Anxiety is one of our bodies’ most ancient coping mechanisms. As humans, we have developed innate physical responses to danger threats, that are meant to protect us by increasing the release of adrenaline, which in turn pumps our heart rate up and makes our senses sharper. This is the fight-or-flight mode: a reaction of the brain that expands to our whole body. It is inevitable and healthy…as long as it is legit. The problem occurs when our brain is constantly switched on fight-or-flight mode, and every external stimulus is perceived as a potential threat. Suffering from anxiety myself, I know the consequences can be awful to say the least. Anxiety can dominate on your experiences and prevent you from acquiring new ones. It can sneak into your mind when things are going well and whisper to your heart that everything’s about to crumble to your feet. Living in a constant state of perceived danger can lead to panic attacks, sleep paralysis and other terrifying experiences.
While there are different levels to anxiety disorder one can experience, and not all levels of the spectrum can be relieved with natural holistic hacks, there are nonetheless efficient ways to contain and prevent your anxiety from rising. These hacks are completely harmless and can be applied whenever you feel your stress levels are rising. In the years I spent working with my anxiety, I have done a massive amount of research on the matter, and developed my own little strategy that I put into practice whenever I feel that whisper in my head gaining power over me. However, as with any mind and soul practice, the most important thing to remember is to find your own path and develop your own strategy. The reason is, we’re all unique human beings, and just as our minds and souls have unique desires, they have unique fears. My advice is to start with this guide, and work it out for yourself. You may find some hacks are extremely useful to you, while others don’t work as well. We all have triggers, situations or experiences that have a deep unsettling effect on the mind, due to our different experiences, phobias or traumas. Explore your triggers, be open to identify them and you’ll be halfway on the path of relieving your anxiety.
1. Deep breathing
You can rarely ever go wrong with some deep breaths. The reason is, breathing slowly and deeply brings higher levels of oxygen to your brain, slows your heartrate down and relaxes your muscles, thus calming your body down. When we feel anxious, we’re most likely to feel like we’re out of breath and our hearts are pumping way too fast. Remember your brain and your body are not separate entities but work together: by easing your body, you will definitely ease your mind! One of my favourite techniques which I learned from yoga, can help ease mind and body with the breath and works within seconds. In order to do it, find a quiet place and sit down comfortably in lotus position, or with your legs crossed. With your eyes closed, bring your left hand to your nose, and block the left nostril with the thumb, while keeping your hand wide open in front of your face. Breathe deeply into the right nostril, slowly, feeling all the air going through and into your body. Focus on the stream of fresh air you’re inhaling, trying to place the breath in your body. Follow it through its entire way, all the way down to your belly. Then, bring the same left hand to the right nostril and block it with the thumb, in the same position, and exhale. Again, feel the breath going up from the belly, permeating your entire body all the way out from the left nostril. Keep alternating the nostrils with every inhale and exhale, until you will feel your mind slowing down. Do this for several minutes and you will feel your body and mind relaxing.
Yes, as strange as it may sound: move! One of my favourite quotes is “Hard times require furious dancing”, and the more I come to terms with life, the more I feel it! Moving can be extremely powerful when anxiety starts crippling within. You don’t need to work out or go for a run: a simple walk, especially if in a natural environment, works wonders on your mind. Moving the physical body enacts a positive release of feel-good hormones like endorphins, that have the power to dissolve the sense of frustration and threat that come with anxiety. On another perspective, physically moving away from the situation you find yourself in when feeling anxious, can trick your brain into feeling like you’ve gotten away from it. It may sound a little odd, but it works. If the space you find yourself in allows you to, start moving your body, maybe dancing with your eyes closed, so that you cannot judge your own movements. Another amazing hack is to take a walk in a park, on a beach or in any environment where nature has a strong presence. Even a city park filled with trees and grass can help more than you may think. Moving the body takes the mind away from the vicious thought patterns typical of anxiety, calming the heart and soothing the soul. You will find that at the end of your walk, dance or exercise, the problem you were stressing over fits now better into a new perspective, and it doesn’t look as threatening as it did minutes before.
Journaling is a powerful tool that many psychologists swear by, that can be useful for pretty much any thought you may need to process and struggle with. By journaling, you are symbolically transferring the heavy thoughts, or fears, onto a piece of paper. My favourite way to do this is the old-school pen to paper way, but you can use your laptop if you find writing with your hands uncomfortable or if you’re not used to it. The most important thing is to transfer all of your worries onto the sheet. Do not censor yourself. If you’re afraid someone may come across your journal, you can develop your own symbols and metaphors which will be yours and yours only to understand. Journaling is extremely important not only to monitor your feelings on a daily basis, but also to understand the situations that trigger your mind leading it to a state of anxiety. It is also a form of confession that, if carried on for a while, can transform your relationship with yourself, enhancing your self-love and worth. One of the things I often find when I read what I just wrote down, is that my fears and worries seem smaller, less relevant. Reading helps to create an emotional distance from what is written on the paper, as if the thoughts were now external, and clearer. The most efficient way to deal with anxiety is to position yourself out of it, and journaling can be an amazing way to start.
4. Stop procrastinating
This is the hardest task to perform, but trust me, it will be so worth it you will thank yourself for years for doing it. Anxiety is essentially fear of the future, and it is most often generated by the idea of tasks or situations that are going to happen in a very near future. For example, knowing you have to make an important phone call, and feeling anxious about it, can actually lead you to procrastinate in order to push the threatening moment to a more distant future, so that you don’t have to worry about it now. The issue here is, the more you procrastinate, the more anxiety has a hold on your present. It has taken me years to realise it, and it is still a very challenging aspect for me, but I found that doing the thing that scares me without giving my mind the time to run to the worst possible scenario is actually extremely beneficial in terms of anxiety. The more I procrastinate on things that I fear doing, the more my mind portrays the task as negative and threatening. If you feel anxious about your future job, send a cv at the present moment. If you’re scared you will never find your soulmate, pamper yourself and go out. Performing tasks that we perceive as threatening can give our brain a sense of reward, and boost our self-esteem. Plus, it will take you one step closer to your positive outcomes! It isn’t easy to stay in the present when you’re feeling anxious, as the mind is constantly leaning towards the future, but it is possible with some tricks and knowledge…which brings us to the next mind hack.
The core fundament of the practice of mindfulness is to stay in the present moment, with a non-judgemental awareness of your thoughts, feelings and bodily state. One could easily say, that mindfulness is the perfect enemy to anxiety! It promotes the recognition of your thoughts, both positive and negative, and the awareness that there are things that you can’t control. Through the practice of mindfulness, it can become incredibly easier to just accept things as they are. There are many ways to practice mindfulness on a daily basis, and the more you practice, the easier it will become. A good way to start is by breathing deeply, and being open to whatever sensation and thought may arise. When it happens, just recognise the thought. This will help see the anxiety source for what it is, reducing the power it has on your sense of threat. Also, one of the worst aspects of anxiety is that we do not always know what we’re worrying about: it can feel as if there were too many sources of potential threats in our lives, that we don’t even have an idea which one we’re stressing for. Mindfulness can work wonders for this issue, allowing you to recognise all the things that are keeping you from relaxing. Gather as many thoughts as arise, keeping an open attitude towards them. Chances are, once you actually focus on the nature of these worries, you will see there aren’t as many scary things in your life to worry about.
While anxiety is a natural reaction that cannot be fully eliminated, there are ways to keep it under control so that it doesn’t take over your mental health. Remember that all of the mind hacks take time, so be patient with yourself and don’t expect to beat anxiety in a short period of time! The way to healing can be long and can sometimes feel like it’s impossible to achieve peace of mind, but trust me, it never is. With some patience and practice you will be able to reprogram your mind and transform your experience.
Paola Perillo is a young old soul based in Rome, passionate about relaxation, meditation, reiki and crystals. She graduated in Psychology and Sociology at the University of Brighton, where she learned to integrate the psychological and the spiritual. Paola is currently working as content writer for different sources.