Racing heart, shallow breath, dry mouth, jittery stomach, fear, mind swirling with ‘what ifs’, wanting to be somewhere, anywhere, but where you are right now…..
Studies suggest that between 1 in 6 and and 1 in 10 of us in western society suffer from excessive anxiety which adversely affects our lives. Some of us will seek medication, others will suffer in silence and try to just battle through, but nobody enjoys feeling anxious. It’s a problem that’s increasingly prevalent in our fast paced society, but what can we do do to help ourselves?
Happily, the answer is: a LOT! Here are 4 highly effective ways to reduce your anxiety and start feeling better, now.
Ok, I know you’ve probably heard this one a thousand times, and that’s because it’s the golden ticket that really works. The trouble is that when you say to someone ‘take a deep breath’, they’ll usually inhale deeply and just puff the exhale out…. which can actually make the problem worse! It’s the exhale that’s linked to the body’s relaxation response, so we need to consciously slow down our breathing rate and make exhales and inhales equal length. Like this, we bring our nervous system back into balance and that feeling of anxiety starts to diminish. The easiest way is to count in your head ‘inhale 2, 3, 4, exhale 2, 3, 4’. As you get the hang of it you can slow the counting down so your breath gets longer. You’ve always got your breath with you, so it’s the perfect tool to use any time!
Factor in true relaxation time
‘Busyness’ has become fetishised in western society, and it’s killing us – stress is a massive contributing factor in the major fatal conditions of the western world. It’s time to reclaim some of our own time from the demands of modern life and schedule in time to truly relax – and I don’t mean slumping in front of Netflix, phone in hand! What truly relaxes you? I love going for a walk, lying on my bed and reading a book, or (no surprise here) getting on my yoga mat. It doesn’t have to be long – just 20 minutes of a proper ‘time out’ can make a massive difference to baseline anxiety levels and help you to feel better. Just make sure you put your technology on silent and out of arm’s reach!
Lose the caffeine
Hear me out on this! Believe me, I love a good cup of joe as much as the next person. But when I led a detox retreat a few years back and had to forgo caffeine for 3 days, I spent the entire time with a splitting headache and I realised it was time to examine my habits. I was doing a couple of coffees and around six cups of tea a day, which I’d managed to kid myself wasn’t that bad – except that the coffees were doubles and tea has way more caffeine than I’d imagined.
I was very ready for the headaches to stop, so when I got home I made a pot of tea (the headache vanished immediately) and did my research. Turns out that caffeine has a half-life of up to 6 hours, meaning that if you have a double shot coffee at 8am, half of the caffeine is still in your system at 2pm and a quarter will remain at 8pm. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t neck half an espresso shortly before bed, and yet that’s effectively what your morning coffee is giving you.
I wasn’t up for the continued cold turkey experience so I decided to gradually wean myself off, one decaff replacement at a time. Each week I replaced one caffeinated tea bag, or one caffeinated coffee shot, with a decaff. I continued, week on week, until eventually I was still drinking just as much tea and coffee as I ever did, but with no caffeine whatsoever. My sleep improved dramatically, as did my anxiety levels. That jittery feeling when you’ve overdone the caffeine exists at lower levels even when you think you haven’t overdone it, and it’s a huge contributing factor to baseline anxiety.
There are some really good decaffs out there now, so much so that you won’t taste the difference, and by going gradually you’ll avoid headaches and feeling like you need a hit. Even if you only have one caffeinated drink a day, consider that half-life thing and ask yourself if it’s worth making the switch.
One of the most horrible things about anxiety is feeling like you have no control over it. The truth is, there’s a lot you can do, and getting educated by reading up on what’s happening in your body or attending a workshop can have dramatic results. Knowledge is power, and when you start to really understand what your nervous system is doing when you feel anxious it’s very reassuring. Learning tools to manage anxiety has been shown to be at least as effective as medication, and it’s not only completely free of side-effects but also puts you back in the driving seat of your own nervous system – and your own life.
If you are in south-east Queensland and would like to learn more about reducing anxiety, why not come along to one of my workshops this March? Click here to learn more.