Being present is top of mind here at NS as a pillar of health and how to live whole — anxiety is one of the quickest ways to pull you out of that present moment. Whether you’re thinking about the past or the future, anxiety can be consuming, it can stop you in your tracks, can make you feel physically unwell, and it can make you procrastinate and lose focus with work. We’ve all been there and we’ll be there again, the key is to recognize what anxiety looks like and feels like to you and take action.
I’ve had anxiety on and off since I can remember — from early college days to now running a company, there are times where anxiety feels tangible and overwhelming and times where I breeze by without feeling that unease in life. It comes down to many things like am I taking care of myself? Am I nurturing my morning routine and things that make me feel good? Am I eating well, sleeping, laughing, etc.?
Naturally, everyone can feel worried or nervous from time to time, but it’s the excessive worrying and panicky thoughts over a long period of time that can signal an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders like Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder affect roughly 40 million adults in the US.
Researchers have also developed a nonlinear model they dub the “ABC” model to describe how the anxiety process works; “A” is for alarm sensations, “B” for beliefs and “C” for coping strategies. Alarms are the emotional sensations or reactions to a trigger situation or thought. Your basis of beliefs are then brought into play; they’re ingrained from past experiences, your personal and cultural background, and anything your sensor organs are picking up. Lastly, your coping strategies are the behaviors or mental activity that aim to reduce anxiety and avoid the perceived “danger.” Because your coping strategies can evolve with time, your can see how the makeup of an anxiety order can become very complex.
Anxiety looks different for everyone, though, and for the longest time, I wasn’t sure how to identify the emotions or behaviors I was going through as anxiety. What I started to notice were things like my sleep was suffering, or I’d completely lose my appetite, I’d get easily distracted or have a hard time focusing. Anxiety could be any of those feelings, it could also be physical symptoms like excessive sweating, trouble breathing, digestive issues, bloating, acne, and a rapid heart rate.
So what’s scientifically causing anxiety people? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders can be a result of both genetic and environmental factors, which are oftentimes intertwined. Factors include: being exposed to traumatic life events growing up, having parental history of mental disorders, having few economic resources, going through a divorce or having a spouse pass away and more.
The good news: we’re not only learning more about the many ways anxiety can affect our health, but people are more vocal, vulnerable, and supportive around talking about it which is calming and comforting in itself. Calming anxiety will look different for everyone as well, but here are some things I’ve learned along the way from personal and professional experience.
Since this is such a personal topic, I’d love to hear if you have any strategies and tools that have worked for you to add to the list. If so, don’t do it for me, do it for someone in our community that might need to hear your voice today — leave a comment below.
10 Ways To Calm Anxiety
Slow, intentional breaths can take your mind off of the cause of your anxious feelings. With each breath, you’re able to gently disengage from distractions, thoughts, and sensations.
To go about this powerful, yet simple technique, inhale for five seconds, pause at the top for 5 seconds, then exhale for the same amount of time as the inhale. You should be able to see your belly rise, followed by your chest, and fall with each sequence. Repeat as many times as necessary and challenge your breath capacity by increasing the amount you hold at each step.
- Inhale, 5 count
- Hold, 5 count
- Exhale, 5 count
When I use this method, I also couple it with mantras or words of affirmations. For example, inhale positivity, hold, exhale negativity. Again, explore what works for you and do that.
Listening to the right music can pump you up for your workout just as much as it can calm you down. Consider creating a playlist of songs that make you feel good, relaxed, and happy. I grew up in a musical household, both my father and brother are musicians at heart so music always had such an emotional power in my life — it can be a powerful tool to change your mood if you allow it.
Listening to music is also something I recommend my clients do as part of their evening routine to wind down hence why the past three years I’ve made free music playlists. They’re the same ones I listen to at home and in the office so if you need some inspiration, follow NS on Spotify.
The benefits of exercise are powerful for your mind, body, and emotional health. Even if the movement is as simple as taking a walk, it can help relieve any muscle tension, spark a creative though if you’re in a rut, force yourself to breathe with your movements, all while physically moving blood flow to your brain, gut, etc.
I’m a big fan of kundalini yoga whenever I’m feeling anxiety that lingers or I can’t seem to shake with my morning runs — I think it’s the combination of mantras with high paced movements that keep my focus sharp and in the present moment. If you want some tips on how to exercise or simple workouts, I’m lucky to have great friends who are also fitness experts and shared some things in NS for you, click here for those!
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant and all of us metabolize caffeine differently (mainly from coffee in our diets). If you’re sensitive to caffeine, or prone to feeling anxious, keep your intake at 1 cup per day ideally in the Coffee Elevated fashion so you create a little digestion buffer (i.e. slowing down the absorption of the caffeine buddled around healthy fats) or enjoy it after you’ve had a meal so you’re not drinking on an empty stomach. Read more about the health benefits of coffee, and if you want, a method to taper off the coffee.
Talk About It
Do you have a supportive friend or family member who can lend an ear? The first of our NS pillars of health we live by is SQUAD. Your squad or your support system is crucial to your wellbeing. It’s helpful to identify with a friend or family member who can create the space for you to just be, to talk and to reflect much-needed strength for times like this.
Outside of your immediate support system, chat with professionals! Professional and licensed psychologist, counselors, and therapists are incredible resources to lend on when you need guidance.
For me, sometimes anxiety can feel like I have way too many ideas and things in motion in my head, and I just need to write it out and immediately feel better! When your anxious thoughts are left unobserved or swirling around creating constant chatter in your mind, they can lead to greater feelings of anxiousness.
Journaling is a simple solution and it’s been scientifically proven to have health benefits such as it strengthens the immune system, counteracts many of the side effects of stress, it boosts cognitive functioning, and it can keep you organized! Ever since I discovered this company who makes The Five Minute Journal, I’ve been using it each morning and night – not to mention their Productivity Planner for work too. Journaling throughout the day can also be a helpful tool to reduce mental clutter from a workday or your to-do list.
Our pets and animals, in general, are a source of unconditional love, joy, laughter, and they make for great cuddle buddies when we feel anxiety. I’m a HUGE animal lover – I wholeheartedly believe animals and humans were meant to be together in some fashion; we both teach so much to each other without verbal communication.
Have you ever observed an animal in the wild or even your puppy at home? They’re always in the present moment, reacting to what is currently happening to them, and moving on. It’s fascinating and inspiring actually. Our pup Luna has a smile that never seems to fade and anytime I need a little love and boost, all I have to do is look to her and I feel lighter. If you needed any more convincing, science has shown owning a pet is good for your mental health. If you don’t have a pup, no worries, Instagram has about a million animal videos to keep you entertained and feeling the love!
Hydration is an important part of feeling nourished throughout the day, but it’s also a subtle way to slow down breathing, especially if you’re not having any success with taking a few slow, deep breaths. When you’re hydrated, your body is more able to combat everyday stresses, fight fatigue, keep your digestion moving, your metabolism efficient, supple skin, along with many others benefits. Interested in why you should be drinking enough water and how? Read here to find 5 ways to drink more water.
Words Are Powerful
I’ve talked about the power of mantras for better health before; these simple phrases can be repeated for lasting effects throughout your day. Ever since I learned about mantras in my early 20’s from various teachers, I’ve incorporated them into my morning routine while I run or during meditation and they’ve completely changed my outlook on life — most importantly, I feel grounded and primed for the day ahead, rather than coming from a place of reaction.
A simple scan of your body can slow your thoughts and bring you back to the now. It’s a great visualization tool that I like to use as part of meditation during my morning routine. I close my eyes and focus on one body part at a time, where I then try to release any physical tension there. This practice ultimately helps me achieve a stronger mind-body connection.
Additional Resources & Support
If you’re reading this and you’re still unsure on how to move forward, I’ve compiled a list of a few additional resources that can hopefully help you.
- Understand the statistics of anxiety disorders among adults and among children by the National Institute of Mental Health
- Read Harvard Medical School’s tips for treating anxiety without medication
- Find a licensed professional therapist and meet with them privately online
- Join a peer-to-peer online support group like this one
- Join supportive groups in your community on Meetup (for example, here’s a great one in Nashville)
- Learn about these nutritional strategies to ease anxiety
- Contact National Alliance of Mental Illnesses (NAMI) HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or [email protected] if you have additional questions about anxiety disorders, or finding support and resources. This is also a great resource for friends and family members looking to help a loved one.
If you’ve struggled with anxiety, what methods have helped you cope? Have you felt relief in certain outlets, or support systems? Do you know someone that could use your help and appreciate these resources I’ve shared above? And most importantly, do you have any additional tools or strategies that we can add to the list? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below; shed some more light on this seemingly simple, yet sometimes debilitating issue in everyday life for many of us.