Learning how to manage anxiety may well be one of the most important skills of the 21st century. But, despite what some may say, you can learn how to manage anxiety.
Is it any wonder that anxiety and panic disorders are on the rise? Technology almost dictates that we live in a “need it yesterday” mindset, interrupted by instant messaging, late for our next appointment, struggling to clear out cluttered inboxes, figure out how to send our files, and generally keep up with a world speeding forward on information overload.
That’s why it is more important than ever to learn to relax! By learning to rest and quiet the mind, you have choices about how and where to focus your attention.
You can learn how to manage anxiety by making a simple shift in your mindset.
Take a step back and recognize the larger view. The trick is to learn to ally with the spaciousness of the present moment instead of getting caught up in the stream of busy-ness.
When I notice my stress levels heading into the red zone, I have a few tricks to help bring me back to earth–my tools to manage anxiety and stress. Try them yourself:
Make a habit of checking in with your breath. Notice your breath when you are on the computer, or talking to a client, or driving to an appointment. Get to know what it is that stresses you out, and then bring mindfulness-and conscious breathing– to that activity. If you need a practice, try this: lie down with your hands on your belly and breath so that your hands move with your breath. Count 10-20 slow, deep and even breaths. Try to make your inhale the same duration as your exhale. Notice the ends of the breath as you transition from inhale to exhale, and from exhale to inhale.
2. Check your environment
This may sound obvious, but is your environment contributing to overwhelm? When I lived in Hong Kong a few years ago, I was breathing in so much pollution that it was a challenge to get enough oxygen to my brain. I had trouble sleeping because of the constants buzz of neon and the all-day-long interaction with technology. Eventually I had to admit that the environment was causing me more stress than I could handle. Get outdoors regularly and feel the healing power of nature.
3. Settle the mind and learn to dis-identify with thoughts
From a yogic perspective, anxiety is a disturbance of the “winds,” the subtle energy channels in the body. Think of a jar filled with sediment when it is shaken: the sediment swirls around clouding the water. A calm and grounded state of mind is characterized by clarity. The practice of sitting meditation is the most direct way to achieve this settled state of mind. When you ally with the spaciousness of the mind instead of the contents of the mind (thoughts) you automatically shift your perspective. Click here for a free audio-guided introduction to sitting meditation.
No matter how many times I’ve done it, when I’m about to fly overseas, I get anxious. I keep a supply of calming herbs for stressful situations. Kava kava, valerian, chamomile tea, passionflower, lavender, hops, and lemon balm are all great aids to inducing calm. It’s not a permanent fix, but it helps in the short term.
Don’t underestimate the power of eating well and getting enough sleep. Eliminate or reduce all stimulants (coffee, tea, chocolate, garlic, excess sugar, alcohol) from lunchtime onward and notice the effects.
Nourishment also comes in the form of supportive relationships. Set aside down time with close friends, or consider talking to a counselor if you need more intensive emotional support. Suffering alone increases the impact of anxiety. Sharing your feelings with others can lift a huge burden, and also help you recognize that you are not alone – everyone struggles with issues from time to time.
Even if you already practice yoga or meditation, working with a therapist helps address issues from a practical perspective so that you can let them go. Practitioners often believe mindfulness will sort out their emotional issues, but in fact the opposite is often the case. Deep practice may stir up old issues, and unless there is a container for these unruly emotions, it can be tempting to “let go” of old issues before they are resolved, which creates a muddy stew in the mind. Anxiety can be a sign there is something trying to come to the surface to be worked with.
5. Organize and schedule in down time
It’s so easy to get caught up in the communications technology that is available these days so that we never actually take a break from being “on.”
Not everything has to happen NOW. Batch tasks and do them together so that you’re not running all over the place, scattered, unfocused, wasting your energy. Set parameters on certain activities so they don’t consume you.
I try to go offline completely at least one full day a week, and limit computer use to certain times, and NEVER before breakfast! That’s just my own thing; mornings are sacred to me. By limiting computer use until after my practice helps me check in with my inspiration to start the day.
Try scheduling monthly or even weekly mini-holidays to refresh and get back to your original nature. Spend the afternoon at your favorite park– or go on an Artist Date, as described by Julia Cameron.
When the going gets rough, the tough take viparita karani (lying on the floor, bum against the wall, with legs up the wall.) This is my all-time favorite yoga posture, and my quick-fix remedy for just about everything from jet-lag to overwhelm, from exhaustion to anxiety. It’s the best way I know how to relax quickly and deeply. Follow it with child’s pose for a nurturing restart to your afternoon or evening.
Panic and anxiety are not purely mental events–they are physiological events, so they can’t be treated with the thinking mind only. You can to learn to BREATHE deeply, and train yourself to come back to the breath on a regular basis. Mind and breath are intimately connected. If you can calm your breath, your nervous system will start to settle down, and your mind will follow.
If you want extra help learning how to manage anxiety, sign up for my free mini-course to learn tools to work with anxiety.
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