By Leighah Beadle-Darcy, Psychotherapist and Coach. 2020. BA (hons), MA, PG cert, MBACP, Dip CPC, Dip Dance Therapy, Cert Nutrition, PHCP, Certified Enneagram Teacher and Trainer.
Anxiety is a natural response to threat, feeling anxiety does not mean there is something ‘wrong’ with you. We all have a place in our brain called the amygdala, which initiates brain process that cause the experience of fear and anxiety. The amygdala is part of the limbic system in the brain, which helps with memory, emotions and survival reactions.
If you purposefully touched a stinging nettle and it hurt you and you had a nettle rash, this system will help you to know not to pick a stinging nettle again. This system helps in threats both large and small. The amygdala helps you to feel fear. If we felt no fear at all, we could get into some very dangerous situations. It also helps to alert your nervous system to danger. So, as you can see, this can be very helpful! Where we fall into trouble is when anxiety gets out of control and we feel unable to regulate it when it needs regulating.
In this booklet, you will learn some basic ways to help you regulate and deal with your anxiety when you feel out of control with it. See which work best for you and start practicing them regularly until they become a part of your regular way of being. If you find yourself stuck with these techniques, and they do not help you at all, then you may need to seek out a therapist or coach, or if you already have one, take the ‘stuckness’ to them in your sessions. The techniques are only techniques, and whilst they may help, there may be deeper, underlying issues and fears that you may need help with.
FIVE MINUTE TECHNIQUES:
A simple and effective breathing technique is breathing in for 4 counts and out for 6. Do this three times. See if you feel more grounded and a little calmer. Repeat if necessary. The longer breath out helps to soothe the nervous system.
If you find yourself short of breath or breathing rapidly, and with increased heart rate when feeling anxious, stop and practice the above technique. It can be a good practice to do daily even if you are not feeling anxious. Start the day on some deep breaths – it will help you ground yourself and deal with the day ahead. End the day with this practice to settle yourself before going to sleep.
Teas to help with anxiety
Put the kettle on, and instead of having a coffee you might want to try something different that may help with your anxiety. Certain nutrients and teas have been found to add to helping with anxiety. Maybe you can add one or more of these teas to your daily or regular routine. Let’s just stay with three teas for now, which are more commonly known to help anxiety:
Green tea/Matcha tea (this also has many other health benefits too)
Valerian Root tea
15 MINUTE TECHNIQUES:
If you are physically able, get into your body and do a mini yoga session, or take a brief walk, or put on some music you love and just dance. If you have disabilities and find movement difficult, you could put on some music and just use your arms. Moving your body can help to ground you and help move you away from the anxious feelings and thoughts.
Write down your anxious thoughts
You may be struggling with anxious thoughts and worries. Write them down on paper, or type them into your phone or other device. This can help to reduce repetitive negative thoughts. You can then decide what action may need to be taken for each thought or worry. You may be able to change some things. Other things you may not be able to change. Learn the difference between the two. If you would like to take this technique a step further,
there is a brilliant resource from Betsy Garmon, who is a life coach and journaling expert. She has what she calls a prompt for making lists for putting worries on paper, and making a list of manageable tasks to ease worry and anxiety. You can get this prompt and others via the following link and subscribing to her list if you want to take this practice that step further.
It can be helpful to learn to identify any specific triggers you may have to your anxiety. Try and notice what was happening immediately before you started to get anxious. Write this down if it will help you remember. Sometimes a trigger can be something as simple as having had extra caffeine, as caffeine is a stimulant and can trigger an anxiety response in some people with sensitive nervous systems. Or it may be an emotional trigger, or something like a deadline looming. See if you can discover what makes you the most anxious. Knowledge is power, and when you can identify your triggers, you can take measures to help yourself limit exposure to them if that is helpful (such things as work deadlines would not benefit from avoiding), or you may find it helps to put in practices in advance for when triggers come and you recognise them. Sometimes just knowing the triggers can help you feel empowered and more in control.
If you have a therapist, coach, or other support you could discuss your triggers with them, and they will be able to help you in this.
And finally, one way to help anxiety is to improve your nutrition. We feel more anxious when our brains are starved of good nutrients or loaded up on too much sugar, for example. Here are some very basic nutritional guidelines. If you struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating, you may need extra support from a mental health professional or medical professional to help you with the eating disorder and getting adequate nutrition. If you have an eating disorder, you can help yourself a little by doing your very best to get some of the healthy foods in a way that feels manageable to you. It may help to think of healthy nutrition as medicine to help with anxiety and to strengthen immunity. Perhaps taking a multivitamin would be a helpful addition too.
Instead of thinking too much about foods being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, let us think more about a balance of needed nutrients, about getting the healthier nutrients the body needs, and the other things to be left to have in moderation. Of course, there are foods that are not so good for us, like refined sugars, and saturated fats. This does not mean you cannot indulge in a pastry now and then or some sweets…balance and moderation are key. You can also live healthily without these foods. The choice is yours on that one.
Think of food as a type of maintenance medicine and a strengthening medicine. Getting the right nutrients gives you energy and health to accomplish what you need, and to your better ability. Nutritional deficiency can affect mood and brain function, which can make you tired and lose focus.
Here are the six main groups of nutrients, of which we need all six in order to be healthy:
Sometimes in literature, we see a seventh added – fibre. Getting enough fruit and vegetables and complex carbohydrates should meet fibre requirements.
Fats are divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and trans fats. Trans fats are not good for us and so need to be eaten in moderation. Mono and polyunsaturated fats are essential nutrients and must not be avoided – we need some fat for healthy functioning, and fat is not the enemy! It is about focusing on the healthy mono and polyunsaturated fat over the trans fats. Trans fats are found in things like pastries and commercially fried foods. Trans fats can cause clogging of the arteries if you eat too much of it. Look out for the term ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’, as this is the source of trans fats.
The average adult needs between 2000 and 2500 calories a day. We need around 1200 just to maintain organs and baseline functioning without any walking, moving, studying and so on. The brain alone needs around 300-500 calories a day to maintain itself. Make sure you don’t go more than a few hours without food (unless sleeping). Some people are OK on three meals a day, some are better with 5-6 smaller meals, or three meals and two snacks. Don’t skip meals.
Here is a succinct write – up of foods in the six main groups, how much we need, and why we need them:
Using this information and these guidelines, you should be able to create meals that are balanced, or at least get all food groups in a day.
Managing anxiety may be a lifelong practice. Integrating breathing, good nutrition, learning triggers to your anxiety etc. may take time. Practicing some or each of these tips can help you manage your anxiety, and help you feel more able to deal with triggers to anxiety. Some of them may work better for you than others. Experiment and see which are best for you. If you need professional help for anxiety that is overwhelming or panic attacks, please see a registered professional to help you get further support.