The other day as I sipped my flat white in the local coffee shop, I overheard someone say that dwelling on the past causes depression, whereas focusing too much on the future causes anxiety. Which is why experts say we should strive to remain in the present, in the now as Ekhart Tolle would quietly say. Unfortunately, being present is deceivingly harder than it sounds. But you don’t have to join an ashram in India and chant Oms for twelve hours a day to achieve this state of awareness. You don’t need to pay $9.99 a month for a fancy meditation app either (although it may be helpful for some, and the cartoon animations are seriously cute). You certainly don’t need to sell your belongings on Facebook Marketplace and move to the woods à la Henry David Thoreau. Before I get into some of the simple ways you can curb your anxiety, let me shine some light on the term anxiety; a word that gets tossed around a heck of a lot these days.
What is anxiety? Every one experiences stress, anxious feelings or uneasiness from time to time (if you don’t, then you’re a freakin’ robot). These are normal human emotions that help us navigate our world safely, avoid danger and adjust to our surroundings. The problem arises when these fretful emotions interfere with our normal day-to-day activities and our relationships. If you find yourself paralyzed by indecision or the whirling thoughts in your head prevent you from getting a decent night’s sleep, then Houston, we (may) have a problem.
Excessive fear and anxiety, when left unchecked, can snowball into full-fledged disorders like Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder which has no apparent trigger. Some anxiety-related disorders, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), are brought on by traumatic events like physical or emotional abuse, the loss of a family member, or a serious car accident. For a deeper look at anxiety disorders, I encourage you to check out this informative website; there’s even a quiz you can take to find out if your anxiety is dragging you down. If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, I recommend that you consult a counselor or therapist that can help you navigate your options as far as treatments and coping strategies.
Personally, the word anxiety was never really part of my vocabulary for much of my adult life. I thought anxiety was for people who take Xanax and see their therapist every other Tuesday. It wasn’t until I recently spoke to a therapist (over the phone) for the first time, that it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps some of the poor decisions that I’d made in the past may have been caused by anxious feelings of insecurity and wanting to avoid conflict. These less-than-stellar decisions, by the way, revolved around romantic encounters and the gauntlet of gutless, emotionally-stunted guys that I’ve met through dating apps like Tinder and Plenty of Fish. In all fairness, there are some good guys in that dating pool. But that’s a whole other story.
When my telephone therapist said anxiety was causing me to make shite decisions, I literally had an epiphany. For years, I convinced myself that I was missing a crucial part of my brain where logic resides. No! My brain is perfectly normal, thank you. I’m just a really anxious person in certain social situations. And this worrying causes me to make bad decisions that I typically regret at a later point in time. What a gift it was to have this realization. Because once a problem is identified it can be remedied.
For you, anxiety can show up as a panic attack brought on by too many options of tomato sauce at the grocery store, or as excessive worrying about your child’s well-being. It can come in the form of obsessively trying to finish a task for hours on end whilst disregarding your daily to-dos. No matter the stressor or trigger, there are several ways of dampening your anxiety, and bringing you back down to earth.
If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, the best thing to do is just breathe.
It’s cliché but it actually works. We’re all a bunch of shallow breathers. This is contributing to our anxiety. Big time. Take a moment or two during the day to breathe deeply for at least 5 to 10 minutes. Place your hand on your belly and breathe in through your nose until you feel your belly rise, and then breathe out through your mouth and let all the air out from your lungs. You will instantly feel more relaxed and more in control of your body and mind. Don’t try to deny your anxiety; recognize it, breathe slowly and sit in it until it passes.
Find an aerobic activity that you genuinely enjoy and do it regularly.
Exercising should not feel like a chore. There’s a physical activity out there that you love; it’s just a matter of trying different ones until you find the one that makes you happy. For me, that’s POP Pilates, for others it’s running or yoga. No matter the activity, if it gets your heart moderately pumping and you enjoy it, then do it 3 to 4 times per week. Just freakin’ do it and you can thank me later. Prepare your workout clothes in advance. Roll out that yoga mat every morning. Place your sneakers by the door and make it a habit.
Go into the woods
Ok, so you don’t actually have to find a fairyland forest for this one. You simply need to find a natural setting like a park, a tree-lined path or a patch of green grass. The point is to find a quiet space surrounded by nature, away from the noise and frenzy of the city. Focus on your senses; feel the cool breeze on your face, focus your attention on the swaying branches, and listen to the birds chirping. Feel the snow crunching beneath your feet. Smell the crisp winter air. These actions will keep you centered and rid your mind of anxious thoughts.
These three simple techniques can literally change your life. Honestly, just the breathing exercise is a game changer. The reason why these anxiety-relieving approaches work so well is because they force you into being present; and so you’re not fretting about the future or the past for that matter. Not only do they help ease your anxiety but there’s the added bonus of making you healthier physically.
If you’d like more insight and advice on dealing with anxiety, I highly recommend the book “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful” by Sarah Wilson. Sarah’s intimate and enduring relationship with anxiety and OCD is both heartbreaking and inspiring. She’s a wonderfully brave writer who doesn’t hold back the realness and rawness of her experiences.
That’s all for now. If you have experiences to share, please post a comment below. I’d love to get your insight.
You’re the best.