Ever felt so overwhelmed that you feel like you can’t breathe? Like you’ll never get on top of everything? Like it’s all just way too much to handle?
Yep, I know that feeling well, my friends.
Anxiety is a normal part of life, and actually has a practical purpose – it alerts us to danger, and helps us to plan and prepare for things in advance. It’s an incredible survival mechanism.
The problem is that when our anxiety response is a little too overactive, we start worrying about way more than what will simply help us to survive.
Although I’m pretty chilled most of the time now, I (silently) suffered from anxiety and panic disorder for years, not knowing where to turn or what to do. I felt embarrassed and ashamed, so I just tried to deal with it alone.
But once I had a tried-and-tested practical formula for how to deal with it, things got a lot easier ?
Full disclosure: as part of my healing journey, I did seek help from a therapist. If you’re really struggling, don’t hesitate to do the same – I promise it won’t be as bad as you’re imagining, and will almost certainly help your situation.
Remember to seek appropriate support from a qualified professional.
How to recognise the signs of anxiety
How will you know if you’re suffering from anxiety? There are a couple of common indicators that your body will be giving you.
According to the Mayo Clinic, here are the signs to look out for:
- 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
If these resonate with you, the techniques I’ll share could help. But remember this golden rule – you are the expert on you.
You know yourself, and your experience, better than anyone else. You know what works for you, and what doesn’t. You know what you might want to try, and what you don’t.
A secondary golden rule is to start small. Start with trying one new thing, and build it up slowly. This helps to prevent overwhelm, providing a solid foundation on which you can begin to heal and thrive.
1. Start meditating
Meditation is all about disciplining the mind, and learning to watch your thoughts. The more you practice it, the more you realise that your thoughts aren’t facts (and that you are not your thoughts!).
Meditation taught me to notice when my mind was focusing on worry, which meant I could choose what I was paying attention to.
I finally had control over my mind.
You don’t even need a hardcore practice to get started; just 5 minutes a day is enough to build up a regular habit and start to see the benefits.
Warning: this isn’t a quick fix! When you first start out, you might find it difficult to sit still and start to feel restless – but this gets easier to manage with practice.
Top meditation tips
- Learn the basics of meditation (such as setting up a cosy space, making it a daily habit, and developing love for the practice).
- Try out a variety of guided and unguided meditation styles to see what works for you – you can get started with my free library, or with a free app such as Insight Timer.
- Take a 3-5 minute meditative “breathing space” whenever you feel totally overwhelmed.
2. Find balance
With our modern ability to work from anywhere, have the internet at our fingertips, and to connect to each other 24/7, it can be super difficult to fully “switch off”.
However, our body’s natural rhythm requires us to rest throughout the day (as well as at night) so we can effectively recuperate and recharge.
It’s way too easy for us to override our natural call to rest. When I was completing my Master’s degree, for example, I worked all day, every day. There was always something that needed to be done, so I totally exhausted myself by working non-stop.
Eventually, my therapist suggested giving myself a work (and social media) cut-off point, at 6pm every evening. At first, I hated it; I had no idea what to do with myself, I felt so bored, and I also felt incredibly guilty for not doing any work.
But it gave me my life back. And I began to fill that time with some gorgeous self-care practices which helped me to fill up my (perpetually empty) energy tank.
Top work-life balance tips
- Give yourself a work cut-off point every day (especially if you’re a student, freelancer, or entrepreneur). Put a clear boundary between your work time, and your “rest/play” time.
- Set an alarm to remind yourself at the same time every day that it’s time to stop.
- Experiment with giving yourself cut-offs for other activities that feel draining, such as social media, or general screen time.
3. Nourish yourself
Are you a bit of a people pleaser, by any chance?
If you’re anything like me, you might be guilty of spendings tons of time doing things for other people, and not so much time looking after yourself.
If we want to give to others, our own metaphorical cup needs to be full. And we can fill up this cup by nourishing ourselves with self-care practices, and looking after our mental and physical well-being.
I used to think self-care was all about treating myself to massages or indulgent baths; but what I realised was that it’s much more about treating your body as if it’s a temple, listening to it intently, and giving it what it needs.
This is where the starting small rule definitely comes in handy.
Transforming your relationship with your body and your health takes time. I tried to be super patient with myself as I simply started eliminating the things that weren’t serving me (or actually made me anxiety worse), such as alcohol and caffeine.
Top nourishment tips
- Try cutting out alcohol and/or caffeine, or reduce your intake – they’re known triggers for anxiety.
- Movement is medicine, if you can discover how your body likes to move. Try to move your body as much as possible throughout the day (whether it’s by walking, running, swimming, yoga, or hitting the gym).
- Take a few moments a couple of times a day to check in with yourself and ask “what would make my body feel good right now?”. Build the habit of noticing how your body is feeling, and what it might be needing.
4. Listen to yourself
Learning how to listen to our own inner wisdom – and to reflecting on our thoughts, emotions, and behaviour – is incredibly effective in helping to heal anxiety.
This is what gave me the tools I needed to notice the negative correlation between my anxiety and alcohol, caffeine, and certain events or people. I also noticed an amazingly positive correlation between my good moods and yoga, meditation, and reading.
I started out by tracking my mood using the MoodPanda app, giving my mood a rating out of 10 at several points throughout the day with a little note about what was happening.
Tracking is a great way to get started, because it’s almost impossible for us to remember everything in our heads, or to evaluate things objectively (since our memories aren’t always reliable). Every time I wanted to go out drinking, for example, I conveniently “forgot” how horrendous the last one was ?
Top self-reflection tips
- Try tracking your mood with an app or a note on your phone, including a mood rating and the activity you’re doing. After a week or so, look back at your entries and see if you can notice any positive or negative patterns.
- Set up a reminder on your phone to “check in” with yourself a few times a day, either to track your mood as above or to simply notice how you feel.
- Start or end your day with freewriting (also called stream-of-consciousness journaling). Writing without intent can help you process thoughts you didn’t even realise you had.
5. Get more sleep
Sleep is vital for allowing our bodies to repair themselves, but often eludes us to when we feel stressed or anxious.
I remember how often I just wanted to sleep – but couldn’t, because my brain was way too active, and wouldn’t switch off.
A daily sleep routine turned out to be my saviour.
Having a set routine that I followed every day helped me wind down, and helped me connect to a sense of calm right before I tucked myself into bed.
The reason this works? We begin to associate our sleep routine with relaxation. And if we feel relaxed, we’re far more likely to drift off into sleep.
Creating a sleep routine will look different for everyone, but some ideas to try out might include: gentle stretches, performing a skincare ritual, switching off digital devices, taking a bath or shower, burning incense or essential oils, reading fiction, or practicing meditation.
Top sleep tips
- Set an alarm that reminds you to start your sleep routine, ideally at the same time every day.
- Make your routine something to look forward to – treat yourself to some new bedsheets or comfy pyjamas, a book you’ve wanted to read for a while, or an essential oil diffuser to create a peaceful space.
- Try a listening to a deep relaxation or yoga nidra meditation before you sleep (Insight Timer has a great selection)
Over to you – have you found anything super helpful to help you to cope with anxiety or to reduce stress? Share it with me in the comments below!