StyleFit Ambassador, Kate Mac, Shares Tips on mindfulness and managing anxiety.
One thing I feel I’m perhaps not as open about as I should be is my long journey with anxiety. The word anxiety gets thrown around a lot and, in this day and age it’s unfortunately become more and more prevalent in both adults and teenagers. We all live such a fast-paced life and with the rise of social media everything has become comparable and we’re no longer living in privacy most of the time – this opens us up to judgement, to comparing ourselves to others and feeling not good enough. Even as a 35-year-old mum of 2 – I fall victim to it. What scares me is what my girls will grow up with, how will they manage it and what can we do about it?
Now, I don’t want to focus on social media here because anxiety has been around since the beginning of time, well before social media, but I do think it’s to blame for a huge rise in those dealing with anxiety. So why am I talking about this today?
We’re already almost 4 months into the new year – time is flying and after talking to a lot of my girlfriends there is a similar feeling in the air of business, lack of time and feeling anxious about the juggle of all expectations as a mother, a friend, a colleague, and everything in between. Anyone else get that feeling in the pit of their stomach that there’s just not enough time?
After years of having my anxiety under control the beast raised its ugly head on me recently. It came over me so suddenly as I got in my head about the reality of 2 babies, the mum guilt, the work guilt, my relationship, friends, family I spiralled convincing myself I was doing each part badly because there wasn’t enough time, and I was letting everyone down. It took me a while to rationalise and pull it together. As the feelings got more intense I found myself googling symptoms of anxiety as it had been some time since I had these emotions and the list was spot on to what I was feeling.
• Feeling nervous, restless or tense
• Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
• Having an increased heart rate
• Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
• Feeling weak or tired
• Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
• Having trouble sleeping
• Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
• Having difficulty controlling worry
• Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
It was triggered by something so trivial and looking back now it’s quite scary to think how I got to that conclusion. It was also scary looking back and remembering how many times I had gotten myself in that condition in the past before seeking help but that’s what anxiety is – your brain finds it very hard to rationalise and in the moment what you feel is so real. Now, I’m not a doctor, I have no qualifications on mental health but I’m someone who has dealt with some very bad anxiety in the past. I’ve had some demons, I’ve dealt with divorce, career loss and as anxiety is also in my family, I’ve not had the best foundation to deal with the other circumstantial causes either. I found myself dealing with anxiety way back in the day through drinking and other toxic means and ended up having to really delve into the causes and through therapy, mindfulness, and healthy life choices I’ve come out on top. Not everything is what is seems – I haven’t always been in control of my health and wellness – we all have our reasons to start and moments where we perhaps need to turn our lives around.
So, what can you do to combat these moments, even days of anxiety? I’ve been lucky enough to learn some great tools on how to manage this and it’s what I want to share today.
Prepare the people closest to you, make them aware that anxiety can rear its ugly head and perhaps there will be times when your ability to rationalise will be harder than normal. If you are reading this and you are the partner of someone with anxiety the number one thing you need to do in these moments is to validate their feelings, do not tell them they are being ridiculous, listen, observe, and give them a hug. Remind them to breath and say, ‘let’s talk this out, let’s find a solution.’ That way we don’t feel alone, we feel heard. At some point the person dealing with the anxiety at the time will be able to come back and acknowledge they were spiralling but, in the moment, they do not need to be told they are being silly.
2. Walk Away
Walk away and step outside – There is a lot to be said about the term ‘take a breath’ remove yourself from anything that is causing these feelings whether you are out socially, perhaps looking on social media, dealing with a work email, dealing with your kids or in an unnecessary text battle. Nothing good can come from responding with high emotion and being impulsive, even if you want to say something then and there STOP, STEP AWAY, do those deep breaths and calm your nervous system and pick things back up when you are feeling more rational (believe me I know this is hard when it involves your kids, handling that is a whole different kettle of fish).
3. Less is more
There is strength in silence and strength in saying less. As our thoughts spiral perhaps so do our words, we say too much, we word vomit all over emails or texts and tend to blurt out our thoughts without rational thinking and this can make matters worse. Give yourself space to regather yourself and to quote my beautiful mum ‘don’t commit to writing what you wouldn’t say in person.’
Release the nervous & tense energy: Whilst I’m a big advocate for strength work, in these moments’ cardio/ aerobic exercise is my cure. Sometimes it can be hard to get myself to do something as I feel paralysed in this anxious moment, but I’ve learnt that this is my cure, and my fiancé knows it too, so he sends me on my way! I go for a run and leave my phone, or I jump on my spin bike and blast some music to get out of my head and channel that feeling of panic and danger into my exercise. Exercise can even prevent anxiety disorders from beginning in the first place. ‘One study showed that regular exercisers were at a 25 percent reduced risk of depression and anxiety disorders over a 5-year period.’ Not surprisingly, exercise has also been found to improve mental clarity and concentration, both of which may be negatively affected by anxiety. Chemicals released in the brain during exercise may help improve the ability to focus and deal with stressful situations, thereby lessening the risk of anxiety and depression.
Some great forms of aerobic exercise to relieve anxiety are swimming, biking, running, brisk walking, tennis, and dancing (even in your living room, crank the music and just go for it!)
Talk to those you trust and who are closest to you but also those who you know are a great support and provide a level, rational opinion on situations. I’m also a firm believer in working things out in person or on the phone whatever it may be – things in writing can be misread and can leave space for more anxiety and even more problems. Once you are in calmer space and even written down your thoughts and points then you can go forward and address the worry that started this spiral or simply let it all go.
6. Yoga and Breath Work
There is a reason everyone talks about breath work these days. Breathing has an incredible healing power and its biggest reward I feel is how it calms your nervous system when done the right way. In the initial stages of anxiety taking some deep breaths is all I can manage but once I’ve reached a calmer space, I then put yoga into practise as well as specific belly breathing techniques. Health and Wellness specialist and great friend of mine Stephanie Johnson says the best poses to relieve anxiety are, ‘Any type of twist but restorative twist over a bolster is beautiful. An inversion to place the head below the heart and increase blood flow to the brain – I love downward dog, legs up the wall and wide legged forward bend, and if comfortable, a supported chest opener to release any tightness around the chest to allow more air flow o the lungs.’
7. Seek professional help
Anxiety is beast, it can turn up when you least expect it or need it or it can also be there for a good reason, it’s how you manage it that counts. Do not beat yourself up for these moments of anxiety, don’t apologise for it, those feelings are real but the intensity added to them is uncontrollable when you are someone who suffers from anxiety. If you find you are unable to recover, and all of this happens to frequently then seek professional help. There is no shame in that, you can then build on the tools you need to get through these moments.
If your anxiety needs a bit of extra help I recently discovered a great device you can buy online called Sensate and with it a great article on breathing techniques for anxiety and stress as well as a great article on the science behind anxiety.
It goes without saying, your nutritional health is also very important when it comes to anxiety, you are what you eat and if you are feeding yourself sugar and grease you’ll feel like sugar and grease, if you are feeding yourself fresh, vibrant leafy greens, chances are you will feel that sense of clarity. Take care of your body and in turn it will help to take care of your mind.
My experience with anxiety was the reason I went so heavily down the health and wellness path – I needed to make a change, I needed to reset my mind and find tools to manage it and through exercise, healthy eating and educating myself with both my studies and therapy I now find my anxieties appear far less and when they do, I feel confident that I can keep it under control. So, next time you feel that overwhelming sense of doom – Stop, walk away, breath, know you are in that moment and to hold off on any reaction until you’ve found a rational space. Envision yourself stepping out of your body and watching as a friend – tell yourself (as a friend) that this is your anxiety popping up to say hello, acknowledge it, remove yourself for a minute, breath and know that it will pass.