Your thoughts are churning, your stomach is one big knot of nervousness and the what-if scenarios high-five each other in your brain. Anxiety is not a pleasant state of mind and it can be tricky to ‘snap out of’. Many factors can bring it on: A life event like pregnancy or birth, a change in circumstances or a prolonged illness are all potential triggers. Sometimes, the cause is less obvious and it takes some digging into your psyche to find the root of the problem. When anxiety is threatening to take over your mind or when you’re feeling overwhelmed by daily life, then it’s time to see a doctor and get professional help. If your situation is less severe, here are some simple tips that can help you better cope with anxiety and guide your mind towards a more balanced state.
8 simple tips
- Read. There’s a multitude of books written on how to move from thinking to being, thereby pausing your mind and the stream of negative thoughts. Find the ones that speak to you. As pointers, I can mention authors such as Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, Thich Nhat Hanh, Marianne Williamson, Michael Singer, and Sez Kristiansen
- Nature. The fact is, our bodies were designed for a green Earth and our natural habitat is therefore not urban. Get out among the trees, walk the snaking pathways between bushes, camp out for a night or jump into a lake and swim your heart out. Your mind will naturally de-stress when you’re out in nature. Try it – and if you can’t get out to the forest, pick the biggest park on offer, leave your headphones at home and listen to the wind and the birds.
- Exercise. Ever heard of a runner’s high? All aerobic forms of exercise release endorphins which help reduce stressful thoughts. Swim until the rhythm of your breath carries you across the pool, run until all you hear is the soles of your feet pounding the road, dance until the music floats through you…and feel the difference this makes afterwards.
- Yoga. Some forms of yoga – like ashtanga yoga – are more physically demanding and will make you sweat, while others – like kundalini yoga – can be gentler. All yoga practices are shaped by your breath, which is a great way to lull your mind into a calmer state. At the end, you tend to end with a relaxation or meditation practice, which brings us onto…
- Meditation. Join a group or a centre or simply plug in your headphones and sit down at home. Meditation is about slowing down, noticing how you feel inside, and focusing on your breath. There are many free apps out there, like Insight Timer, that will connect you to teachers recording everything from how to cope with anxiety to Buddhist teachings. Eventually, you may come to love meditation so much that you’ll carve out a daily space for it.
- Family and friends. Spend time with those that love you and accept you for you who are, regardless of labels, achievements, looks or status. Supportive family members and real, authentic friends are key to life long happiness and reduced levels of stress and anxiety. Author of the 4-Hour Work Week Tim Ferriss advocates scheduling (at the bare minimum!) a two hour dinner every week with friends or family that make you laugh and feel good. And while you’re at it, weed out frenemies or friends you see to keep up appearances. You’ll thank yourself later and you’ll gain more time to spend on healthy habits.
- Eat. A healthy base diet that rests on regular mealtimes will decrease your dependency on high-sugar foods that can increase your risk of developing anxiety. When you consume sugary foods, your energy levels fluctuate and those dips will make you more vulnerable to anxiety. If you decide to withdraw sugar from your diet altogether, do it slowly and in small steps rather than going cold turkey.
- Face your fear head-on. Sometimes, the projection of what we fear looks scarier than it actually is in real life. Afraid of losing your job? Perhaps, with healthy savings, a job loss can trigger a change in lifestyle that was long overdue. Scared of being alone again? Without your relationship, you may rediscover your love for travelling and meeting new people. By refusing to bury your fears and imagining them a potential reality, they may loosen their toxic grip on your mind, helping you cope with anxiety attacks.
Our modern world celebrates the mind as the engine of our society and we rarely allow it the rest it needs. Shifting your focus from your mind to your body is a good way to start when you want to leave anxiety behind.
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical doctor and the above tips should be read in light of this fact. I always encourage my patients to see a doctor for severe symptoms.