Being a worry wort does not come easier. But worry can easily turn into anxiety and a world of unjustified mental agony. Mindfulness helps, but the physical symptoms of anxiety are much harder to deal with (as physical anxiety symptoms normally stem from the subconsciousness).
With time and practice, you can refine the art of being able to quickly calm down your thoughts and nervous system when entering a stressed and anxious state. This is how to do it.
Avoid caffeine at all costs
Caffeine peps you up by raising levels of adrenaline and cortisol, two stress hormones that indeed wake you up but also create a stress response in the body. In a state of anxiety, your body is already experiencing a heightened stress response thus added caffeine will only make you feel a lot worse. Even if you’re dead tired, avoid caffeine completely. It will make you feel more shaky and will speed your mind up even more (which is the last thing you need). Avoid coffee especially, but also decaf coffee, green tea, white tea, black tea and dark chocolates.
Often when people are feeling anxious the first thing they want is a big glass of wine. Temporarily it feels better to drink, but in fact all that alcohol does is temporarily inhibit the ability to consciously deal with stress. It also leaves you feeling cloudy the next day, and often quite down (alcohol is a depressant – especially gin!). So when you’re feeling stressed out and anxious, it’s best to give booze the flick.
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a well-known trigger of anxiety. If you’re sensitive it can give you palpitations (making your heart race) which makes the feeling of anxiety worse. It has many other detrimental affects that affect people differently. It also leaves many with nightmares and night sweats. So avoid MSG when you can – checking Asian foods and packaged foods such as frozen dinners, gravies, salty snacks and chips. Especially remember to ask the wait staff at Asian restaurants too.
Opt for high quality carbohydrates
Whilst anxiety can often put you off your food, when you are hungry opt for high quality, non-glutinous, starchy carbohydrates.
Anxiety is often the result of HPA dysfunction (i.e. when the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis becomes over stimulated, usually due to chronic stress and/or inflammation). Eating gluten free, starchy, non-inflammatory carbohydrates (that do not incite an insulin response) will help calm this response (and thus your anxiety). Some of these include any type of rice, sweet potato, potato, beetroot or squash. Eating low GI carbohydrates will also stimulate the secretion of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps the mind to relax and stop worrying. Other foods that might also help as they contain glutamic acid (which makes GABA) include almonds, halibut, mackerel, oats, walnuts, rice bran and lentils.
Avoid refined sugars and glutinous grains
Both of these food groups are inflammatory and increase HPA dysfunction (described above) more than any other food groups.
Sit in nature
Science has shown that being in nature, and/or with animals, is a huge stress relief. It reduces your blood pressure, improves your breathing and reduces the production of stress hormones generally. Being in and around nature will make you a much calmer person. It also provides respite for our overactive minds as we naturally focus on the external, sensory experience itself.
Drink a lot of chamomile tea
Chamomile tea is incredibly calming. Drink as many as you can throughout the day. A jug of chamomile tea on your desk for the day is a good idea too if you are anxious and stressed at work.
Exercise exercise exercise
The best way to get out of your head and get into your body is to exercise. It is the best thing to get rid of the unused excess (nervous) energy in the body that can be making you feel strung out. It also helps bring cortisol levels back into check and produces a flood of endorphins, which makes you instantly feel better. To get rid of the physical feelings of anxiety, do something that will make you sweat and puff, like running, dancing or aerobics. If you are struggling with the mental-looping-kinda anxiety, swimming laps in a pool or yoga are better options.
Generally speaking, when someone is stressed they start to breathe shallowly or hold their breathe. Short, shallow breathes eventually give you the need to take deeper breathes to compensate for the loss of oxygen. Most people think deep breathing is the best thing to do when stressed but in fact it only activates the fight or flight response even further, speeding your up heart even more and making you feel worse.
So to de-stress take slow, deliberate breaths, imagining your are breathing into your belly button and lower belly. Imagining you’re sipping the air as if you were drinking it through a straw (like a drink) is also really helpful too. I also love the practice of pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) too.
Meditating is probably the last thing you feel like doing when you are anxious and stressed. Which is exactly why it is a good idea to sit down and do it. Anxiety is generally caused by an overactive mind that provides unrealistic, fearful thoughts we can’t get perspective on. With a regular meditation practice, you begin to train you mind to be able to choose which thoughts are helpful to you and which are not. You create a space that you take out into your day that allows you to watch and investigate them one by one. Meditation also has the added bonus of calming your nervous system down. So when it comes to stress, meditation is the best medicine out there. If you find meditating on your own difficult consider a meditation app, recording or meeting group.
Talk to someone
If your mind is on a loop, call a friend and have a chat. With their permission, designate 1-2 particular friends as your go-to people for those occasional melt down moments. I have 2 amazing friends that do this for me. When you’re gripped with fear you would be amazed at what a little love, support and outside perspective can do for you.
However if your anxiety is ongoing, it is worth booking in with a professional psychotherapist who can help you retrain your mind and get a balanced perspective on things. (NB: Good therapists are hard to find so always make sure you get a good referral).
Rescue Remedy is a Bach Flower essence spray shown by science to be just as powerful as any over the counter pharmaceutical drug. I keep one in my handbag and swear by it. They’re available for purchase at most health food stores and pharmacies.
Nervoheel is a homeopathic complex that works to quickly diminish that super uncomfortable, jittery feeling in the body you can get with anxiety.
A high quality magnesium supplement will instantly quench that nervous feeling in the body you get with anxiety. Magnesium glycinate and magnesium citrate are the better forms of magnesium to use.
NB: If you have anxiety-induced diarrhoea, it is possible the magnesium can make your stool looser/ make the diarrhoea worse. So go slow, taking half a dose to begin with after food.
If you don’t like the idea of taking a magnesium supplement, consider taking a bath with 1kg of Epsom salts instead (it’s rich in magnesium too).