We all go through periods of stress from time to time, which can actually help us to grow by motivating us to make positive changes. But chronic anxiety is a completely different animal. Living with anxiety can impact your life, career, and relationships as well as taxing your heart, adrenals and immune system.
If I’m having a full blown anxiety attack, and someone tells me to just relax or just breathe, it’s kind of like telling someone with a gaping wound to just stop bleeding. I’m just not in control of it at that point. If I’m in a medical setting and offered medication at that moment I will take it as there is no point in suffering unnecessarily, although I don’t make a habit of taking pharmaceutical medication regularly.
A word about medication: if you are taking medication for anxiety, or if your anxiety is so bad that you feel you should be, please don’t feel bad about it! There’s this idea floating around the natural health community that all pharmaceuticals are bad. Anyone who would shame you for taking medication for your anxiety would probably scream for even stronger medication if they fell and broke their arm. Just because your pain isn’t physical doesn’t mean that it isn’t debilitating. Pharmaceutical medication can be lifesaving for some people. However, if you have been on medication for a while, it can be valuable to look at your lifestyle factors to see if there is some other way of managing your anxiety so that you can at least reduce your dose. It’s great to find relief if you are suffering, just don’t fall into the trap of anesthetizing your symptoms at the expense of dealing with the underlying problems.
If you are a person living with anxiety, simply acknowledging that fact can be relieving. There may be times when you have to cancel plans, just like a person living with a physical ailment might. You’re not making excuses, you’re just being honest about how you feel. We’re all wired differently; most of the time anxious people are just more sensitive than others. This sensitivity is a blessing in many ways; it makes you more empathetic, more aware and compassionate, more creative.
Accepting your anxiety isn’t the same as identifying with it. I am a person who struggles with/ lives with/manages anxiety. I am not my anxiety. The language I use around my anxiety has an impact on my outlook. When I affirm to myself all the time that I’m anxious, or that I’m an anxious person, it can feel all-consuming, like it owns me.
Anxiety is a fleeting feeling. It comes and goes, sometimes staying longer than usual. It doesn’t have to become a way of life. Affirming that you are in control and on the road to managing your anxiety is the first step towards freeing yourself.
Meditation and exercise
First of all, I know that when you’re really struggling with anxiety the last thing you feel like doing is getting up and exercising or meditating, so I’d never suggest that to someone who has uncontrolled anxiety. I know what it’s like to be told to get over it and just exercise or do more deep breathing. Trust me if it was that easy, no one would struggle with anxiety! It’s like telling someone to teleport from Toronto to Vancouver; you just can’t get from there to there that fast! You need to get into a half decent space mentally first in order to make positive changes like that. Perhaps you need to see a doctor, naturopath, or counsellor. Once you’re in a decent frame of mind, give meditation a try. You don’t need to sit there in lotus pose for twenty minutes; you can do a walking meditation, a guided mediation in bed at night or in the morning, you can repeat affirmations mindfully- you can even just take a few deep breaths while brushing your teeth or showering if nothing else. Similarly, an exercise regime doesn’t have to encompass hours of your time every week. Simply doing a few stretches daily, especially targeting areas where you know you hold tension (for me its my shoulders and hips) can be enough to get the blood flowing and get those feel-good endorphins going.
Know your triggers
I love going to the movies. I love the night out, the escape from reality, the free pass to eat popcorn and junk food. However, large groups of people in a dark,crowded space majorly trigger my anxiety. So I’ve learned that I can still enjoy going to movies, but I’m mindful to catch an earlier screening where it’s less likely to be packed, and to avoid opening nights. I also might have some passion flower tea beforehand or take a supplement.
Being aware of what your triggers are can help you to avoid a stressful situation altogether, or at least to minimize feelings of anxiety. Surrounding yourself with people you trust that you can express your fears to safely can also be a huge help.
I won’t pretend that you can cure your anxiety with essential oils. Honestly, I don’t believe that anxiety is really something you can “cure” anyway. It’s something you learn to accept and manage, hopefully to the point where you will one day have control over it.
Essential oils have great healing properties and can support you as you learn to heal your anxiety. To get started, just go to a health food store and ask for a stress-relieving blend. Pure Lavender essential oil is also a great standby that is safe for most people. If you don’t want to splurge for a diffuser right away, you can just get a stainless steel spray bottle and add a few drops of your favourite oil with some purified water for a calming spray that can be used on your body or as a room spray.
Herbs like passionflower, tulsi (holy basil), ashwaganda, camomile, lavender, and rhodiola can all help ease symptoms of anxiety. Magnesium can also be greatly calming, without making you feel drowsy. There are also some studies to suggest that probiotics and Omega 3 fats, especially when used in combination, can help improve your response to stress. In Canada, you can get a great supplement called Veeva Anxiety Formula, which is all natural and targets different symptoms of stress and anxiety. I find it really helpful if I know I’ll be going into a stressful situation.
Of course, only take what feels right, and, especially if you’re taking other supplements or medications, consult with your naturopath or doctor before starting a new supplement.
We all develop rituals in our life unconsciously- be it having our morning cup of coffee, a certain route we take to work or school, or scrolling through Facebook for an hour before bed every night. We get locked in these habits and before you know it, we’re going through our lives on autopilot, not stopping to think about whether or not these behaviours are serving us.
Just like people who struggle with addiction go to meetings regularly as a way of managing their disease of addiction, people who live with anxiety can use daily rituals as a mechanism to take control back.
Whether it’s lighting a candle, having an herbal tea, diffusing essential oils once a day, going for a run or walk in the evening- even something simple like taking a few deep breaths in your car every morning before heading to work- do something that makes you feel good.
Lastly, ask yourself what your anxiety is trying to tell you. What age were you when it first showed up? What is it’s purpose in being here? Is it trying to protect you from something? If so, what?
Reframing your attitude towards anxiety can shift you from a space of fighting it, to hearing it out. Listen to what it’s trying to tell you instead of thinking of it as something that needs to be defeated. Be gentle with yourself and know that getting control of your anxiety is a process- there’s no quick fix but there is hope!