5 Ways I Soothe My Anxiety
I am a fairly anxious person. I have been for as long as I remember, BUT I am getting better. I am learning to cope and to take better care of myself. For a long time, one question confounded me “How do you practice good self-care when you are feeling anxious?” I always felt like there was this wall between me and everything that I wanted, and that wall was anxiety. I was frustrated and often wanted to give up. But I’ve gotten help over the years. Seen psychologists, and counsellors, read websites and a million self-help books, and a long the way I’ve picked up a few things that just might help you, because they have definitely helped me!
What are good self-care methods to help reduce anxiety? My top 5 favourite self-care activities for reducing anxiety are:
- Belly Breathing
In attempting to reduce my anxiety, I was always searching for the “magic pill” that was going to make everything better. There is no “magic pill” to combat anxiety, but for me, L-theanine can pretty close. I came across this L-Theanine years ago. It was listed in this book called “The Blood Sugar Solution”. It was this wellness book about wholistic healing, and cutting sugar out of your diet. The book was confusing, and I would not recommend it, but it did point me to this wonderful supplement, L-Theanine. So what is L-Theanine? It is one of the main components founds in green tea.
Will L-Theanine Help Reduce Your Anxiety?
Honestly, the book seemed a bit sketchy. It seems to be recommending supplements that it sold, and I wondered how trustworthy it was. So, I found this website examine.com, which is a website that claims to be an unbiased source of information on supplements. They do not sell supplements, and provides information on the effectiveness of various sources, based on up to date scientific research, so I feel comfortable trusting it. If you want to explore the research on L-Theanine, you can click here.
I’m not a Doctor, so I will not speculate on how this supplement works. I just know that it helps me. It has have brought me down from the verge of a panic attack, to being calm almost right away. For me, it was life changing. All of our bodies work differently though, so there is no guarantee that it will work for you. I did give some to my friend, who has severe anxiety, and she wasn’t sure if it helped her or not.
Adding L-Theanine to Your Self-Care Routine
The brand I purchased is by made by Natural Factors and it comes with 60 chewable tablets, each one being 100mg. The directions on the bottle are to “chew two tablets daily or as directed by a health-care professional”. So one bottle will last you 1 month (or two if you only do 100mg a day). I paid 20.99 for my bottle, which is a bit pricey if used on an ongoing basis; howeverf for me, it is well worth the price.
I did not take two tablets daily. The way I used it was when I felt that my anxiety was becoming unmanageable (For example, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack), I ate one tablet, and if it didn’t work, I ate a second one. Most of the time, this made me feel way better. For me, I think a big part of the reason that it made me feel better is that it gave me some to actually DO. It made me feel more in control of the situation. For me, L-Theanine is was worth every penny.
L-Theanine comes in chewable tablets and non-chewable tablets. I personally prefer the chewable ones, as they seem to work faster. You can usually by them at your local health food store.
Lavender is one of those things that my mother used to put under my pillow to help me sleep. I honestly thought it was a bit of an old wive’s tale, but I looked at examine.com shows that lavender has a “notable” effect on decreasing anxiety. This effect was demonstrated in 5 studies, which had very high consistency in results, so I thought it was worth a try. I was SUPER confused about how to use it, so I have actually created a separate article on it here.
In addition to decreasing anxiety, some studies show that lavender decreases restlessness, insomnia, and depression. It also is shown to increase relaxation, sleep quality, sedation and subjective well-being.
Exercising. I remember once that a Doctor told me that if I exercised regularly, I probably won’t need medication. Sounds pretty appealing! I’ve always wondered exactly what that meant though. There are a lot of definitions of what that could mean. I am now more of the mind of just doing what I can, but I wanted to share the results of my research anyways:
- My doctor told me that 45 minutes every day of “any kind of exercise” would give me the mental health benefits that I was looking for.
- My psychiatrist told me that the most recent research showed that 30 minutes, three times a week was all that was needed for the mental health benefits of exercise.
- The Centre of Disease Control (CDC) didn’t have any specific information on how exercise related to a reduction in anxiety, but their website does say that exercise and mental health are correlated.The CDC said that research shows that exercise can reduce the risk of depression, and that “doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits”
- The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) says that some studies show that exercise can actually be as effective of a treatment for anxiety or depression as medications. The article on ADAA’s website goes on to say that “One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.” These benefits of exercise help most people with anxiety or depression; although, not everyone.
My take aways
It is confusing to know exactly what we need to be doing in order to feel good (never mind how). I have always known that exercise was good for me, and I do feel good when I do it, but I really wanted to know exactly what to do to take care of my body. I found this form the CDC:
For general exercise the CDC page they recommend that adults exercise AT LEAST
“2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).”
Conclusion for Exercise and Anxiety
I am definitely not meeting that goal, but I am working on it. I find that exercise make me feel not just good from doing it, but it is really good for my self-esteem and confidence. It makes me feel like a winner!
One thing that I am working on is setting realistic goals. I actually tried to start doing the recommendation all at once, but I was far too optimistic about my ability to reach the goal. I booked a three personal training sessions to learn how to do a full-body workout. The workouts were an hour. I did the workouts with my trainer, but never did them again. It was too overwhelming.
After the training sessions, I tried doing shorter workouts, but I found that I was still overwhelmed. Currently, I am focusing on the cardio aspect of the recommendations. I am going for walks, which is something that I actually enjoy doing. I have chosen to put the strength-training on the back burner for now. An older version of this would have seen this as a failure, but now I see it as setting realistic goals and being kind to myself. There is a quote by Arthur Ashe that I remind myself of often, and that I want to share with you: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”.
4. Meditation and/or mindfulness
Mindfulness has been shown in numerous studies to help reduce anxiety. Meditation and mindfulness are terms that you have have heard mentioned before, but what exactly are they? Let’s break it down.
According to dictionary.com “Mindfulness is the the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”. Ok, so what does that mean? I think the best way to explain mindfulness is by sharing a common introductory mindfulness exercise: the raisin mindfulness exercise.
The Mindfulness Raisin Exercise
The exercise involves “experiencing a raisin”. The subject is walked through a series of instructions. The instructions are given slowly, with multiple pauses. The instructions go something like this: “Hold the raisin in your hand. Notice what it feels like. Notice its shape. How heavy is it? Can you feel it sitting in your hand? What colour is it? What does it look like? Now touch the raisin with your finger. What does it feel like? Smell the raisin. What does it smell like? Place it in your mouth, but don’t bite it. What does it feel like on your tongue? Do you feel yourself salivating? Bite the raisin. What does it sound like? What does it taste like”.
What’s the point of the exercise? Simply to engage your awareness of a situation. To experience it. The sound, the smell, the taste, the touch, the look. The exercise shows a person to engage the world in a way that they might never have before. I suggest that you try it. It doesn’t have to be a raisin. You can do it with anything.
When I did the exercise, I realized I had not ever really tasted my food. I had instead eaten it mindlessly, thinking about all of the things I was worried about, or the things that I had to do. Mindfulness can give you a new appreciation of the world around us. If nothing else, mindfulness gives your mind a break from thinking.
Adding Mindfulness Into your Self-care Routine
Mindfulness is incredibly simple, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is easy to practice.
It is simple because all it means is that you are paying attention to what is going on. How do you feel? How does your body feel? What noises are around you? What does your food taste like? What does your skin feel like? It can be easy because you can do this at any time of day. While you are waiting for your coffee to brew, you can listen to the sounds around you. When you drive in your car, you can notice the colour of the car in front of you.
It is easy… but for some (like me) it can be very challenging. I was introduced to mindfulness over a decade ago, but I was terrified to actually let my mental walls down, so, until recently, I very rarely practiced it. Sometimes fear stops us from doing the thins that will help us fight the fear.
When I was first introduced to mindfulness by a psychologist, I was told to work it into my daily routine, such as practicing mindfulness while you are brushing my hair or teeth. I was honest really surprised to realize how harsh I was when I did this. It was actually hurting myself, but I didn’t even notice. I told this to a friend of mine, who thought I was nuts, but she tried it and found the same thing! It is an interesting metaphor in a way: we hurt ourselves when we are not paying attention!
I try to do it while brushing my teeth still, as it is an easy way to work it in to my routine, but I really like listening to the birds when I am out for a walk. It makes me smile.
Are meditation and mindfulness the same thing? Kind of. Mindfulness is a type of meditation. Meditation has the same practice of bringing awareness to your mind, but it can take many forms.
To be honest, I never really understood what meditation really was, until very recently. I had always thought that meditation was about clearing your mind, but it isn’t really that at all.Even though I’ve done meditation several times, I never really “got it” until I signed up for Headspace, which is an app that guides you through meditations. There are these great tutorials with animations, below is an explanation of one of their animiations that I found extremely helpful:
A man sits by the side of the road, and his only job is to watch the traffic go by, which he does for a while, but then, he gets distracted and starts chasing a car. Then he starts chasing a different car. Before long, he forgets that his job was just to sit on the side of the road and and watch the cars. That’s what meditation is. It’s not about not thinking, it is about just watching the thoughts and trying not to attach to them. This is particularly helpful because it helps to not attach to anxious thoughts. To just let them go. It is almost like magic in a strange way.
I really like Headspace because it makes meditations less scary for me. I strongly encourage anyone to check out that app. It is free to access the basic meditations (after that you have to subscribe).
5. Belly Breathing
I have saved my personal favourite anxiety-busting technique for last: belly breathing. In my own search for help with my anxiety, I came across “breathing” a lot, and I used to dismiss it. It sounded like it was not significant enough for me to take seriously. It was certainly no “magic pill”. My dismissal of belly breathing was a huge mistake because belly breathing has turned out to be the technique that I use the most often. It is free, easy, and extremely effective. It is my number one go to whenever I feel anxious.
So what is belly breathing? You may have come across this concept before, as it goes by many names (Diaphragmatic breathing, deep breathing, abdominal breathing, yoga belly breath, or calm breathing) If you are practicing yoga, you are probably already using this technique.
Belly breathing is fairly simply. When most of us inhale, our stomach moves in, with belly breathing, you want your stomach to move OUT, and fill with air, then exhale. It is really that simple.
Bell Breathing Technique
As all things health-related, there are always going to be multiple opinions on how to do something. Here is what Anxiety BC recommends.
Belly Breathing Technique as Recommended by Anxiety BC
Anxiety BC recommends that you take slow, regular breathes. They also recommend sitting up straight because it will allows your lunch to fill up more. Lay your arms on the arm rest of chair or on your lap.
1. Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing into your lower belly (for about 4 seconds)
2. Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds
3. Exhale slowly through the mouth (for about 4 seconds)
4. Wait a few seconds before taking another breath
They recommend that you try this for 5 minutes a day.
They do suggest that when you first try it, you can lie on the floor with your hand on your belly. This is how I first learnt. It was helpful to actually feel my stomach rise. Sometimes, if I am alone, I will still put my hand on my belly, as I find it calming. It also helps me to focus on my breath. If you try laying on the floor for the first time, also put your other hand on your chest. You want to see/feel the hand on your chest stay still, while the hand on your belly rises.
They have another tip, which I actually don’t agree with. They say that you should try belly breathing when you are calm and that “you need to be comfortable breathing this way when feeling calm, before you feel comfortable doing it when anxious”. This has not been my experience. I have gotten comfortable doing it when anxious. In fact, it was only when I tried it when I WAS anxious, that I was able to experience the full benefits of it, and to understand its value.
How I use Belly Breathing in my self-care routine
When I was first given the instructions on belly breathing by a a psychologist, I could not follow the instructions. It was too overwhelming for me. The idea of doing belly breathing every day, for a set amount of time, made me panic. So I didn’t do it. Instead, I just did belly breathing whenever (and wherever) I am feeing anxious. I just take a few breathes, pushing my belly out, until I feel better.
It is amazing how quickly belly breathing works. I usually start to feel better within a few breathes. A big benefit for doing belly breathing is that you can do it discreetly, at any time. While Anxiety BC recommends sitting, I have no problems doing it when I am walking or standing on the bus. I practice belly breathing whenever and wherever I need to.
Another good option, which I now practice, is to pair belly breathing with mindfulness or meditation. They go together very well. Another strategy is try it when you don’t need to take specific time out of your schedule, like on your commute to work.
These techniques have really helped me, and I’m working on trying to actually use them on a more consistent basis. Change isn’t easy! I don’t know if any of these will help you, but I hope that they will.
I try not to give advice because I don’t know you, or what your needs are, or where you are at. I can tell you the advice I would give myself though. If I could go back in time to talk to my younger self, to give her advice, it wouldn’t be to belly breathe or mediate more. It would be to go easy on herself. I would tell her: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can”.