Anxiety affects us all. Whether your anxiety is something you live with every day, feel it here and there, or have obvious triggers, it's something we all experience. As an anxious person myself, I used to think some people must never feel that pang of anxiety as severe as I always have. But, over the years, I've come to realize that anxiety affects everybody differently. It looks different in everybody, and everybody's triggers are unique to them. Some, like me, are most anxious in social situations, while others may be a social butterfly but find anxiety creeping up on them when they have to drive or fly. Some fear death, losing loved ones, heights, speaking in public or travelling. We all have things that scare the bejeebers out of us, worry us and put us into that fear state of mind. It's impossible to avoid completely. It's a part of life, and in some cases, keeps us out of harm's way. But, for the most part, our fears, worries and anxieties come from our unchecked minds taking the rein or an imbalanced gut/brain chemistry.
Growing up, I had such severe social anxiety to the point where I missed almost two months of school at a time because I would get so physically ill just thinking about having to go. This happened two years in a row, in grades seven and eight. I always had anxiety about school, but it became significantly worse during puberty. After missing a few weeks in a row, my darling mother took me to the doctor. I was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication (that is not meant for children) and was told only to take half a tablet. I took one half, and for a few hours after felt so out of it, I was basically high. I remember saying over and over again that I just wanted it to stop. Needless to say, I didn't take any more. I decided in that moment that I would do whatever it would take to manage my anxiety naturally. I wanted desperately to be a normal kid, go to school and make friends without that crippling fear. It wasn't easy, but I did it. I felt the fear, I felt sick and probably threw up the first few mornings back, but I did it anyway. I pushed through, and I was proud of myself for doing so. Thankfully, by high school, I had an amazing, loving group of friends that helped ease me out of my shell, and I barely ever missed a day!
Finally, in grade ten, I was introduced to yoga. This was a life-changer for me. Yoga has helped me immensely in managing my anxiety. It's not that I don't feel it anymore, I sure as heck do! But, yoga taught me about breathwork, mindfulness and how much movement can help. However, learning to manage my anxiety didn't stop there. As I entered my twenties I was in an toxic and emotionally abusive relationship. I knew deep down it wasn't right, but I felt stuck, trapped and completely helpless. I stayed for four years and finally, when my spirit just couldn't break any further, I left and never looked back. But, by this point, I was almost worse off than when I was going through puberty. Remaining in such a stressful situation for so long, my body was functioning far from it's optimum. Because I was in fight our flight basically for four years straight, my adrenals and my digestive system had taken a hard hit. I had developed a plethora of food sensitivities and my hormones were way out of wack. I had a long road ahead of me to heal my gut and recover my adrenals. I began with an elimination diet to figure out the foods that were wreaking havoc. When re-introducing foods back into my diet, I realized a major trigger for my anxiety is refined sugars!
This is when I began to play with the idea of going back to school for Holistic Nutrition. Eventually, I made the move to the big city and pursued one of my many passions, getting certified as a Nutritional Practitioner. While I loved the convenience and excitement of the city, after a couple of years, I was beginning to crave the calmness of nature. Growing up in a rural area, running around on thirty acres of land, I didn't realize how much nature or a lack thereof affected me. I ended up moving back to the thirty acres I grew up on to help care for my late father, who had Parkinson's Disease. It wasn't until moving back home and having access to nature daily that I realized how soothing it truly is. I now don't go a day without out getting out into woods and breathing in that fresh, pure air.
It may have taken me nearly 30 years, but I now have a handful of practices that I utilize to manage and reduce my anxiety naturally.
I don't think there is a better time I could share these practices with you, as the fear of what's going on is affecting us all in some way. We are all experiencing anxiety to some degree, individually and collectively. So here are my five favourite practices to reduce and manage anxiety.
FIVE WAYS TO REDUCE AND MANAGE ANXIETY NATURALLY
1. Use your breath
Breath is our most powerful and accessible tool for reducing anxiety. Deep rhythmic breathing sends messages to the brain that everything is fine, activating the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest response). Many breathwork practices are very effective at calming the mind and body. Simply just breathing deeply triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. However, some practices such as alternate nostril breathing have an even more profound effect by directly balancing both hemispheres of the brain.
2. Reduce or avoid refined sugar
Refined sugars are quickly metabolized, which causes a spike in blood sugar. The effects of a blood sugar spike can exacerbate anxiety. An excess of sugar also has a negative impact on gut health, and as we are now finding out, the gut is directly linked to the brain. It's been found that many people who struggle with anxiety have lower levels of certain strains of beneficial bacteria.
3. Get out in Nature
We are naturally wired to be enthralled by nature. Being directly in nature and even looking at pictures of nature has a calming effect on the mind and body. Studies have even shown it helps to reduce pain! Nature promotes pleasant feelings while reducing anger, tension, stress and, of course, anxiety.
4. Stay Active
Exercise and physical activity release endorphins, which are hormones secreted by the brain and nervous system. These hormones help the body deal with stress and pain, acting as natural pain killers and reducing anxiety while promoting positive feelings (much like nature).
5. Practice Mindfulness Techniques
Yoga and meditation are two of the best ways to cultivate a mindfulness practice. When we become the observer of our thoughts, they no longer hold power over us. When we watch our thoughts and become aware of our thinking patterns, we can see what triggers certain feelings like fear and anxiety, and then we can then work to release the patterns that are no longer serving us. Having a mindfulness practice is also beneficial when we need to navigate ourselves out of a panic attack or a bout of anxiety. Again, by observing our thoughts, we can choose not to attach to the ones that perpetuate the fear and anxiety, focusing on thoughts that bring a sense of calm and ease.
There you have it, Five practices to naturally reduce and manage anxiety. These are uneasy times for us all, but we must not let fear take over. Just remember, "this too shall pass." We are all in this together, and we will get through it. We can be the calm amidst the storm, navigating our way mindfully through this and any other trying time.
Stay healthy and calm, wild ones!