Anxiety and feeling anxious is at an all-time high. As social distancing, isolation, loss, grief, and overwhelming uncertainty looms, for many of us, how to feel less anxious seems impossible and out of reach.
In fact, recent data suggests that the lingering COVID-19 pandemic is having a significantly negative influence on mental health, in general. Whereas pre-COVID 19 anxiety was already uncomfortable for many, present-COVID 19 anxiety for some is becoming excruciating.
Although uncomfortable, we can live with, and tolerate, anxiety in small, infrequent doses. Anxiety is a useful emotion that alerts us to danger, and motivates us to show up and do well in our lives.
However, living in a persistent state of anxiety is uncomfortable and painful, and harmful to your health. The hormones that produce anxiety are toxic to the body in large doses over time and can cause a variety of issues and symptoms.
Some of the common symptoms of chronic anxiety can include body tremors and shakes, panic attacks, sweating, headaches, stomach aches and nausea, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, loss of appetite, and lack of sleep.
Whether you seek professional assistance for anxiety from a provider, medication, or alternative resources, discovering effective ways to relieve anxiety and increase your emotional resilience is important to your overall health and wellness.
Anxiety has definitely knocked me to my knees in sheer panic and taken my breath away. I’ve held onto my legs during body tremors convinced that my heart was going to beat right out of my chest while my stomach twisted into nauseating knots.
Desperate for relief, I resorted to unhealthy ways of coping; and yet, my anxiety continued…and actually increased.
Talking with a counselor helped, and yet, I never felt confident to self-talk my way out the overwhelming panic and flood of emotion. I tried medication, and although it did give me some relief, eventually it numbed all of my emotions.
Determined, I dove into the research, read the reports, and explored the various treatments. I studied the biological, neurological, and psychological causes of anxiety, and trust me, I’m not debating any of it.
Deeper dives into the research revealed differences in brain functioning between people with higher than normal anxiety and those with normal anxiety, and that even though our brain might be hard-wired for more anxiety than average brains, studies suggest effective, alternative ways to ease the symptoms of anxiety while changing the chemistry of the brain.
Because of the brain’s plasticity and capacity to change and adapt, strategies that alter the brain’s chemistry and structure can lead to anxiety relief. Whereas medication does target the brain’s chemistry; however, for some people, like me, the side effects are as uncomfortable as the anxiety.
Ways To Relieve Anxiety
Three proven ways to relieve anxiety and influence brain chemistry that are also part of my own anxiety relief protocol are meditation, movement, and mindset.
As little as 3-5 minutes of daily meditation is proven to relieve mental and emotional distress and care for the mind. Most important is to create a meditation practice that works for you.
I use guided and unguided meditation styles. My go-to meditation app is Calm. It has meditations specifically focused on easing anxiety. However, I recommend experimenting with all the meditation options available until you find your sweet spot.
If you’re new to meditation, ease into it by closing your eyes and noticing your breathing, and simply inhaling and exhaling slowly. As thoughts come and go, watch them as you would the clouds drifting through the sky.
If your mind wanders off into anxious chatter, that’s okay; gently bring it back to your breathing without judgment. You can also add a mantra such as, “I am calm,” or “I am peace,” or “I’m okay.”
The body and brain love movement…and unless you choose to join a gym or studio, movement is relatively free.
When we move our bodies, we release an array of calming hormones that settle the nervous system and regulate our emotions while caring for our brain.
The CDC recommends that adults 18-64 get 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity such as brisk walking and 2 days a week of strength training. It’s also advantageous to include regular gentle stretching and balance activities, especially as we age.
Choose movement that you love, look forward to, and can commit to doing several times a week. Dancing, yoga, hiking, walking, swimming, cycling, jogging, playing outside with your kids or pets, or participating in team sports.
Developing a strong, resilient, growth-fostering mindset is key for feeling better and living well. Like meditation and movement, a variety of practices exist for evolving your mindset, such as mental inquiry.
My favorite is mental inquiry. The practice, developed by Byron Kate, or “The Work” involves consciously questioning our thoughts and beliefs. By becoming the curious observer of our thoughts, we interrupt the negative thought patterns that cause us to feel mentally defeated, and emotionally overwhelmed and anxious.
Start with writing down the most anxious thoughts in your mind. Look at the thoughts curiously and ask yourself, “Are these thoughts true?” “How do I feel and act when I think these thoughts?” “Who would I be without these thoughts?” Repeat daily or when consumed with negative thoughts and beliefs.
Feeling Less Anxious
Incorporating these types of lifestyle practices can help you feel less anxious, more at ease and energized, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and panic, even during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
I also eat a diet of real-food, get plenty of quality sleep, journal regularly, drink calming teas, use essential oils, get a monthly massage and acupuncture (when they’re open!), and go outside as much as possible. Nature, creativity, and play are great for easing anxiety.
What’s most important is to establish consistent anxiety relief practices that connect the mind and body in restorative and regulating ways. Make them yours. Do them consistently.
What do you do to reduce your anxiety? What brings you the most relief?