In Australia, it’s estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.
If you suffer from persistent and excessive worry, anxiety, know that you are not alone. Many creative people have felt that anxious. In fact, 17% of Australians aged 16 to 85 have experienced some type of anxiety and/or affective disorder in the past 12 months. This is equivalent to 3.2 million people today.
The good news is, feelings of anxiety can be greatly improved with a few simple steps. Lifestyle changes and adopting skills to cope with stress can be very helpful. Also connecting with your local community to find appropriate qualified health professionals can be beneficial.
Reduce Anxiety by Simplifying your Life
Researcher Fugen Neziroglu states that “Having moderate levels of anxiety about doing well is important. But it can be destructive when it begins to interfere with your life.” If you feel that anxiety is taking over your life it is time to make changes, the first being simplify your life.
Generally people who suffer from anxiety tend to breathe in their upper chest with shallow, rapid breaths, instead of breathing into their lower chest. There are many breathing methods that are taught around the world varying from meditative techniques to combat breathing. The goal is to calm the sympathetic nervous system. Deep (diaphragmatic) breathing is considered the fastest way to access a place of calmness inside of you.
Sit with your eyes closed and attempt to breathe naturally, preferably through your nostrils, without attempting to control your breath. If you find that this isn’t working because your sympathetic nervous system is too heightened or panicky you may need to do the calming breath technic also known as the combat breath. As you lower your anxiety, you can start to make a simple and effective plan to simplify your life..
Calming ‘Combat’ Breath
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of four, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs.
- Hold your breath to the count of four.
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips for a count of four.
- Hold your breath again for a count of four. Restart the cycle as many times as necessary. While feeling your muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach relax.
“Let it go” is harder than it sounds. But it’s one of the secrets to success and the following point may help you get there.
Start meditating One Minute a Day
Start small and commit to meditating for a few minutes a day. That’s right, only a few minutes a day! Start with being aware of your surroundings such as bird sound, laughing or rustling of leaves. Focus on the ‘here and now’. As you become more aware of the ‘here and now’ you can delve further into mediation practise. By practising mindfulness you will start to be aware of what triggers your feelings of anxiety. Vipassana meditation is one of my favourite forms of meditation.
Change your Environment
Research on brain plasticity supports the assumption that the environment can shape brain structure and function. If you are feeling anxious indoors, try spending time in a garden, take a walk in the forest or even start gardening. A 15 week study showed both physical and mental health benefits for spending time in the garden.
Researchers have found that individuals who exercise regularly were 25 percent less likely to develop an anxiety disorder within five years. Exercise helps clear the mind, it fires up the endorphins, and helps you sleep soundly at night. Try and exercise a minimum of 30 minutes a day. You may enjoy walking, bike riding or swimming. All these forms of physical activity are fairly gentle on the body.
Eat Breakfast & Don’t Skip Meals
It seems that the latest trend amongst people is to skip breakfast, due to being “too busy”. When you skip breakfast and other meals your blood glucose levels drop. Our bodies need energy to function. Our brain in particular requires a continuous supply of energy (glucose) from blood in order to function. If your blood glucose levels drop (hypoglycaemia), the brain is the first organ to get affected which may lead to you feeling anxious. So next time you start to feel anxious, ask yourself, “when was the last time I had a meal?”. You may just need a nutritious snack to bring back your blood glucose levels to normal.
The famous poet Kahlil Gibran wrote that “Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.” We can’t control the future, but we may be able to manage our ‘here and now’.
Sleep deprivation is a huge anxiety culprit. An important time management skill is allowing yourself to get enough sleep. Curiously in Japan, people nap in public. The power naps is called “inemuri,” which can be translated to “sleeping while present”. Many naturopaths recommend going to bed no later than 10:00pm and get at least 7-8 hours sleep. If you are having issues sleeping then you may like to follow some basic sleep hygiene tips:
- Go to bed at the same time every night. Wake up at the same time each day. This will help keep your natural circadian rhythm.
- Turn off all screens at least an hour before bed and read or listen to relaxing music.
- Most screens use blue light, which can affect your sleep. Turn ‘f.lux or night shift’ on all your screens to avoid blue light at night.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks after 2pm.
- Avoid food and alcohol three hours before bed.
Using social media may be associated with negative feelings such as low self-esteem, excessive worry and sadness. According to Roy Morgan, the average Australian aged over 14 spends almost six hours (340 minutes) on social media every week. For some people it is work related but for others it is recreation. Jennifer Garam writes openly how when she feels bad, she gets sucked into comparing and despairing on social media, and loses all sense of ‘groundedness’, of being anchored to her life. Read her article here.
Take small steps to decrease your time on social media. Don’t follow people or groups that make you feel bad. Follow people and groups that inspire you, are creative and make you laugh.
Rewiring the brain
When asked about anxiety Winston Churchill said “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” This quote supports the idea that ‘feelings are not facts’.
Negative thoughts cause negative feelings. Many of our negative thoughts are automatic, deeply internalised and rooted in the past relationships we have had. This can cause a deep anxiety. When you find negative self-talk going on, change it to reaffirm yourself.
Rewire the Brain
To rewire your brain you’ll have to stay with a new behaviour long enough to make it become relatively automatic. In time, practice will make it effortless. For instance, repeat to yourself: “My life is great. I am great.” or “I am growing with my experiences. I am getting better.” Repeating this for around 4-6 weeks will rewire your brain.
The research is fascinating and more information can be found in the book ‘Rewire your Anxious Brain: How to use the neuroscience of fear to end anxiety, panic and worry‘ by Pittman and Karle.
Or watch Dr Bruce Lipton on Youtube. He explains the art of rewiring your brain. Practise and practise until you start feeling what you are saying. You are worth the effort!
Declutter your house
Clutter and anxiety often go hand in hand. Reducing the amount of possessions you have may create a little anxiety while you are doing it but in the long run it will actually calm you down. If you find it really difficult to do. Ask a friend to help you.
Easy steps to decluttering:
1. Choose a drawer, cabinet or closet.
2. Categorise the stuff you don’t use.
3. Make three piles:
- Items that are broken (throw away or recycle).
- Items to donate. Deliver them to your favourite charity or local tip shop.
- Items to sell. Make some money from unwanted goods through social media groups or eBay.
Research also suggests that colour, music, certain smells and even eating types of food can help change the way we are feeling. Wear pale blue, purple, pink and green for a calm feeling. Listen to classical music to help with insomnia. Create smells in your house that remind you of good times.
Aromatherapy for anxiety
Aromatherapy is the art of using aromatic plant extracts and essential oils for healing and cosmetic purposes. Smells trigger memories and emotions connected to different times of your life. Find smells that make you feel good.
Calming Bath Oil
Having a warm bath can help reduce mental fatigue and stiffness in the body. Adding a bath oil to the warm water not only makes the bath smell delicious but it carries the essential oils and all their benefits into your skin.
Massage has been used as a healing technique for over 5,000 years old. Use massage oil to rub your legs, arms and temples to relax.