Coping with anxiety
Everyone worries occasionally, but constant worry could signal unhealthy stress and anxiety levels. When anxiety becomes an ever-present condition it’s time to take care.
When you’re feeling anxious, do you ever tell yourself to calm down and relax? It seems as though this would be a useful strategy, but if you’ve tried it you probably know that it’s easier said than done.
When you’re faced with a situation that makes you feel anxious, for example giving a public speech, your heart is likely pounding (or missing a bit) whilst the levels of the stress-hormone cortisol surge. Essentially, you’re in a hyped-up state of arousal and by telling yourself to chill may be too big of a leap for your body and mind to make.
Fortunately, there are ways which are much more effective in dealing with anxiety and the method that is closest to my heart (pun meant) is the HeartMath™ tools which I practice and teach to my clients.
But before I tell you a little more about what is HeartMath™ and how it can help you (I’m assuming that if you’re still reading, it is likely that anxiety is no stranger to you), let’s understand a little bit more about chronic anxiety.
Whilst external stressors, like public speaking, can make you feel anxious, chronic anxiety tends to be more of an internal process which can actually change the structure of your brain over time.
Excessive or chronic anxiety can be paralyzing, though maybe not in the normal sense. People typically can go about much of their daily routine, yet always with an unsettling feeling of anxiousness, urgency or even fear just below the surface.
If you were raised in an environment where shouting or abuse is routine, your brain may become ‘wired’ with anxiety. Basically, being anxious becomes your baseline and any potentially undesirable event or emotion becomes a cause for alarm.
If the feeling of anxiety is your baseline, than you probably do not realise that there is a problem and simply suffer in silence. You tend to think that this is ‘normal’. As anxious feeling intensify, in may lead to self-imposed social isolation, physical symptoms and related emotional problems such as depression.
If you experience anxiety regularly you can rest assured you’re in good company. Nearly 20% of individuals in developed countries struggle with anxiety disorders. Anxiety involves the same fight or flight response that stress does, which means it ratchets up your heart rate, circulation and reflexes so you’re prepared to fight off (or escape) a conceived threat.
Anxiety is a normal response to stress, but in some individuals the anxiety becomes so overwhelming and difficult to cope with that they reach a point that it affects their day-to-day living. The brain is also actively involved. Now a little bit of science in italics that you can skip if it stresses you out….
“Several parts of the brain are key actors in the production of fear and anxiety … scientists have discovered that the amygdala and the hippocampus play significant roles in most anxiety disorders.
The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is believed to be a communications hub between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret these signals.
It can alert the rest of the brain that a threat is present and trigger a fear or anxiety response. The emotional memories stored in the central part of the amygdala may play a role in anxiety disorders involving very distinct fears, such as fears of dogs, spiders, or flying.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain that encodes threatening events into memories.”
If you struggle with anxiety, you might want to take a look at the HeartMath™ tools and technics reducing and eliminating anxiety and stress.
HeartMath Institute’s research has found that a highly effective method for alleviating anxiety is engaging the heart’s intelligence to increase heart coherence. A practical way to do this in minutes, is establishing a smooth and balanced heart-rhythm pattern. A simple technique like HeartMath’s Heart-Focused Breathing® can help you to naturally create a smooth pattern.
You can build your coherence even more while breathing by putting a positive spin on how you feel and perceive your thoughts and the situations in your life. This is as simple as intentionally focusing on a positive emotion such as appreciation, compassion or caring.
These two easy exercises help to synchronize the branches of the autonomic nervous system and heart-brain interactions. In simpler terms, they create a calming emotional shift.
HeartMath Institute’s repeated clinical trials with participants of all ages show improvements almost immediately and sustainable benefits with regular practice.
Obviously using HeartMath tools and techniques is not the only way to keep your anxiety at bay. There are other natural ways you can engage in and I can tell you from my experience and training that a combination of a few methods will get you the best results.
I emphasised ‘natural’ because “treatment” does not have to mean “drugs”. It’s estimated that one-third of all people with anxiety disorders receive drug treatment. Prescriptions for benzodiazepine anxiety drugs including Valium, Ativan and Xanax have tripled in the last 20 years. The rate of overdose deaths increased more than 500% during the same time period.
You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by applying lifestyle modifications before trying medication. You may be surprised by how much such changes reduce anxiety naturally. If you often feel anxious or have panic attacks I strongly recommend the one of more of the following:
In addition to the creation of new neurons, including those that release the calming neurotransmitter GABA, exercise boosts levels of potent brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which may help buffer some of the effects of stress. Many avid
exercisers also feel a sense of euphoria after a workout, sometimes known as the "runner's high."
It can be quite addictive, in a good way, once you experience just how good it feels to get your heart rate up and your body moving.
Optimizing Your Gut Flora
Your gut and brain work in tandem, each influencing the other. This is why your intestinal health can have such a profound influence on your mental health and vice versa. It’s also the reason why your diet is so closely linked to your mental health. A lot of research has shown that the probiotics have a marked effect on certain brain regions and lower the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behaviour. So optimizing your gut flora with beneficial bacteria is a highly useful strategy. This is done by eliminating sugars and processed foods and eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables, avoiding processed vegetable oils, and using healthy fats. Additionally, eating plenty of fermented vegetables or taking a high-potency probiotic would be useful to re-establish healthy gut flora. You can read more about probiotics in this article