Today we’re going to be talking about dealing with anxiety.
There are lots of worries right now. They are big and they are real and they are magnified by being in a global pandemic. Constantly navigate a new normal makes it even more difficult.
I asked my social media followers, “What do you do when you are worried? What works?” It was like a balm for the soul because I could feel the care and compassion that each person was putting towards themselves. One of my co-workers is navigating her own challenging health situation and she wanted natural ways to deal with her anxiety.
I wanted to share with you some natural ways to deal with worry or anxiety. Some are ones that I’ve used and are evidence-based and work, and are more anecdotal.
There are a lot of options here, and the idea is to provide a set of tools that you can use, and choose from, not a list to overwhelm you. The idea is to have a very toolbox that you can come back to again and again. One week it might be one tool and the next week you might need to switch it up.
Gratitude is an amazing tool to help with anxiety and depression.
There is actually a good sized body of literature supporting the psychological benefits of having a daily gratitude practice. You can write 3-5 things each day in a journal or record them on your voice memo on your phone. The trick for me has to think of new things each day which causes your mind to search for the good. It can be as simple as I’m grateful to be breathing, or for the roof over my head or the warm clothes, or something specific that happened.
Mindfulness is another evidence-based practice for anxiety
It has research to back it up for stress, anxiety, and chronic pain. When we are anxious, the nervous system in is the stress response and mindfulness has been shown to alter the parasympatheic nervous system to lower flight/flight/free and bring the system into rest and digest. It’s really amazing.
As I’ve mentioned before, there is a ton of research out there for mindfulness and specifically for anxiety. I’ll put the link in the notes for my mindfulness program I give to all of my clients. There are apps available, like Insight Timer, or Headspace. There are lots of different practices: body scan, breath awareness, mindful self-compassion, loving kindness – just to name a few! Loving kindness is a mindfulness practice that can be very soothing for anxiety.
Another way to calm the nervous system is through yoga.
There are certain postures of yoga that help to calm the nervous system down. Movements that are slow, and hold the pose, as well as forward folds are important to incorporate. It’s not just the postures – the breath work is also very helpful. Alternate nostril breathing has evidence to reduce anxiety and depression, as well as deep breathing.
A deep belly breath will stretch the vagus nerve, which will active the rest and digest function of the nervous system. So it’s using the physiological mechanisms in place to help support your emotional well-being. There are lots of options on this online for yoga and breathing as long as you are focusing on calming. I usually do calming yoga every night before bed to help tell my nervous system it’s time for sleep.
You are what you eat
To support calming the nervous system, my encouragement would be to decrease sugar, caffeine, and alcohol because these tend to increase anxiety. Eating foods that are higher in magnesium like pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, and dark chocolate (without sugar) can be really helpful in supporting your natural system to be resilient and deal with the stress of everyday life. You can also increase magnesium (again, this is calming) by taking epsom salt baths, or supplement by taking a liquid calcium/magnesium supplement.
Herbs and supplements are another way to help support your body in finding calm and allowing the nervous system to reach rest and digest. I’ve found ashwaghanda to be very helpful with stress. It is very calming, and bonus – it helps with sleep due to the calming nature of it. Holy basil or tulsi are other great herbs. Both of these have been used in Ayurveda for many thousands of years.
Fish oil supplements are also beneficial in higher doses due to the omega-3 fatty acids and have been found to reduce anxiety when it’s at doses of 2000 mg a day. Vitamin D3 is another one that has research connecting lower levels to being connected to anxiety, and higher levels due to decreased anxiety. There is an epidemic of low Vitamin d levels in our country as well, and it boosts your immune system, so it’s a win-win to take this supplement.
There is emotional work that can help anxiety as well.
Identifying and managing what you are thinking is of huge benefit, and I use a coaching methodology for this. In my experience, mindfulness helps you to be aware of the thoughts, but then sometimes I find there needs to be something to DO with those thoughts. Coaching uses specific techniques to turn those around to new thoughts. Basically you are finding a better feeling, believable thought that you can practice instead of the pre-programmed beliefs so many of us are handed when we are children.
I have also found that many other types of energy work can help manage anxiety or worry as well. I love acupuncture, and it is a great way to help calm the nervous system and there is scientific evidence behind this type of work. There is also evidence for Reiki and the help in anxiety management.
Here are some of the other ideas my friends mentioned that I just loved!
- If I’m obsessing over the worry, I write it down and put it in my “God Box” Once it’s in the box, it’s out of my hands.
- Meditation, talking it out with a friend or coach, movement, singing, tapping, screaming…
- Breathe. Move. Hum.
- I’m using alternate nostril breathing. 7-10 mins makes a huge difference to how I feel and clears my mind. Aside from feeling less anxious, I feel I’m better able to creatively problem solve too.
- I breathe, and come up with counter examples. Usually doesn’t take more than one or two….
- I listen to classical music
- I write morning pages every morning
- When it’s really bad, my best tool is to just be still for a minute and just say, out loud: “I’m just really scared.” Often tears follow for just a minute and then I feel much better and the other tools work better.
- Transfiguration (which is one of my favorite tools too and one I use with my students and clients all the time.
Overall, my encouragement is to be as gentle and kind to yourself as possible. We are living in times that we’ve never really lived through and there is so much out there that can be helpful. Get support. Ask for help. Hire a coach or a therapist, or even just a kind and compassionate friend. There are so many options available to help you naturally deal with anxiety and worry.