Recent statistics released by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) state that somewhere around 20% of America struggles with anxiety, the most common mental disorder. It's not surprising to me that we are one of the most anxious generations. We have access to many things that our ancestors didn't...I'm looking at you, cellphones and social media! The instantaneous availability to everything and everyone seems to leave us continually wanting more.
We don't have time or space for thoughts. We don't spend time with ourselves anymore. We continually seek external noise to soothe an internal restlessness. We're so inundated with information and other inputs that a slight mental break feels uncomfortable. One of my very favorite quotes is: "No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of anxiety can predict the future." Anxiety tends to relish in the time we spend focused on the future. And it's no strange to re-living the past. The great news is that when we focus on the control we do have, we're able to manage our anxiety. Wellness is all about having a toolbox and picking the correct tool for the job.
Here are the tools that I've used personally. Some I've found on my own, others have been proven by research in helping with anxiety. I use all of these ideas at different moments depending on what I am needing at that time. Part of the fun in these anxiety tools is that they're interchangeable, and they all work. 1. Breathing. Try controlled breathing by taking four breaths in through your nose, hold for four seconds, and then out another four. I teach a yogic breath in my classes, which utilizes long inhales through the nose and closing your mouth while you breathe out through the nose with heavy exhales. Our breath is something we have control over and learning to use this control when we feel out of control in other areas will help to calm the nervous system and alleviate feelings of stress.
2. Hold something cold like a couple of ice cubes. I heard recently that this is essentially the same process as those who cut, without the self-harm aspect, of course. It's all about feeling something and diverging the brain and getting out of your head. Grab a few ice cubes to calm your nervous system and focus on the cold feeling in your hands. You'll absolutely forget what is causing you anxiety.
3. Cut out caffeine. It’s a stimulant, which is literally defined as: "a substance that raises levels of nervous system activity in the body." This is especially important if you can’t sleep and/or anxiety is out of control. Bonus: when I cut out caffeine, my acne cleared up within days.
4. Therapy. There are times when anxiety is controllable, and there are occasions when anxiety can run so high, that if we don't know why it's happening or what to do with it, we may turn to other things to calm our anxiety. Only the brave go to therapy. Therapists literally study the brain, behaviors, and assist with avenues to correct these unhealthy habits. Therapy is all about learning more about ourselves.
5. Drive. There is something soothing to me about driving. Not when I'm running down the Tollway in Downtown Dallas, but when I have a wide open road. On days when I'm feeling anxious, exhibiting the flight response and feeling like I need to just get up and go, I love to get in my car and drive through the country by myself. I turn on my favorite playlist, I sing, I may pray, I may call someone, but I usually just process.
6. Keep busy. The more active your mind has to be on other activities, the less time to focus on your anxiety. Be mindful, though, there is a such thing as *too* busy. Boredom is the quickest way for an addict to revert into old habits. Try a big project, learn a new skill, spend time in nature, write down a list of activities that you enjoy and suit you best and then do them.
7. Meditation. Meditation is one of those things that can take quite a while to get used to. However, once you do, the effects are worthwhile. Meditation has all kinds of benefits—from improved health, happiness, and focus to decreased pain and depression. If you don’t know where to start, download the Headspace app and start off with guided meditation.
8. Count 10 things around you. Name them. Name their color. What do you smell? Getting back to your senses and out of your head is a grounding technique used quite often for anxiety relief.
9. Prayer. Remind yourself what you’re in control of. Research suggests prayer helps people find comfort by assisting them to deal with difficult emotions and encouraging forgiveness, which leads to healthier relationships. Connect with something greater than yourself. I listened to a podcast recently and a friend of mine recommended the Churchome app.
10. Affirmations that help you. Repeat what is true. Pinterest some affirmations that speak to you. These may change over time. Mine right now is, “I’ve been through this before and I made it.” These positive statements can help you to challenge / overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. When you repeat them, and believe in them, you can start to make positive changes.
11. Essential Oils. I keep lavender oil on my bedside table. I put it under my nose and on my wrists at night to relax me. Essential oils are said to work because the scent molecules in the oils travel from the olfactory nerves in those nose directly to the brain where they then impact the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain.
12. Move. Brain doctors talk all about the power of movement. Exercise is nearly as effective as medication. Just step outside in nature, stand barefoot in the grass, hammock in a close park, hug a tree, get outside and smell the fresh air. It is so powerful to combine movement and nature. When you’re stuck in a loop, this can be one of the quicker ways to pause and redirect.
13. CBD oil. A natural alternative to calming the central nervous system. In 2011, a study by the British Association for Psychopharmacology showed that social anxiety disorder symptoms along with anxiety were reduced after dosage of CBD oil.
14. Say what’s bothering you out loud to someone else. Literally out of your mouth where you can hear yourself. Oftentimes when you listen to what you're saying, the gravity of it dissipates because our minds like to make up stories to protect us. This stems from past experiences, who we are, and previous traumas, but in this present moment...ask yourself: what’s actually happening? Or what am I worried will happen?
15. Journal. Bring yourself into the present. Anxiety comes from living outside of the present moment, in the future or in the past. Write down all of your thoughts, especially if you don't like talking them out. Remember, "No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of anxiety can predict the future."
Next time, try on one of these tactics and see which serves you. Also, a great activity for the days you're not anxious: ask yourself what's going on when you don't experience anxiety and you feel calm. Notice patterns so you can then begin to re-create those moments!