By: Priyanka Hardikar
When we feel anxiety or panic, we are often told: “Just breathe” and “Come back to the present moment.” But it isn’t always that simple. Anxiety, by its very definition, is irrational. It is in anxiety’s nature to tell you there is something wrong or going to go wrong, even when there is nothing wrong. In her comic book on anxiety, Maureen Marzi Wilson writes: “Anxiety is an unwelcome houseguest. It takes up residence in the pit of my stomach, my chest, my mind. Sometimes it creeps about in the shadows. Other times it takes up all the space.”
While anxiety may start out in our heads, it can eventually become all-consuming and impact us physically. It can make our muscles tense, our body hurt, our breath shallow and difficult. Anxiety is the urge we get to hide, to disappear â€“ to not be seen.
So, how do we steady our mind, when we feel the most out of control?
Be Deliberate About Your Time
Anxious thoughts are addicting, and the only way to really break the vicious cycle of anxiety is to be extremely deliberate about your time. When an anxious thought arrives, instead of letting it pull you into its spiral and losing track of the next few hours, make the decision to fill your time with something else. Focus on something in the physical world, something mechanical, something tangible. Focus until the thoughts slow down.
Plan for Anxiety
If you have a general idea of what triggers your anxiety, you can plan for it â€“ whether that means arriving early for an important meeting or taking the time to do a breathwork practice before delivering a speech.
Stay Hydrated and Eat a Healthy Snack
Not eating when you are hungry can make anxiety worse. Have a healthy snack and a bottle of water ready to go at all times.
Foods that are rich in magnesium, omega-3 fats and antioxidants can help reduce anxiety. This can include, but is not limited to: strawberries, oranges, blueberries, avocado, dark leafy greens, yogurt, oats, wild salmon and other fatty fish, eggs, turkey, dark chocolate, turmeric, green tea, chamomile, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds. In general, if you are already anxious, eating something fresh and light and on the healthier side can benefit you over eating fried foods or foods with refined sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Check in With Yourself Often
Constantly check in with yourself the way you check the weather before grabbing a sweater. Every hour, ask yourself how you are feeling. If you are feeling anxious, ask yourself what you can do to support yourself right now â€“ to help yourself feel even a little better than before. Often, we get wrapped up in what we are doing and don’t notice anxiety until it blows out of proportion and takes up all the space inside us.
Schedule in Frequent Breaks
One of the best ways to make time for self-care is to schedule it in, as if it is a meeting or an appointment you cannot miss. Every night before sleeping, schedule in a couple of activities that you know will soothe you. Space out these self-care activities throughout the day, so you have something ready to support you when you need it most.
Pay Attention to Your Needs and Honor Them
Pay attention to your needs without analyzing or questioning them. Honor your needs, whatever they may be. Our feelings and emotions change from one moment to the next. Nothing is set in stone; the schedule is there to support us. If you need additional time for self-care, you always have permission to take it.
Release Tension from Your Body
A few weeks ago, I came across self-massage youtube videos by Dr. Rachel Richards, all designed to help you release tension from different areas in your body. It is amazing to me how releasing tension from the jaw, for example, can be felt everywhere in the body. She also has a video of a simple breathing technique to alleviate anxiety and a video with techniques to stop a panic attack (listed below in “Resources”).
Take Belly Breaths
Because anxiety and panic shorten our breath â€“ especially the exhale â€“ it is important to start diaphragmatic breathing, or breathing from the belly. Breathing from the belly activates your relaxation response and it halts the fight-or-flight response. Even taking a few belly breaths can help soothe your nervous system.
The next time you feel anxious, take an easy seat on the floor or on a chair (or lie down), place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly, and take slow, long breaths from the belly. Exhale fully. Feel your belly rise as you inhale and feel it fall as you exhale. Receive with the inhale; let go with the exhale. Repeat this for at least ten breaths, or for as long as you need to feel more at ease. Go at your own pace.
Take Small Steps & Let Them Be Enough
On days when you are feeling anxious, set small goals and let them be enough. Keep your to-do lists short and sweet. Write down three simple tasks: one task for work, one for peace of mind, and one that is a commitment you have already made. This doesn’t mean you won’t get more done. In fact, you will probably get a lot more work done because you haven’t put too much pressure on yourself. It is always important to acknowledge and celebrate small victories, but especially on days with high anxiety.
When we are anxious, it feels like everything is urgent. Remind yourself that everything can wait until tomorrow, until you are feeling better. Take the time you need for yourself. When you are feeling more at ease, you will be able to perform with more ease, too.
I hope something in here brings you some comfort.💜
- Try this simple five-minute breathing exercise: Alleviate anxiety with this simple breathing exercise or these techniques: Stop your panic attack with these relaxing techniques
- Take 20 minutes to lie down, close your eyes and relax to this soothing yoga nidra: Yoga Nidra to Calm Your Mind, Soothe Your Heart & Rest Your Spirit | YwM 544
- Practice a refreshing breathing technique and a few stretches to relieve anxiety: Yoga for Anxiety – 20 Minute Practice – Yoga With Adriene or a relaxing yoga class: 20 minute CALMING Yoga for Anxiety | Sarah Beth Yoga or a class focused on shoulder and neck release: Yoga For Stress and Anxiety (Neck, Shoulders and Back)
- Meditate to affirmations directed for anxiety: Guided Affirmation Meditation for Stress & Anxiety – CALMING Meditation
Books that May Help:
- Heart Talk by Cleo Wade
- Just Peachy: Comics About Depression, Anxiety, Love, and Finding the Humor in Being Sad: Chisholm, Holly: 9781510742000
- You are Here by Jenny Lawson
Quotes and Reminders for Anxiety:
“No matter how overwhelming the feelings that come with stress and anxiety are, we must always remember that we are human and though we may not be able to control their arrival, we always have the power to release them.” â€“ Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life by Cleo Wade
“Am I actually in danger? If yes, act. If no, ask do I feel my feet? Stomp your feet. Do I feel my hands? Open and close your hands. What am I hearing? What am I smelling? What am I looking at right now? What is the taste in my mouth? Then start to hum or sing. Let it fade into silence and then notice your breath. Think of something beautiful and let that fill your body.” â€“ Colleen Saidman Yee
“Nothing you ever do will make me love you more and nothing you ever do will make me love you less.” â€“ Glennon Doyle
“I remember night swimming. The stars fell into the water and I floated, freely, cradled in the sparkling darkness like an untethered astronaut.” â€“ Jenny Lawson
Affirmations for Anxiety:
- “This situation will pass, so I choose to deal with it calmly.”
- “All is well and I am safe.”
- “Everything is okay in this moment and everything is okay in this breath.“