Sharing inspiration, insight and interesting ideas
In this blog, I'm sharing insights and techniques to help you manage anxiety. Tools that go beyond the very sound advice to exercise, meditate, eat well, and sleep well.
Here are 10 things that have helped me and my clients to understand, manage, and calm anxiety.
Try them and choose the ones that bring you relief. Keeping things simple and focused is one of my top tips. So, don’t feel you need to implement everything in this list.
1. Create SPACE
When faced with an event or situation that makes me feel nervous, I used to keep myself busy right up to the last minute. It felt like positive distraction, but this was a flawed strategy. It wasn’t positive at all, it was avoidance, and while I was busy avoiding the feelings, I wasn’t soothing my central nervous system. Creating space is going to set you up for success. Be prepared to silence the unhelpful voice telling you it’s not productive or time well spent.
2. Phrenic and Vagus nerves
When you understand the role these important nerves play in aggravating/soothing anxiety, you will understand the WHY behind maintaining breathing and mind-body practices.
The phrenic nerve is the main nerve of the respiratory system and is connected to the sympathetic nervous system which controls ‘fight-or-flight’ responses. It runs between the neck and the diaphragm, with two branches that pass through the heart and lungs. It passes motor information to the diaphragm and receives sensory information from it. Breathing is controlled by the phrenic nerve.
The vagus nerve, the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system which regulates ‘rest and digest’ functions, runs between the brain and the abdomen. Messages go both ways, though most, about 80%, go from body to brain. The gut is far more intelligent than most people realise. In the brain, the vagus nerve helps to control anxiety and depression.
3. A quick breath practice for panic
The Huberman sniff and sigh breath can bring the nervous system out of panic very quickly. Dr. Andrew Huberman explains how this works and demonstrates it in this YouTube clip.
To further enhance this breath, there’s a visual element you can include. Look forward and up, then widen your vision to take in a more peripheral view. So, you’re still looking forward, but you become more aware of what you can see at 10pm and 2pm. Hold a soft gaze.
4. Healing hands
When you feel your throat tightening use your healing hands. Try this with me now so you can get a sense of it. Place one hand to your throat, sort of like you’re going to strangle yourself (but don’t obviously, we’re just getting the hand position right). Now, move your hand away slightly so you’re not touching your neck, but your hand is hovering close to the skin. That’s the hand position for this technique.
When you feel your throat tightening, I want you to hover your hand at your neck like this, noticing how your throat naturally starts to release the tension. It might help to visualise a white or golden light travelling from your hand into your neck, opening space in the neck and relaxing all the muscles here. Do this as many times as you need to for as long as you need to – it’s very powerful and the best way to understand it is not to analyse it, but to experience it.
Medicinal mushrooms (not magic mushrooms!) are getting a lot of good attention in the nutritional world. If you’d like more information here’s a blog that shares some of the benefits, including mood-boosting compounds that may alleviate anxiety, ease depression, and encourage better sleep. I have recently started drinking this de-caffeinated mushroom coffee Moksha, and I just love it. www.noordinarymoments.co (it doesn’t taste like mushrooms and has yummy chai spices!). I like knowing I’m infusing my body with calm and goodness – and I don’t need to worry about caffeine stimulating my system in unhelpful ways, or the energy crash that follows a caffeine induced high.
6. Gut health & probiotics
Being mindful of good gut health is a non-negotiable if you want to manage anxiety and be well. In addition to a healthy and varied diet, probiotics are a great way to maintain a healthy balance inside your body. There are lots of supplements available but I’m sharing this brand because it was recommended to me by a nutritionist Invivio. I also highly recommend reading 10% Human by Alanna Collen if you want to learn more about gut health, for me this was one of those life changing reads.
7. Challenge your thoughts
We have different internal voices, and they are not all friendly and helpful (or even truthful). The one to look out for when you experience anxiety is the highly critical judging voice – the voice that judges you, situations, and others harshly.
Becoming aware of these unhelpful parts of ourselves is deep work and requires commitment, but it’s totally worth it. The first step is noticing your inner dialogue, and recognising how powerful and destructive these voices can be.
Unhelpful thought patterns include things like: catastrophising, mind-reading, “should” thinking, over generalisation, black-or-white thinking, and more besides. To begin challenging your thoughts, ask yourself the following questions … is that thought true? Is it really true? What else is possible?
8. Catalogue your strengths
Remember who you are at your best. Dig out evidence you have about your strengths. One thing I know for sure is that anxiety can lie to you, and it can be very believable when it wants to keep you small and struggling. It takes conscious effort to understand and play to your strengths so writing them down or making a physical file of evidence can be a very powerful exercise.
You could start by reflecting on your career and life achievements. The challenges you have overcome and successes. Reviewing your CV, references, testimonials, and feedback from colleagues or clients. Speaking to people who know you well and asking them to share what they see as your strengths.
9. Positive affirmations & gratitude
These are brilliant ways to reframe negative thoughts and re-programme your brain. Increasing positive thoughts boosts your mood, improves your focus, and is a powerful antidote to anxiety.
They are great tools to use when those anxiety inducing gremlins show up - like the ‘comparison monster’ who wants you to feel bad because so-and-so appears to be doing so much better than you. Or the ‘perfectionist drill sergeant’ who wants you to reach an impossibly high bar ALL the time. These mind gremlins feel real, but they are just bogey monsters for grown-ups.
Affirmations align your mind with your body in a positive way through the power of suggestion. You could start with the following (or feel free to make up your own):
“I am confident, and calm is my superpower”
“I am releasing the past and creating a powerful future”
“I feel grounded and fully present”
Close each day remembering at least 3 things you’re grateful for.
10. Remember growth and comfort don’t hang out together
When you step outside your comfort zone you are likely to feel some degree of anxiety, it’s all part of the human experience. It’s not wrong, or bad, or shameful. It doesn’t mean you’re rubbish at your job or not capable. You are MORE than enough.
Wherever you are on the anxiety spectrum there are techniques and practices that will support you and help you to manage your anxiety. Self-love means saying YES to growth opportunities when you feel you can, and saying NOT RIGHT NOW when something feels like it really is a step too far. It’s perfectly OK to take a step back and think about what you can do inside your comfort zone that will prepare you to step outside …when you’re ready.
My closing thoughts include a bonus tip.
When you find the techniques that help you, work them into a ritual that you can immediately default to when anxiety shows up.
When anxiety takes up too much space in our system, we can forget how to take care of ourselves. If you have a well-rehearsed ritual, you have your anchor. Each time you repeat your ritual your body and mind will become more familiar with it. Your system learns and remembers that this works.
When you trust your ritual, you trust yourself, and the more in control you will feel.
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