8 Tips for Understanding and Helping Anxiety
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8 Tips for Understanding and Helping AnxietyCharlotte Watts shares her secrets for overcoming angst
I’ve been interested in anxiety for a long time. My own nervous breakdown at 23 has since proved an amazing resource when working with clients, teaching and writing, as I really do know what it’s like to live with this state where our mind-body is responding to feelings that the world is ‘not safe’. This constant alert mode is exhausting, with vigilance mechanisms revved right up to sensory overload, often leaving us wanting to hide away when all our filters are open and communications feel jarring.
It can be a bit of a vicious cycle. Those of us who have a tendency to go to anxious states when things get too much, may well have learnt coping mechanisms in order to be around others, from a young age. Holding it together and being on the self-defensive can often come across as being aloof or cocky (two words I’ve heard used to describe me, while feeling very different inside!). Anxiety is an expression of the fight-or-flight stress response, but we often can’t run away. We then turn to fight mode – intolerance, snappiness and sudden mood swings are common reactions that don’t help our case. Essentially, attacking others doesn’t really help us get the comfort, reassurance and calm that we might crave, even subconsciously.
I’m currently running a case studies programme to explore the content from my latest book, The De-Stress Effect. Almost half of the 24 participants said that they applied because of anxiety and every member said they experienced it at some time. They are not wearing this trait obviously on the outside; for most it comes and goes and they try to hide away when it’s at its worst. It was reassuring to the group to realise that their anxious world inside was not unlike what others experienced. Other folk – intelligent, ‘normal’, functioning people – all had stuff going on beneath the surface, and were wrestling with their own demons.
Talking freely about this state as a pretty rational response to over-stimulation, doing too much and constant high expectations, was liberating for all. Being able to view this agitation for the all-body response that it is, has been helping the participants find perspective and space where they were previously experiencing knee-jerk reactions, and feeling locked in and locked down, with no way out in sight.
There are several key, effective but simple practices that help lay the foundations for finding calm. Find what works best for you and then map your own personal route back down from anxiety.
- Make a foundation – sit down and eat a good breakfast to settle and start from a place where you can feel sustained, not lacking – so you feel more able to cope with whatever comes up.
- Eat celery – long used as traditional calmative and sleep medicinal, celery contains apigenin, which engages the calming ‘rest, heal and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system.
- Drink camomile tea – not new advice I know, but it has only recently been understood how the effects of camomile actually accumulate several days after drinking it, raising body and brain levels of the calming neurotransmitter glycine.
- Treat yourself as a friend – be kind and talk to yourself as you would a close friend or child. Your anxiety is not you, nor a reflection of yourself – you can thank it for being vigilant and looking out for you. Let it be heard and…
- Sigh out with an out-breath - So much of being anxious is feeling overwhelmed, like everything is too much. The exhalation is releasing and conscious breathing helps do some important ‘emptying out’ and ‘filling up’, especially when we may be prone to taking on too much (work, information, support for others).
- Lay with your legs up the wall (or on a chair) – turning your body upside-down so your legs are above your head, slows down the blood needing to pump from the heart, as gravity takes blood from the legs back to the heart instead.
- Supplement magnesium – this mineral is essential for our nervous system to be able to bring us down after we’ve gone up. Low levels are common in Western societies and linked to anxiety, insomnia, IBS, depression, panic attacks and headaches. 300mg magnesium citrate with dinner helps the quality of sleep that regulates appropriate stress responses.
- Take a good quality probiotic – in research circles, these beneficial gut bacteria are now being referred to as psychobiotics. The quality of our gut environment determines to what level we are able to self-soothe; too few and the signals to keep stress responses up keep going round in circles.