Simple steps to alleviate anxiety

How many times this month have you stayed awake at night, tossing and turning as your mind ruminated over endless, churning thoughts? Or felt your heart begin to race and palms sweat as seemingly unwarranted fear pulsed through your body?

High functioning anxiety and Generalised Anxiety Disorders (GAD) are on the rise, and with Millennials and Gen X battling higher levels of anxiety than their predecessors, it’s time to get serious about ways to manage the epidemic.

1 in 5 adults experience anxiety and through the breaking down of the social stigma which surrounds mental illness, we are beginning to share more often when we feel those anxious thoughts kick in. However the fact that at base level (for it surely feels like more when discussing with colleagues, family and friends), 20% of the population is experiencing anxiety, it is evident that we need to be not only increasing awareness, but cultivating management techniques to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety when they strike. 

Anxiety itself is a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. It is a state in which we ruminate and overthink, often spurred on by inactivity or stress. It can be the main symptom of severe conditions, including panic disorders, phobias, post-traumatic stress and social anxiety disorder. Yet increasingly common now is the prevalence of GAD, a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a vast array of situations, rather than one specific event. This causes the individual to feel anxious most days, often unable to recall the last time they felt truly relaxed and can present symptoms such as feelings of restlessness, overwhelm or worry, lack of concentration, inhibited sleep and dizziness or heart palpitations.

So what can you do when anxiety comes knocking? Try one, or many, of these simple steps to help alleviate anxiety.

Remember that seeking professional help is always a recommended option when dealing with chronic or lasting cases of anxiety or any associated mental health issues. 

Get up, get out the door and go for a walk.

It sounds basic, but going for a long walk can be a simple, yet effective method to alleviate anxiety. The primary movement requires zero skill, prior knowledge or talent – straight away you will be burning off excess energy and get oxygen flowing around your body whilst you begin to breathe with the movement. The steady, consistent rhythm of walking can be a calming stimulus, offsetting the jittery feelings that often accompany anxiety. Try to use walking as a mindful practice, hone your attention to a scenic route offering plenty of interesting sights along the way, or plug in to your favourite podcast series or playlists so that your mind has something to focus on as you go.

Dial a friend

Remember that saying “a problem shared, is a problem halved”, well its true. Calling up a close friend, or catching up with a confidante, can help you unload some of the emotion welling up and giving literal volume to the (oftentimes irrational) anxious thoughts silently occupying your mind, will give you a sense of perspective on the issues. The constant churning over and over of thoughts is a classic anxiety symptom, so once you formulate these into words and share them, you may find they have less power.

Undertake a focused workout

Exercise, as we all well now, has endless physical and mental benefits – improved endurance, cardiovascular health, body composition, boosted self-confidence to name a few – however as a method by which to manage anxiety, working out can help to improve sleep cycles, give structure to your schedule, manage cortisol rhythms (which are generally disrupted when stress levels are high and anxiety is present) and prevent inactivity – that main state for anxiety to fester in. Additionally, you are rewarded with those coveted relaxation neurotransmitters – endorphins – which give a natural high and boost your mood. Choosing a workout such as yoga, which is proven to help lower you heart rate, centre you mind on your breathing and develops a mindful practice by which to eliminate unwarranted thoughts is a common choice. However, choosing other workouts such as boxing, bouldering or resistance training, which all require singular focus and attention can help concentrate the mind and reward you with a buzz of positive energy.

Read more about which are the best workouts for anxiety

Breathe it in

Breathing, our most vital act to sustain life, can be an instant hack to calming down the nervous system. When anxiety and panic attacks set in, one of the first tell-tale signs is the shortening, quickening and shallowness of the breath. Slowing down your breathing and taking deep, conscious breaths, is not only a mindful practice that will focus the mind, but the increased levels of oxygen will revitalize and rejuvenate your body and brain, bringing you back to homeostasis and a sense of balance.

A herbal brew

When anxiety is rife, it’s time to ditch the coffee – a known stimulant which can increase feelings of anxiety – and opt to brew a herbal tea instead. Chamomile is widely accepted as the most popular herbal tea for calming and soothing, helping to aid insomnia and improve anxiety levels in those struggling with GAD , however passionflower (which has a sedative effect to enhance sleep ), lemon balm (which can boost mood and mental function ), Echinacea and turmeric tea (which can help boost serotonin and dopamine levels) all are said to help calm the nervous system.

Be realistic about social media

" Comparison is the thief of all joy." – you've heard it all before, yet still scroll the 'gram and feel that little fear that IRL you're not matching up to the curated, stylised and glittering perfection world within the squares. A recent study revealed that the more time spent on social media was significantly associated with greater symptoms of anxiety. As we scroll through friends, acquinatances and to a greater extent, strangers, highlight reels we are bombarded with images of a lifestyle that we instaneously compare to our own. The notion of “keeping up” and a false reality leads us to feeling like we are falling short or not measuring up to some unquantifable level. Developing a healthy relationship to social media usage, particularly in keeping the notion of reality in check, is crucial in a world that is rapidly moving online. If you notice that social media is greatly affecting your mood, reducing your screen time, or checking out for a period of time to focus on building real life relationships, interactions and connections may be hugely beneficial. 

Rapid fire gratitude

Develop an attitude of gratitude. The practice of gratitude has long reported positive mental health benefits, including increased well being. Whilst additionally being a symptom by which to keeps you present – focused on the here and now, rather than the future (ideal for anxiety sufferers) it is good medicine for both physical and mental health. Often we talk about developing the practice of gratitude list writing, however an immediate solution is simply rapid fire listing off 5 things you a grateful for, right now. This has a positive effect on the mind and body as you choose to select a positive mind frame, sparking higher vibrations. The context, content and weight of these is completely up to you, but keeping it simple and repeating this quick list a few times can be a calming way to reground and bring you back to the present moment. 

If this has raised any issues or triggered a response from you, please reach out to a trusted friend, professional or find more resources at Beyond Blue or Calm Clinic.