– Please note that I have zero formal qualifications on the subject of anxiety or stress so if you’re experiencing serious cases of either, I’d highly recommend closing this page immediately and contacting a professional –
I think we’ve all experienced anxiety in one form or another. That feeling like your world is caving in and there is nothing you can do to stop all the bad things from happening. As if someone is twisting your insides and you’re spiralling into a deep, dark pit of despair with no way out (OK – enough on what it feels like).
I decided to get professional help from a Guidance Counsellor who helped me understand my anxiety and gave me actionable ways of overcoming it. Here’s what I learnt in those sessions.
ANXIETY IS JUST A CHEMICAL REACTION
I don’t know what I was expecting it to be (a little dwarf in your stomach running riot, trashing the place). Turns out it’s a by-product of our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. Back in the glory days when life was about hunting and gathering, our bodies released an adrenal chemical in times of danger allowing us to either (you guessed it) ‘fight’ or ‘run away’. When this is chemical is released it does a couple things:
- It shuts down the frontal cortex of our brain which deals with logic and reasoning making it impossible for us to see the rational parts of the situations (which explains why we can think we’re the worst people to ever exist on the planet.)
- It causes our primal instincts to take over and ‘deal’ with the situation we’re in.
This issue comes when we look at our modern lives and how they have evolved from ‘just seeking food and shelter’ to a hectic day that starts at 6:30 with a Pilates class followed by a number of meetings filled with acronyms nobody understands and ending with someone saying ‘let’s catch up’. Putting it simply our bodies have not evolved enough to deal with modern day life.
The technological advancements have done wonders for our everyday life but have seemly made us more prone to stress. Figures released from the Amercian Psychological Association in 2014 include:
- 76% of people cited money and work as the leading cause of their stress.
- 77% of people experience physical symptoms caused by stress.
- 48% reported lying awake at night due to stress.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
My Guidance Councilor made me record her talking me through my first meditation with her. At the time I had no idea what she was on about. Now I listen to that same recording most days before a big meeting, a date, or making large life decisions. There are plenty of guided meditations out there that serve different purposes. If you’re new to meditation I’d recommend downloading Headspace. 10 minutes of your time is all that’s required.
These are all forms of the same concept – focusing on one thing and nothing else. This focus helps relax the mind and focus it back on reality.
Colouring – Some of the most popular books sold on Amazon in 2016 were adult colouring books. There are a number of studies done that suggest the therapeutic benefits of colouring include reduction in heart rate, stress levels and an increase in overall concentration.
Mindful breathing – similar to meditation but this can be done at your desk, on your daily commute or simply ling in bed. All you have to do is be still and focus on your breath for just one minute.
Brushing your teeth – most of us think about everything but actually brushing our teeth while doing it. Try actually thinking about what you’re doing in that moment. Notice the different feelings and sensations.
Take care of yourself
It’s probably an obvious one but your body is far better equipped to deal with the old curve balls life throws us when it’s in good shape. Exercise releases all those endorphin’s. Endorphin’s make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands (sorry my sister used to watch Legally Blonde on repeat). Have a green smoothie and cut out the sugar.
Oh there he goes. Telling me to drink less. You wouldn’t be the first dickhead – fair call kind stranger but have you ever had those dark thoughts after a night out. ‘The fear’ is a real thing and it is caused by a rebound of the brain’s GABA receptors to reduce neurone firing.
Get back to nature
This is in line with most of the other points but a 2015 study by Stanford researchers found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.
Nature for the win!
THE FINAL WORD
We undoubtedly live in the most exciting time of human existence with technological and scientific advances leading us allowing consider for the first time living to age 150 (umm no thanks) and colonising Mars (yes please Mr Musk).
We’re more connected than ever before but at the same time seemingly more disconnected with the present moment. Our bodies are continually being forced to activate our ‘fight or flight’ instinct to combat this.
So just remember; unless you’re standing between Donald Trump and an executive order, there are ways to help you can manage these levels of anxiety.