Feeling occasionally anxious is a normal response to modern life. However, for some people their anxiety is like a little monster living inside, who stirs up uncomfortable feelings when faced with simple everyday situations. If you or someone you know avoids social gatherings, work meetings or confrontations due to anxiety, then don’t ignore these feelings. It’s time to get some help to tackle the anxiety monster.
I have seen firsthand just how well natural medicines work to combat anxiety, both acutely and in the regulation of anxiety long term. This longer-term modulation of the stress response is particularly useful, as it’s hard for your brain to construct solution-focused and proactive thoughts when it’s constantly in ‘fight or flight’ survival mode. This is important, as it’s having control over your thought patterns that allows you to create strategies and routines that’ll address the triggers of your anxiety in the first place.
Let Nature Help
To create an anxiety-management toolkit for yourself, try to speak to a natural health practitioner like myself about what natural medicines will work with your unique presentation. Whilst experiencing anxiety can stem from a multitude of factors, there are just as many options that can help you feel calm, centered and free from the grip anxiety can hold.
Every year, around one in four New Zealanders experience anxiety in a way that makes it difficult to cope with daily life. Ranging in severity from a background level of worry to an overpowering force, anxiety can lead to difficulty sleeping, a racing heart, panic attacks, fatigue, digestive upset, sweating or headaches – interfering with your ability to live your life.
While anxiety can often feel insurmountable, there are several worry-busting habits you can develop to help minimize its effects. Read on to discover our top four habits that can leave you feeling more calm and in control.
Habit #1: Practice being present
Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the present moment, drawing your attention away from mental chatter and anxious thoughts by tuning in to your physical senses (i.e. what is happening in your environment and body).
When you are in the grip of anxiety, mindfulness may seem impossible. However, a growing body of scientific research shows that practicing mindfulness daily can actually help break the cycle of worry, making it one of the most effective habits for gaining peace of mind.
Here are some tips to make developing a mindfulness practice easier:
Start with just five minutes per day, and slowly work your way up to 20 minutes (research has shown that 20 minutes or more provides the greatest benefit for anxiety);
Use guided meditations and breathing exercises to keep you focused;
Work mindfulness into your daily routine, like meditating on your lunch break;
If anxiety makes it difficult for you to sit still, consider going for a walk. Concentrate on the sights and sounds around you, the feeling of your body moving, and the sensation of the wind on your skin. If you notice your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the present moment.
Habit #2: Journal to unscramble your thoughts
Journaling regularly can help you express and understand your anxiety triggers, (this is something I do regularly).
By putting your worries down on paper, journaling can help you deconstruct anxious thoughts, examine emotions and situations, or even help you seek solutions to your triggers.
Here are two methods that may be helpful for anxiety:
Exploratory journaling involves 10 to 15 minutes of writing down whatever is on your mind, as fast as you can, without judging yourself. This approach can help you identify thoughts and feelings, including those you may be unaware of, that could be contributing to your anxiety. Seeing them written down on paper can help you ‘fact-check’ anxious thoughts (i.e. consider whether they are accurate), and gain greater clarity about the thoughts and feelings that are making you anxious. This can help you become more aware of your triggers, which is the first step towards managing them.
Action-focused journaling can help you develop an action plan to deal with ongoing situations that trigger your anxiety. Setting aside 10 to 15 minutes for this exercise, begin writing about a problem or situation that contributes to your anxiety (e.g. poor time management). Next, brainstorm some steps you could take to overcome the problem (e.g. creating a schedule), and break these into smaller action items (e.g. set up a calendar to track of your schedule, set reminders to help you stick to it). Lastly, create some realistic goals to help you complete these actions. Monitor your progress on a regular basis, and celebrate any positive changes you’ve experienced since implementing your action plan.
Habit #3 – Sweat it out with exercise
This is probably my favourite way to deal with anxiety! Aside from serving as a distraction, exercise has been shown to bump up your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters – leaving you, feeling more relaxed - HELLO ZUMBA!
Neurotransmitters are messenger molecules made by your brain that carry signals throughout it, influencing your mood. They also carry messages between your brain and other cells in your body (such as your muscles). Boosting feel-good neurotransmitters can reduce anxiety and relieve muscle tension.
A successful exercise regime can involve any kind of physical activity, such as walking, jogging, swimming, Zumba, weight lifting or hiking. Essentially, it can be anything that moves your body for at least 2.5 to 5 hours per week. Start by easing yourself in with a few shorter sessions first, and carve out some time in your schedule to make exercise a consistent habit. Asking a friend or family member to join you adds the extra bonus of connecting with loved ones who can help you feel supported as you work to improve your anxiety.
Habit #4 – Tap into the soothing power of natural medicine
For centuries, herbal medicine has been used to help soothe an anxious mind. We now know that many of these herbs work by increasing the activity of a calming neurotransmitter, GABA.
This neurotransmitter reduces brain activity, helping you feel less anxious without making you drowsy, and also eases muscle tension.
Botanical combinations that can help you when anxiety kicks in include:
Rehmannia and American ginseng, which are both used in traditional herbal medicine to soothe a ‘wired and tired’ (anxious and fatigued) mind. American ginseng also works by increasing the brain’s levels of neurotransmitters, including GABA and serotonin.
Zizyphus and Passion flower, which both increase GABA activity and work rapidly to reduce anxiety. This combination also helps to support a restful sleep (without making you feel drowsy the next day).
In addition, Magnesium Bisglycinate offers several benefits. It reduces physical tension, and is also required by the body to produce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Additionally, magnesium Bisglycinate combines magnesium with glycine, allowing you to more quickly and thoroughly absorb the magnesium (compared with other forms of magnesium), bringing you better anxiety-busting benefits. As an added bonus, glycine can also increase feelings of calmness.
Magnesium deficiency is common, especially in stressed and anxious people, so consider a magnesium Bisglycinate supplement to make sure you’re getting what you need.
Turn inner calamity into inner calm
When it comes to easing your anxiety, mindfulness, journaling and regular exercise can offer profound benefits. Beyond this, natural medicine in the form of herbs and nutrients can also bring a greater sense of calm. Anxiety can be difficult to manage, so for help finding high quality treatment options that are most likely to help in your particular case, consult a natural health practitioner like myself. A combination of diet and lifestyle changes alongside a natural medicine will help you manage your anxiety, empowering you to get back to the life you love, naturally.