Whether it is an anxiety disorder or simply what it feels like before a major life event, certain practices can help you find immediate, even profound and ongoing relief from this affliction.
Anxiety is an ailment that encompasses a certain spectrum of meanings. It can be mistaken for an eagerness to complete the daily to-do list, a debilitating condition that includes panic and acute worry, or as an offshoot of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Anxiety is not the same as fear, but they are often used interchangeably. Anxiety is considered a long-acting, future-oriented response to a diffuse threat, whereas fear is a short-lived, present-oriented response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat.
There are various levels of anxiety and in severe cases, only medical treatment including prescription medication can help to find calm and balance.
What I propose here are strategies to confront anxiety, techniques and some natural supplements to restore it.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
Signs and symptoms that may indicate that you are suffering from anxiety include,
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
- Feeling of impending danger, panic or doom.
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking about anything other than the current preoccupation
- Difficulty sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Difficulty controlling worry
- Need to avoid things that trigger anxiety.
How to Confront Anxiety
Step 1: Accept the Anxiety
Those who are sensitive to the feeling know that no matter how much you want to avoid it, anxiety comes overwhelmingly. So instead of resisting, or denying this emotion, why not embrace it?
Perhaps the first action in dealing with anxiety is to ask ourselves what is this feeling trying to teach me right now?
This question alone can make us reflect on the situations that provoke this feeling and change the perspective that anxiety is something "bad" that we must rid ourselves of. When we look at anxiety as a teacher, it opens up possibilities for growth in areas we have not explored before. We often avoid something because we are not in control of it or we feel insecure. When we remember that all things that happen to us are for our evolution as people, instead of complaining about our situation, we return to the question: what is this circumstance and this feeling trying to teach me?
Step 2: Release your Anxiety
Anxiety is often the result of repressed emotions that need to be released. Although our society has instructed us to hide feelings and emotions, our bodies need the opposite and will try to manifest repressed energies in the most creative ways. If they are not released in a healthy way, they will be released through anxiety or illness.
Many times anxiety can manifest as deep sadness or grief, anger, fear and more. This will not change until we give them a chance to come to the surface by being honest with ourselves, taking the time to honestly ask ourselves what we are feeling and why.
As well as questioning what anxiety is teaching us and understanding that, in a way, it allows us to find ourselves again, there are other ways that help us to discover and release some of the repressed emotions that are causing the anxiety.
Sometimes during the practice of yoga there is a spontaneous release of emotions (e.g. students who hold a hip-opening pose for a certain period of time and start to cry). This is a natural way of releasing repressed emotions.
Through a posture or other conscious practice, we can resolutely work on releasing certain emotions to decrease anxiety and regain the harmony of our emotional being.
- Savasana (the dead man's pose). Many times anxiety arises from continuous work without balancing it with time for rest. With just a few minutes of deep relaxation (such as that achieved by practising Savasana), you can completely change your state of mind.
The how: lie on your back, either on a yoga mat or in bed, and take a moment to relax. It's as simple as that. If you find it difficult to relax, you can play soft music in the background, or a few drops of lavender essential oil in the diffuser, or even put a pillow over your eyes. If you like, you can practice body scanning or belly breathing, but in any case, take a moment to relax in stillness, doing nothing.
- Balasana (baby pose). Sometimes anxiety can arise from a general feeling of being unsure of your surroundings, or even your own body. Practising this seed-like posture helps you to feel protected and comforted, as well as anchoring your energy through the gentle pressure on your forehead.
How: Sit resting your shins on the mat, knees wider than your ribcage, buttocks resting almost on your heels and big toes touching. Extend your arms in front of you, but leave your elbows relaxed. The most important thing is to let your forehead rest on the mat (if you can't reach the mat, place one or two folded towels or blankets until you can rest your forehead, allowing your neck to relax).
Then begin to inhale slowly, filling the chest and exhaling. Hold for 1-3 minutes.
- Matsyasana variation (fish variation). Anxiety can be manifested by feelings of sadness or grief that cause us to withdraw into ourselves and hide. Relaxing in a posture that can subtly open the heart allows these deep-rooted emotions to slowly come to the surface, helping you to release them in a gentle but effective way.
The how: start by sitting with your hips facing a cushion or pillow and slowly lean back on it allowing your arms to drop to your sides with your palms facing upwards. Feel free to add a folded blanket to support your head. You can extend your legs or bend them into a butterfly shape.
Once rest is felt, let your eyes close and try to rest on the support for 5-10 minutes. Allow any emotions to surface and thank him/her, after all, he/she is no longer hiding. Tears are always a positive sign that healing is taking place.
Wim Hof's method
This method comprising three pillars: breath-holding, cold showers, and a commitment to constancy with yourself, has proven to be a very effective strategy for how we Westerners can approach a compendium of all-encompassing meditation.
Breathing according to the Wim Hof method:
- Lie down or assume a relaxed posture.
- Take 30 deep inhalations and exhalations (this may cause you to feel a bit drunk and head spinning, but that's fine), inhaling as much as you can, but not exhaling completely, without pausing between inhalation and exhalation.
- After 30 or 40 deep breaths, exhale and hold your breath for as long as you can while remaining calm (you will be surprised how long you can go without breathing).
- When you can't take any more, take a deep breath in and hold it for 15 seconds. Then exhale and repeat the whole cycle 3-10 times.
For showers it is advisable to take your normal shower and at the end take a bath with very cold water starting with 5 seconds and every day do increments of 5 seconds.
There is convincing evidence that psychosocial factors such as stress, depression and anxiety are strongly implicated in the development of psychotic disorders.
Sauna bathing, an activity linked to relaxation and well-being, which is commonly used and readily available especially in Nordic countries, has been linked to numerous health benefits including improvement of pain and symptoms associated with musculoskeletal diseases, treatment of chronic headache and reduction of the risk of respiratory diseases, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke and mortality.
This study, along with others, has shown that other passive heat therapies, such as Waon therapy, infrared saunas and whole body hyperthermia, relieve stress and improve symptoms of psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety.
The sauna sends richly oxygenated blood to the brain to improve cognitive functions. It also allows time and space to quiet the mind and relax, which helps to calm anxiety and stabilise mood.
The how: as long as you have access and are able, a frequency of 4-15 times a month and for at least 15 minutes each session, will allow you to receive the full benefits that this practice can bring.
This is my number 1 recommendation. Although its effects start to be felt within 8 weeks of supplementation, it is a wonderful adaptogen that allows you to better manage stress and anxiety.
Studies show that vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency is particularly common in people with mental health problems, including anxiety disorders.
In addition, research suggests that taking high doses of vitamin D may be effective in reducing the severity of anxiety symptoms in people with anxiety disorders.
A 2020 study of 106 people with depression found that treatment with 1,600 IU of vitamin D per day for 6 months produced significant improvements in anxiety symptoms compared to a control group.
Essential oils of lavender, chamomile, rosemary and clary sage
Essential oils and aromatherapy stimulate the sense of smell. Nerves in the nose send signals to the brain, which triggers the release of chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine.
Serotonin is a brain chemical that modulates mood and can help you feel calm and happy when released. Dopamine is another brain messenger involved in the psychological reward system and can enhance positive feelings. Essential oils can improve mood by enhancing the release of serotonin and dopamine.
The effects of essential oils are temporary. Therefore, they should be part of a complementary protocol to one of the techniques mentioned above.
There are potential side effects and even dangers of taking supplements for anxiety for the following people:
- People taking certain medications that could interfere or interact with certain supplements.
- People with other mental or medical conditions, where supplementation may worsen existing stress and anxiety-induced symptoms or cause new symptoms.
- People with severe anxiety who need immediate medical attention.
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women (unless they consult a doctor first).