13 September 2014

5 ways to manage anxiety

I have struggled on and off with anxiety for the past few years. This post isn't about treating anxiety disorder in general, but I wanted to share with you a few ways that I manage anxiety when it actually happens. Obviously prevention is the best way of dealing with anxiety, but sometimes it happens. What do you do in that moment?

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1. Aromatheraphy smelling salts

I shared with you how to make aromatherapy smelling salts - I use mine for managing anxiety. My smelling salts have a blend of calming anti-anxiety aromatherapy oils in them, namely:

- Lavender (soothing and calming effect on the nerves, relieves tension, depression, panic, hysteria and nervous exhaustion, is effective for headaches, migraines and insomnia)

- Bergamot (calming, helpful in the treatment of depression, stress, tension, fear, hysteria)

- Frankincense (soothes and calms the mind, slowing down and deepening breathing, helps to calm anxiety and obsessive states linked to the past)

- Clary Sage (calming to the nervous system, particularly in cases of depression, stress, insomnia and deep seated tension)

A few whiffs of my smelling salts is helpful when I feel anxiety coming on. They are handy enough to take anywhere with me, especially to places which I know provoke an anxiety attack.

(Please investigate the oils and their contra-indications before using! Be sure that this mix is safe for you before using, or substitute for oils which are.)

2. Bring it back to the physical

Try to resist the urge to worry. One of the reasons anxiety comes on and you feel that urge to worry is because your body is tense. When your body tenses up, or your breathing becomes shallow or rapid, or any other physical stress symptom, then your mind goes, "It seems we're tensing up - is there danger? Where is the danger? Should I be concerned?" and you begin to have that anxiety loop of thinking over what you said or did, or wondering what you've forgotten, or searching out in your mind what you should be worrying about.

Here's the thing: you will always find something to worry about. The reality is that you are not in danger, so rather than worrying and turning the problem mental, keep it physical.

Relax your arms and legs. Breathe deeply and calmly. Make your muscles soft and limp. Roll your head to loosen your shoulders. Show your mind that your body is relaxed, and it will believe that you are not in danger and the anxiety will lessen.

Rather than thinking about your problems and worries, focus on what you feel. The texture of the clothing you are wearing; the scent in the air; the warmth or coolness around you; the quality of the light and shadow.

Be aware of what made you tense in the first place. Was it a sudden sound? Is the environment too noisy or too bright for you? Are the kids interrupting you a lot while you're trying to concentrate on something? It can be something really random - my sports bra, out of necessity, has really tight shoulder straps (gotta hold the girls up!) and if I wear it too long my shoulders get really tense in response to the pressure. It's good to be aware of your muscle tension and release it; it's better to remove or correct what caused it in the first place.

By focusing on your physical body and experience you will distract your mind from getting into the crazy anxiety loop and stop it in its tracks.

3. Keep it simple and slow

When I feel anxious it's usually because I'm doing too much - either too much in general or too much at one time. Multitasking is no good for anxiety. You will encourage the feeling that you are missing or forgetting something (it's quite possible that you are) and that you're not performing well (you probably aren't).

When I feel anxious I make a point to move slowly and deliberately. It has a very calming effect. I naturally tend to move very quickly and efficiently but this can make things feel urgent when they aren't. Just by slowing my movements I feel more relaxed and calm.

I  simplify and do one thing at a time, focusing on each movement and step. If someone talks to me I shut off my music and stop what I'm doing and listen to them. It's much less stressful than trying to tune things out and trying to keep on working on my project while listening.

4. Distract yourself with music or reading

Listening to relaxing music can calm me as I go about my day. By relaxing music I mean music that doesn't have a fast beat and that isn't played too loudly. Some music is great for revving you up and getting you going, and some is useful for slowing your breathing and calming you down. You'll know which is which just by the effect it has on your body.

Sometimes you just need a bit of escapism. Reading a book that is enjoyable but not tense (thrillers are no good for winding down) can take my brain off the worry loop, at least for a while, and even give me something non-anxious to think about when I go back to my tasks.

5. Just feel the feelings

This one is a toughie. But I've learned the hard way that sometimes when I am feeling anxious for no reason it's because I'm avoiding an emotional purge. It's never fun, but sometimes it's necessary

If I take the time to stop and ask myself, "What's really bothering me?" I can sometimes feel the answer. For example I'll ask myself, "Am I homesick?" and if I burst into tears then bingo, guess what, that's what's been bothering me, even though I hadn't realised it.

What's needed then is to feel the feelings. It's scary and horrible - nobody wants to feel sadness / fear / grief / whatever negative emotion - but I've learned time and again that it's necessary and that the longer I avoid doing so, the longer those feelings will lurk in the background making me anxious and depressed.

So I go to my room and shut the door and have a good cry. I cry and I cry and I cry. I let the feelings wash over me and I let myself feel them, as hurtful as they are. It's usually extremely emotionally painful BUT the storm passes and I feel so much better afterwards!

These emotions are part of our human experience. Honour your feelings and let yourself feel them. I promise it is very freeing and you will feel better afterwards. No matter how scary it is to let yourself fall apart, you will not break. It is very healing to let the feelings out. You'll be surprised at how much better you feel afterwards, and how much longer you can suffer if you suppress them.

I hope these tips have been helpful to you if you are struggling with anxiety. They work for me and I hope that they work for at least one of my readers out there!

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