Living with anxiety is like walking into an empty house and thinking that someone is there – hiding just out of sight and ready to attack. It’s trying to reassure your mind while second guessing every thought, movement and feeling that you’re urgently trying to keep calm. Over thinking everything.
By learning to live with anxiety your subconscious activity comes to the forefront of your mind. It’s a bit like switching the lights on only to find that nobody is there and it’s just your mind playing tricks on you. Again.
I have found the more open I am about my anxiety the more people I find are honest about their own struggles with mental health issues. So how does one manage these often overwhelming feelings? My main advice would to talk to someone you can trust, whether that’s a friend, a family member, councillor, therapist or even writing it down in a journal. Acknowledging the fact that you feel stressed and anxious is often half of the battle. It’s the physical form of switching the lights on, so that you’re not guessing in the dark.
Before I jump into how I manage my anxiety, I just wanted to say that the thing that will help you the most is to be kind to yourself. A lot of what is said below is about looking after yourself and taking extra care. Importantly, regular consumption of alcohol, drugs or nicotine will alter your mood and have a negative effect on your mental and physical health. I’m not saying you have to do all of the things suggested here all at once. Be realistic and make habitual changes gradually, but try be mindful of what your triggers are and what you can do to support a happier and healthier you.
Obviously, this is my own opinion, as well researched as it might be, I’m not a health professional and if you’re unsure about whether you can take something with your current medication or for medical reasons speak to your doctor. These are just strategies that I have experimented with and have found work for me.
That being said, here are 6 tactics to help with stress that I have tried and tested.
I mean this both literally and figuratively; learning to look after yourself and being happy is an active investment of your time and money, but well worth it.
Exercise helps to get your blood pumped full of fresh oxygen, which will help improve sleep. Being active is like moving meditation. I often use exercise as a bit of me time to think and figure things out. Exercise gives you a little kick from the endorphins released, which are your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters.
Drink plenty of water
This is a basic one, drink plenty of water to support bodily functions, cognition, fatigue, and mood. I like making fruity or lemon water to help mix things up, but I always try to have around 2 litres of water a day. Water is super important to daily functioning. I’m not going to go into all the reasons water is good for you here, but here is a quick summary.
Cut back on coffee…soz
Caffeine isn’t the best for anxiety, as it’s a stimulant that releases adrenaline. This stress-triggered hormone kicks your fight or flight response into gear and gives you that jittery feeling or increased heart rate. That’s because coffee has between 80 to 200 milligrams of caffeine per cup. While tea has only around half that or less at around 40 milligrams per cup.
Try stick to herbal tea like green tea (this has significantly lower amounts of caffeine), camomile and the occasional black tea to keep caffeine consumption down. L-theanine can also be found in black and green tea. L-theanine is a water soluble amino acid that can travel through the blood-brain barrier and affect the brain directly. This amino acid induces relaxation by reducing sympathetic nervous system activation in stressful situations and can counteract nervous feelings. In other words, it helps prevent your body going into fight or flight mode, so that you are can keep calm and carry on.
I don’t drink any caffeine in the evenings unless I’m working out and even then I’m mindful to not have it too late. I drink loads of camomile tea before bed to help with relaxing me before heading to bed.
Woody and I often seek out weekend breaks where we can be outside, like camping and climbing. Stepping out into nature can help take your mind off things or inspire a new way of thinking about something. Spending time in the outdoors is good for you and will help lower your stress levels. This study is a good example of this theory.
A walk to a local park near your office for lunch, an evening run outside or even just a walk to the stores can help. I personally like doing something like packing a picnic for the park, going on a trail run, having a braai (BBQ) outside, gardening or walking up a mountain. I always get a sense of fulfilment when I’ve spent time outdoors.
Oil it up
Certain essential oils have been shown to help with anxiety, improve sleep and act as a mood-booster. I use lavender oil in an oil diffuser on a two hour setting when I get into bed at night. Lavender aromatherapy has been shown to improve sleep quality, possibly through boosting the amount of deep or slow wave sleep we get, and lessening the amount of REM sleep. I got some pure lavender oil and a cheap diffuser on Amazon.
Yoga, meditation, journaling, goal setting, breathing techniques, positive affirmations, or just setting time aside to do something relaxing with yourself. Being mindful of what triggers your stressful waves will help you learn how to surf the tide.
I personally practice yoga once a week and used to mediate regularly (note to self, start meditating again). I’ve heard good things about the Headspace app.
Try a supplement
I use supplements for physical and mental health, and to help support my recovery process post workout.
Here is a list of what I take on a daily basis at the moment:
- Ashwagandha – I have had the most success with this; more on this herb below.
- Omega-3 oil – this oil has loads of benefits, including helping with anxiety and inflammation from workouts. Be sure to get one that has a high ratio of EPA & DHA to total fish oil.
- Vitamin D – immune health and cognition. One of the most widespread deficiencies today, especially during winter.
- Pine bark extract – otherwise known as pycnogenol, helps with blood flow by increasing nitric oxide. This helps with muscle aches, attention, cold extremities and as an anti-inflammatory. It can even help with erectile dysfunction, if you have a penis.
- Multivitamin – I’ve recently started taking a multivitamin, because I’ve felt a little fatigued with all the marathon training and the one linked is more geared to supporting regular strenuous physical activity. Keep this one last on your list, as the research supporting multivitamins is weak.
- Magnesium – It’s also one of the most common deficiencies and even more so in athletes. It’s great for blood oxygenation and an added bonus is an improvement in sleep quality, so take this one before bed.
Ashwagandha – This is a root that is typically used in Ayurveda medicine. The root extract can be bought in tablets that can be taken 1-3 times a day depending on your stress levels. Be sure to get one standardised to 1.5% withanolides, the active ingredient in ashwagandha. This herb is an adaptogen, which means it’s able to adapt the body to the physical and chemical effects of stress. Studies have shown that ashwagandha is good at lowering anxiety and stress through its affects on cortisol (your body’s stress hormone). It also helps with fatigue, depression and a few other things too. You can read more about the effects, studies and dosage of the ashwagandha root here.