Many thousands of years ago, our hunter-gatherer ancestors had a very different relationship with anxiety. Their ancient, instinctive stress responses served them well when faced with a dangerous predator – they would go into “fight or flight” as their brains would be flooded with adrenaline and cortisol in preparation to respond to an immediate threat. Wind forward to today´s modern lifestyle and our brains are still wired the same way, however the constant stresses of our everyday lives can mean that these stress responses linger much longer than are purposeful, leaving many of us with the difficult burden of anxiety. Thankfully, there are several simple things you we do to return to our calm and anxiety free selves.
#1. Self Care
When immersed in an anxious state we often forget to take proper care of ourselves. We over-caffeinate in an attempt to keep up, fail to eat frequent and balanced meals or sleep enough. When you feel anxiety has become an unwelcome presence in your day-to-day life take a moment to step back and analyse whether you are practicing self-care, as only when we do take care of ourselves can we take on the challenges ahead of us. Give yourself permission to take a short break a few times a week, to read a book by the fire or take a long hot bath.
It might seem that you don’t have time, but allowing yourself a moment to unwind can increase your productivity when you get back to it. Eat wholesome and nutritious meals, stay well hydrated and minimise your caffeine and alcohol consumption.
Create a sleep schedule and stick to it, avoiding the temptation to burn yourself out by not going to bed, and take care to avoid screens and social media for the last hour before bedtime. (Screen-time at night has been shown to disrupt our natural circadian rhythms, increasing the likelihood of insomnia).
#2. Pay Attention To Your Internal Dialogue
When feeling anxious or low our internal dialogues tend to run away with themselves, and these unhealthy thought patterns can contribute to our level of anxiety. We might find ourselves thinking things such as “There’s no way I can manage this”, “I’m not good enough” or “It’s all too much”. Our internal dialogue can have a huge impact on how we feel about our situation, and ourselves which is why positive affirmations are such a common tool in personal development. When we think using positive language, we begin to believe in that positivity, and this makes us feel less anxious, more in control, and more able to achieve things, which would otherwise seem scary.
Pay attention to your thoughts and each time you catch yourself thinking something negative, make a conscious decision to cut off that line of thinking and replace it with a positive thought such as “I can do this”, “I am stronger than I know” or “I deserve to feel calm every day”.
Try it now – you will be surprised by how well this works!
#3. Get moving
Getting your blood pumping can help relieve anxiety in a number of ways. In the short term, exercise releases endorphins, which are feel-good hormones that will give you a greater sense of well-being while improving mental clarity and memory. In the longer term, exercise has been shown to increase serotonin levels, which makes us feel calm and balanced. Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep patterns and release muscle tension. Try to get moving for as little as ten minutes each day, as simply going for a walk can improve the symptoms of anxiety. Focus on the physical sensation of your body as you move to maximise the benefits, and if ten minutes a day is more than manageable, see if you can seek out a fun physical activity that you can do with others, to further boost your sense of well-being.
#4. Breathe To Instantly Feel Better
It seems unbelievably simple, but the way we breathe can instantly influence our bodies’ responses to stress and anxiety. When feeling anxious, or in a prolonged “fight or flight” state, our heartbeat becomes erratic and thinking clearly becomes difficult. Simply taking a moment to control your breath will instantly alleviate these symptoms. Next time you feel particularly anxious, focus on taking slow, steady breaths – for example try taking four seconds to breathe in and four seconds to breathe out. After mere moments, your heartbeat will steady and you will begin to feel calmer. This is such a simple and effective tool!
#5. Keep A Journal
Tuning into our own patterns and reactions can help to dissipate anxiety and feel more in control. Try keeping a journal and making a brief entry each day. Write down how you feel, keep a record of negative thinking and record what positive thoughts you will try to use instead. Keep track of what has happened each day to make you feel more anxious, taking care to make a note of anything that helped to make you feel more relaxed.
Often we simply feel anxious overall without associating that feeling with specific triggers. For example, you may notice that working with a particular colleague makes you feel anxious, in which case, take the opportunity to use some of the tools above to manage those feelings. You may also realise that on days when you walk to work you feel better, in which case you could choose to incorporate that activity more often.