flight. Another reason adrenaline may flood through our system is as a sort of “backup generator” for energy when our energy output exceeds the energy input of our bodies. When adrenaline is regularly pumping through our system, we can develop a slew of symptoms including but not limited to: anxiety, nervousness, poor concentration, short temper, lack of motivation, sweating, tremors, heart palpitations, fertility problems, bowel issues, and so much more.
In order to deal with anxiety, we have to address the SNS system in our body by learning how to stimulate our Parasympathetic Nervous System(PSNS) (see more here). Our PSNS tells our body that all is well, we aren’t under threat and can return to our normal activities like breathing and digesting etc… Amazingly, we can stimulate the PSNS with what we put in our body, how we take care of ourselves and what we surround ourselves with. This means that if you have anxiety you can actually do something about it. I found this news to be very empowering.
And although I would never want this list of ideas to take the place of your therapist or doctor (because I am neither of those things) I would like to share with you the top 10 extremely practical methods I’ve been learning and practicing to calm the SNS and to deal with anxiety naturally. My hope is that at least one of these will help you to deal with anxiety as well.
The Top 10 Things I Do To Deal With Anxiety:
#1. Breathe 3-4-5
This strategy has saved me in several intense situations where I just can’t seem to deal with the anxiety through logic.
Breathe in for 3, hold for 4 and breathe out for 5. Repeat as many times as you need. I love this one because you can breathe quietly through your nose no matter where you are. Even in a meeting, you can be quietly doing this breathing exercise to calm your system down.
Why It Works: Any time we extend our exhale longer than our inhale it signals the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and calm our body’s down. Why? Because when we mimic the result of the PSNS through our breathing, our body realizes that we no longer need adrenaline to pump through our system as we probably aren’t “running form a lion” after all.
#2. Name Your Thoughts
To deal with anxiety that has overrun your thoughts, an excellent tip that I learned from the Calm App (more on that later) is called “naming thoughts”. Observe what it is you are thinking about, then name the “type” of thought it is, ie: Planning, Organizing, Worrying, Fantasizing, Assuming, etc…
For example: let’s say you’re super stressed about a social event coming up. You’re going over and over in your mind all of the situations that could take place and how you will react to these potential situations. At that moment, try pausing, identifying the kind of thought you are having and saying it aloud to yourself; “rehearsing thought”. Then move on to another thought.
How do you move on to another thought? Mel Robbins says in this interview on Impact Theory that if you want to interrupt your current thought to replace it with a more positive one, first count to 5. Counting uses a different part of the brain and interrupts the neural pathway for the negative thought. After counting to 5 you then say your new thought. It will allow your brain to create a new neural pathway reinforcing your new positive thought.
Back to the Party Exmaple: I might interrupt my thought by saying “rehearsing thought” then I’ll count to 5 and say “I’m going to be myself tonight, have fun and be present emotionally in the moment.” This process satisfies my mind that I’ve “completed that thought” and gives me a chance to continue with my life as it unfolds in front of me in the present. All the while with a positive thought process in place.
Labelling and redirecting my thoughts has dramatically helped me to recognize and let go of mindsets that no longer serve me and I know that it can help you as well.
#3. List Four Things That Are Going Well
To deal with anxiety in moments where everything feels like it’s going wrong around you, try practical gratitude. Say to yourself at least 4 things that are going well for you at the moment. It can feel overwhelming when things go wrong but this is a great way to remind yourself that there are good things in your life; things worthy of gratefulness. I’ve read some studies that claim gratitude releases serotonin in our brain. Serotonin is a “calming” chemical that helps to relieve anxiety and depression. So practice, practice, practice!
In this season of being sick and stuck in bed for several months, I’ve really struggled with this feeling of “my life sucks and it may never get better” etc… I literally have had to put post-it’s on my wall saying “List 4 good things!” and then giving a few examples to get me started like: “My bedroom makes me happy. I am alive. My chiropractor is great and is helping me a lot. I love my dog” etc.. This list can sound a bit shallow, but sometimes it’s the seemingly shallow good things that can help to get you through the deep hard things. So whatever is good, write it down and cling to the gratitude you feel with all your might.
#4. Get a Hug (or a Blanket…):
Another amazing way to deal with anxiety is to receive a tight hug! Deep pressure touch releases serotonin in the body and is used by many therapists as a treatment plan.
A few ideas to implement this treatment:
- Receiving a tight hug for at least a minute from someone you trust.
- Giving yourself a hug (wrap your arms around yourself tightly)
- Using a weighted/heavy blanket (this is my fave! I have a thick wool blanket that I put on top of me and I feel my body calming down immediately)
- Receiving a massage
- Sitting on your hands
- Wearing tight-fitting lycra clothing also helps.
This may just be me, but I also find that taking a bath helps. I think it’s a combo of the pressure and warmth of the water along with the aromatherapy of the bubble bath. Find one that works for you and make that your go-to!
#5. Use Food as Your Medicine
Another way to deal with anxiety on a metabolic level is to eat fruit, never skip breakfast and increase the number of meals you eat throughout the day. This may sound simple but it’s one of the most effective things you can do to relieve stress on your body.
Eat a piece of fruit!
Fructose, a sugar found in fruit, signals for the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system to come back online! So if you’re having a panic moment, eating a piece of fruit will physically help your body to calm down.
“Adrenaline rises when sugar is low in your cells, but when sugar returns to your cells, adrenaline
diminishes along with subsequent cortisol and other adrenal hormones…Sucrose is the one sugar ending in -ose that is your friend, not your enemy. Other sugars that end in -ose drive your insulin levels up too high, too quickly.” – Josh Rubin – East West Healing
Of course, you must balance the sugar intake from the fruit with healthy fat and protein in order for the body to break down the sugar over a longer period of time. This will allow your body to get enough energy that lasts instead of just a short burst and a crash. Here’s a link for the Adrenal Creamcicle recipe, a perfectly balanced drink and a great start to the morning.
Never skip breakfast! You need a “break” from your “fast” while you were sleeping. Skipping breakfast and running out the door is like using up all the gasoline in your car overnight, then driving off the next morning expecting to run just fine on fumes. We all need to refuel before going through the day. If you don’t, your body will rely on your “back up systems” for energy – adrenaline/cortisol. And with adrenaline running through your system as energy, you are much more likely to experience the symptoms of adrenaline which includes anxiety. So let’s make sure to have breakfast! I make a large pot of oatmeal on Monday so that I have enough for the week and can simply reheat it in the mornings (big time saver). I pair it with some banana and cream on top and with a protein shake on the side. Easy to throw together and quick to grab and go in the mornings.
Eat Regularly: I used to eat three meals a day. Then I began to notice that an hour before lunch and mid-afternoon I would experience a “slump”. I would sometimes feel light-headed, a bit irritated and/or really tired. It turns out that my sugar levels were crashing. These crashes caused a spike in my adrenaline because I didn’t have enough energy coming in for the energy I was putting out. I needed to eat again! Because I’m still sick and my body is in repair mode, I need to eat every 2 hours. However, the recommendation for most people is to eat 5 meals a day with 3 hours in between each meal. 6 meals if you work out that day. (Think Breakfast, Snack, Lunch, Snack, Dinner, and some kind of meal after working out).
- Try to ensure that each meal has a carb, protein and healthy fat in it so that your body can use the energy of the carbs for longer periods of time.
- If you only eat 3 meals right now, try increasing by 1 meal at a time until you get to 5 or 6 so you don’t overload your body
If you are interested in more details, click on this East West Healing link where you can listen to a bunch of free podcasts that are super informative.
#6. Yoga Flow
Many specialists say that a great way to deal with anxiety is to channel it’s nervous energy into working out. When you work out you use adrenaline and you will eventually produce endorphins such as dopamine that can make you happy. Please listen to your body before jumping into a crazy workout. If you’re already wiped and have had a stressful day, it may be better to try and calm your nervous system down rather than spike it up more.
That being said, my favourite form of body workout right now is Yoga Flow. I love to pair each movement with my breath, going at my own speed. It’s also great to partner tip # 1 with yoga flow by intentionally ensuring your exhales are a second or two longer than your inhales. After yoga flow I feel taller, my muscles feel stronger and well stretched, and I can feel my blood flowing. My focus changes from external to internal and the flow of movement with my breath is a very beautiful and natural thing. I highly recommend it. If yoga isn’t your jam, try pilates. It also focuses on breath and movement. It’s lengthening, toning and a lot of fun.
Yep! Smiling can actually help you deal with anxiety! I heard about a study by Vanessa Van Edwards that I’m going to attempt to paraphrase but you can watch the youtube link here. She said that when you smile, a real smile where your eyes crinkle and the corners of your mouth reach upwards, you can actually stimulate your mood to match your smile! (I bet you’re practicing your smile now aren’t you!) Your brain will start sending messages to your body saying “oh! We’re happy now!” She said that if you hold the smile for even a few seconds you will notice a difference. It may feel “fake” at first but if you hang in there for a few seconds you’ll start to feel different. Fake it til you make it right?
#8. Write out the Facts:
This is one of the most beneficial ways I’ve found to deal with anxiety. So much of anxiety happens when we fill in the gaps, projecting what we feel onto a situation and coming up with worse case scenarios. Next time you feel really hurt by someone or are having a disagreement, try to step away from the conversation and write out what you know for sure is true.
Ask yourself, what really happened? What exactly did people say? Not what you think they meant. What did you do/say? etc… The goal is to discover reality by separating the truth from anything we may have made up in our anxious quest to fill in the gaps. After writing out the truth you may find that there are some real gaps in the conversation that you don’t actually have an answer to. You probably think you know the answer but if the person hasn’t said it, you can’t possibly actually know. I recommend writing down the questions you need to ask to fully understand the situation then go and ask that person directly. I know this can be scary but make sure to let them tell you their truth/motive instead of you assuming what their truth/motive is.
#9. Chiro And Naturopath
To deal with anxiety, sometimes we need to look at the very structure and makeup of our bodies. My chiropractor took x-rays and we learned that my neck is incredibly straight rather than curved. As a result, a bunch of nerves were being pinched in my neck. Including my vagus nerve which is responsible for turning on the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming system). No wonder I was having trouble calming down! Some of the nerves were causing the muscles in my back to be “on” all the time, causing a constant drain of energy. After a couple months of regular adjustments, I’m doing SO much better! I don’t get as dizzy anymore when I get anxious. Best of all, I’m starting to see an improvement in my ability to rebound after a stressful situation.
My naturopath is helping to test my hormones and cortisol levels so that I can understand if my body is processing them correctly. Once we have this information we can use natural methods to help support my body. She has also given me some supplements that have helped to calm down that “buzzing” feeling in my body – or what I call the shakes.
Lastly, a trending way to deal with anxiety is meditation. As I mentioned before I have been using the Calm App on my phone to learn about practicing meditation as I’m still a newby. I have loved it and have found it to be a life-line. I grew up with a religious background and was always taught that meditation was “bad”. However, when I looked into it my self, I realized that the bible actually tells us to meditate 20 times. Not only that but meditation is scientifically proven to lower anxiety, along with 75 other proven benefits. It teaches you how to get control of your thoughts, how to be still and stay present, and how to focus on your breathing. It has facilitated some incredible emotional and spiritual breakthroughs for me. I highly recommend it and am so grateful that I downloaded the app. This is not sponsored, I just love the app so much that I can’t help but share it.
Bonus #11. Declutter Your Environment & Your Relationships
I have found that decluttering my house has significantly helped me to deal with anxiety because the clutter around me was causing overstimulation, distraction and so much stress! If you’re interested in learning more about how to declutter your house I’ve started a step-by-step series here. I’ve also been decluttering some of my relationships and have found this to be incredibly difficult but also immediately rewarding. I will be writing a post about that soon. 🙂
Which Strategy Was Your Favourite?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Which strategy on how to deal with anxiety was your favourite? I learned and implemented each of these tips one at a time and I encourage you to do the same. That way you will have time to practice and get familiar with each strategy without being overwhelmed by trying to implement them all at once.
If you have any tips for me on other ways to manage anxiety I would love to hear it!
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Lots of love and peace to you all,
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