11 Healthy Ways To Calm Your Anxiety
We all have those days when the to-do list seems too long, many people are demanding our attention at once, everything goes wrong, and it seems nothing is falling into place the way it was meant to. Feelings like this trigger the fight-or-flight response, which was helpful in cave-woman days when we needed a stress response to fuel our retreat from a threat, like a tiger, for example. But in our modern-day lives when the threats are different and constant, we have the same hormones and neurotransmitters coursing through our bodies, which often manifests as chronic anxiety.
Here are the tips I've found most helpful personally and with my patients for calming chronic anxiety:
1. Know that you are not alone—anxiety is normal.
You are not a freak. We’re all freaking anxious—most of us just don’t admit it. There is always hope and many inroads to understanding and healing the excesses of anxiety and overwhelm.
2. Reframe what the anxiety means.
Rather than thinking about anxiety as something that is wrong with you or some kind of catastrophic event, consider that you are a sensitive, intuitive human being who feels everything (and who may feel everything a LOT). That this is a gift to be cherished. Perhaps the sensory inputs from the world around you are overwhelming, and your work is to create healthy boundaries and to honor your introverted self.
3. Create healthy boundaries.
It's OK to protect your energy. For sensitive intuitives, anxiety leads to overwhelm. We must learn how to shield ourselves from the excessive energy of others and the world around us. It is necessary to have periods of retreat—from people, places, noise, information, news—for rest and renewal.
4. Release the energy of anxiety from the body in healthy ways.
Move your body. Do chores. Go for a walk. Work out. Do yoga. Get out of your head and into your body.
5. Use positive affirmations.
This is not to pretend that the anxiety doesn't exist or the problems you are dealing with aren't important. Using affirmations will lend strength to your neural networks and remind you of the goodness of life—we need these messages when in the throes of anxiety to support our way out. My favorites are "This too shall pass." "Good things are happening." Or my special favorite: "Help!" (Somehow, magically, the help always comes.)
6. Take care of your body.
Eat well, sleep enough, move often, rest, and play. Work with a trusted health care practitioner who can help you with individualized nutrition plans and who can help you learn about genetic vulnerabilities that can lead to anxiety and make appropriate corrections.
7. Tell someone you trust, and debrief.
Talk to a friend, family member, therapist, or health care practitioner. Tell your story. Let it all out no matter how crazy you feel you are at this moment. Let them listen and support you. We've all been there at one time or another.
8. Explore and heed the messages of anxiety.
Are you out of balance physically—not sleeping enough or eating too much sugar and processed food? Are you burning the candle at both ends again? Are you taking care of everyone in your life and leaving no time for yourself? Did you make a mistake and now have the opportunity to learn a better way? I know it's scary, but walk right up to it. Sometimes you have to wade through the muck to get to the other side.
9. Stay grounded.
Those of us with anxious constitutions often feel like we're floating outside of our bodies. We need the calm of bodies that feel connected to safe, solid ground. Stand tall and feel the earth beneath you.
Deep intentional breathing (deep breath in that fills the belly and chest over three to six seconds, brief pause at the top, followed by a slow breath out, and repeat) is the surest and quickest way to move our attention from anxious thoughts into the body, anchoring us to the present moment. It is a balm to the nervous system, reducing the outflow of stress hormones.
11. Get into your heart.
The art of feeling grateful is a distraction from the worry and stress of the mind. It is also a wonderful antidote to anxiety. It calms the nervous system, quiets the mind, and centers us in the present moment.
Want more? Here are five science-approved techniques to reduce stress.
Karyn Shanks, M.D., is a physician who lives and works in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of functional medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her 26-year career. She believes the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves. Visit her website and Facebook page.