Here are 8 practical keys to help you escape from the anxiety trap and find freedom.
Our world has been hijacked in a surging tsunami of uncertainty, with COVID-19 and social distancing. You may be a health worker, stressed and stretched beyond the limit. Perhaps you have financial and job worries.
News articles acknowledge that anxiety is on the rise. This emotion is important for our survival, but when it takes over our everyday life, we need to take action. When we’re anxious, the three main stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrin are released into our brains, and these can damage our organs and bodies.
We can learn strategies to change our mindset.
But first, how do you know if your symptoms are stress and anxiety?
Here are some indications:
- Taking addictive substances or addictive behaviours
- Constant fear or worry
- Sleep problems
- Eating disorders
- Problems coping with life
I have 8 keys to offer you in your escape from the anxiety trap. These keys can help you restore calm and relief. Let’s turn that anxiety into something better:
Try as many as you can. Take the time to form these into regular habits. It will be worth it.
- Reach out
Negative thoughts turn to negative feelings. Positive thoughts result in positive feelings.
- Read affirmations.
- Practice gratitude. It refocuses our energy and brings calm and happy feelings. When I wake in the morning, I mindfully turn my thoughts to things I’m thankful for.
- Send a message of thanks to someone.
- Remember, there’s always someone worse off, and be grateful for the positives in your life.
- Look out for good things as they happen during the day and acknowledge them.
Laughter really is an effective remedy for anxiety. Studies show that healthy laughter has a powerful effect on our mental health and immune system. It doesn’t require medication, and releases the feel-good endorphins. Laughter decreases serum levels of cortisol, helping to reverse the stress response.1
How do we laugh more?
- Spend time with positive-minded friends who make you laugh.
- Look for TV comedies or funny YouTube clips. When my father was feeling down, we watched ‘Fawlty Towers’ episodes together.
Here are some YouTube clips to try:
Funniest Dogs and Cats:
Exercise is an all-important and proven method for combating anxiety. It releases feel-good endorphins in the brain giving a feeling of euphoria and well-being.
Here are some suggestions:
‘Gentle Pilates For Stress Relief: 25 Minutes To Be Gentle With Yourself.’ Lottie Murphy Pilates.
What if you are older, need less strenuous exercises, or are chairbound? HASFIT offers some great YouTube videos you can follow:
Acknowledge the anxiety. Write down the “what, when, where and why” of the anxiety. Is it real or imagined? Then write ideas of what you can do to combat the feelings. This may take some reflection time, even help from a trusted friend.
Acknowledge the negative emotions. Write the list and strategies then make the effort to continue in a positive frame of mind. Aim to reach your goals.
“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” Mary Engelbreit.
If you are finding your feelings are out of control or are lying in bed and wallowing in misery, refer to the ‘Reach Out’ section of this blog post. You may need help from a medical professional.
When we are in the throes of anxiety, create a distraction and make a plan you can look forward to. This will stimulate the feel-good neurochemicals in your brain, such as dopamine and endorphins.
Here are some ideas that could put you in a more positive frame of mind. Think about what gives you pleasure. I’m not suggesting you take a drug or overindulge in alcohol.
- Browse books in the library or borrow one online or read that book you’ve been saving in a genre or topic that you enjoy.
- Organise a movie night at home or out and watch a new or favourite movie with a friend with popcorn.
- Indulge a candlelit bath with aromatherapy oil and sip your favourite beverage.
- Book a session with the hairdresser
- Get a massage or pedicure.
- If you are able, plan a short break away in the mountains or at the beach. The date could be months away, but it is something to focus on and look forward to. Anticipation releases dopamine in the brain.
There is a caveat for those who are carers or who have small children — taking time out may be an impossibility. But you need a break! You may need to plan for help with your time-out.
Here are some strategies that you can follow without appointments or schedules.
- A few minutes of body stretching does wonders for instant relaxation. See ‘Easy Exercises for Depression and Anxiety’, with Scott.
- When anxiety strikes, do breathing exercises. Find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and breathe in slowly for the count of three and breathe out for the count of four for two minutes. This will allow the parasympathetic nervous system to take over and help you relax.
- A popular strategy some people use is ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), which is a calming sensation that begins on the scalp and tingles down the back of the neck in response to particular sounds such as whispering and hair brushing.
- Take a walk outside. If you are in the city, find a park or drive to a reserve or river.
- Take a break for a few minutes each day. If you are stressed and anxious, organise to be alone at least 5 minutes to recharge and replenish.
Reaching out to others can give emotional support and strength to carry on and help us process our feelings. It can be tempting to suffer in silence. A shared burden is always lighter and communicating our fears can bring solutions and strategies.
- Call a close friend or family member and chat about your fears.
- If you have a friend who is also struggling with anxiety, why don’t you arrange to call one another when you need extra support?
- If you don’t have a friend to call, research until you find a group you can meet with in person or virtually.
- Eat regular meals. Hunger can make us stressed and cranky.
- A mood-boosting diet comprises healthy, unprocessed foods. See my Healthy Eating Tips and Worksheet: https://towardsrecovery.com.au/freebies/
- Magnesium has a calming effect.
- Omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics help ensure good gut health, which results in the release of feel-good neurochemicals in your brain.
- Scientists are still investigating the effects of tea and green tea on the mood, but the amino acid L-theanine in green tea is believed to help ward off depression. Researchers have reported that in a healthy Korean population, those who habitually drank green tea were 21% less likely to develop depression over their lifetime than those who were non-drinkers2.
- It’s tempting to reach for a sweet snack when an emotional low hits because eating sugar releases dopamine and will give a surge of energy, but remember the high will be followed by an unhappy low later on.
- Many studies have shown that diets high in sugar can cause chemical imbalances in the brain, and these can contribute to depression. So cut down on sugary snacks and soft drinks.
If you have tried all these suggestions and are still feeling trapped and cannot function normally, you may need further help. Get advice from a medical professional. Don’t delay!
1 Yim J. Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2016 Jul; 239 (3):243-9. doi: 10.1620/tjem.239.243. PMID: 27439375.
2 Nature 566, S8-S9 (2019) doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-00398-1