Updated: Jan 6, 2021
On some level, we're all living with anxiety. Safety in numbers, yay! Whether it's having heart palpitations trying to get out of the house on time in the morning, constant worst case scenario thinking, or the feeling of dread that can accompany making big life decisions. Making peace with anxiety is essential if we want to cultivate ease and wellness in our lives.
It's important to note the tools outlined below are for a self-guided approach to help ease anxiety and amplify wellness. Seeking advice from a trusted GP or therapist is a great place to start if you're seeking a more structured approach. Click here to access information and resources from Beyond Blue, an Australian organisation dedicated to providing support to those living with anxiety and depression.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Anxiety can feel like hyper-vigilance and alertness, and wanting to control a future event.
It's an alarming statistic, but roughly 48% of our day is spent mind-wandering. That's a whole load of time imagining/worrying about a future that's yet to come, or remembering/ruminating over a past that's been and gone. Simply put, we're spending almost half our life mentally somewhere else. This fracturing of our attention can create feelings of stress, unease, melancholy and worry. It drains our energy. It diffuses our focus. It leaves us feeling scattered and edgy.
Avoiding being present in the here and now is at the heart of anxiety. While we're mentally somewhere else, we have this nagging sense that we're missing the action in being right where we are. It's FOMO of the worst kind... like sitting beside a pool on a hot day instead of swimming in the cool water. Our life escapes being truly lived, as we rush forward into planning mode, or linger behind in worry or regret. Sadly, when we're anywhere but here, we're missing the beauty and joy unfolding in the present moment.
“Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from the inability to dwell in the present moment.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness. Ancient wisdom healing modern minds.
Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment with an attitude of kindness. It's practicing non-judgemental awareness. It's embracing the situation as it is, without trying to change it. It's a powerful tool (and way of life) that may hold the key to easing anxiety, and amplifying wellness.
Developing the practice of being awake and at ease wherever you are, is the work of a lifetime. It's devoting yourself to navigating your moment to moment experience with grace and awareness. It's being with whatever is happening, not pushing against it or trying to escape it. It's opening up your senses to fully experience the moment, be it pleasant, neutral or uncomfortable. In our modern world where we're bombarded with more digital noise and distractions than ever before, it takes some serious devotion to be mindful. Practice, patience and boundaries around technology are friends for the journey.
“Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? what could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.” ― Eckhart Tolle
Releasing the need to control
Stress is essentially resistance. Living each day trying to impose your will and force a desired outcome is exhausting. I didn't know I had issues around control until becoming a parent. Learning curve! While I do my best to be a conscious parent, sometimes I'm still that crazy helicopter mum that everyone else is looking at and thinking "chill out." When we choose to stop worrying about what we can't control and start focusing on influencing what we can... a beautiful shift begins to take place. We can relax knowing that we're doing our best, and we can conserve our headspace and energy for what matters most. There's a magic that happens when you can open yourself up to the unknown and let life surprise you. Trusting that the Universe is kind and supportive is key to finding ease.
Letting go is liberation.
Forget being perfect, embrace being flawsome
I wish I'd started living by this philosophy years ago! There's so much stress and pressure surrounding perfection, success and beauty. The older I get, the more I realise that perfection isn't even interesting or attractive. Realness is. Down to earth-ness. Wabi Sabi. Social media is a breeding ground for anxiety. Be mindful when scrolling through someone else's shiny happy life that what you're seeing is an edited highlight reel. We all have our beautiful and messy moments, and sometimes it's nice to celebrate both in private. You are enough and lovable, even on your worst day.
Our thoughts and emotions...
Every thought we think produces a chemical reaction in the body, creating a state of emotion. How we feel is determined by the quality of our thoughts. By practicing being the silent witness to our thoughts, and unhooking ourselves from them - we can create the space to see them clearly and calmly. With a little distance, we can choose wisely those that support us, and gently set aside those that don't. It's so comforting to know that we're not our thoughts and emotions, which are always in flux. We're the deeper calm awareness that's witnessing them. A big concept to fully digest. By practicing observing and accepting our thoughts and emotions with a kind curiosity, the greater chance we have to see them for what they are... transient visitors just passing through. They make life interesting! Let them come and go without too much fuss or drama. Remembering they carry with them important messages for our growth and learning, can be helpful and comforting in challenging moments.
Observe. Accept. Release. Transform. - yung pueblo
Often when we get stuck in negative thought loops it’s because we're asking ourselves self-sabotaging questions. It’s a vicious cycle that produces negative answers. Gaining awareness when it happens is the first step to healing it.
Notice when you catch yourself asking things like:
“Why is this happening to me?” “Why does it have to be this hard?”
“How can they do that to me?”
“Why can’t I get this right?”
Improving the quality of your inner dialogue cultivates compassion and ease.
Forgive yourself and practice kindness when feeling anxious, then instead try asking:
“How can I support myself right now?”
“What’s a better feeling thought I could have about this?”
“Am I able to just let this go?”
“How can I reframe this in a more positive way?
Harnessing the Mind-Body Connection
When we think - or speak - our bodies and cells listen. Negative thoughts and language cause stress and contraction. Positive thoughts cause growth and expansion. You can choose to use great language or terrible language. You can’t choose what happens to your body when you choose terrible language. - Marisa Peer
When we work to clean up our internal dialogue, and change the story about what is happening - we can reduce stress and anxiety, and create a greater sense of ease. Simply by changing our mind about what's happening, we can improve our experience. Think of it as making the shift from seeing yourself as the victim in the story, to the hero/heroine. We have the choice to see life as happening through us - not to us. "What is this situation helping me to learn?" is a great way to quickly re-frame and calm yourself.
Showing yourself compassion in difficult moments can help to create a healthy habit of self-soothing, and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. By practicing self-compassion and shifting perspective, we can begin to turn worry into wonder.
Affirmations to amplify ease
I am enough.
I can handle this.
All is well in my world.
I have phenomenal coping skills.
Everything is always working out for me.
I’m up to this challenge.
I have everything I need.
I’m safe and supported.
This too shall pass.
I’m just going to breathe.
After observations in my own life, and through working with clients - I’ve put together these simple but effective tools and reminders to help you move mindfully through those challenging situations when they arise.
4 Powerful ways to help ease anxiety
1) Unplug to unwind
Screen addiction is an epidemic. We know the frenzied scrolling and swiping doesn't make us feel good. It's a quick hit of dopamine which always leaves you wanting more. A recent study shows that many of us actually hold our breath when checking email! The fastest way I know to calm myself when feeling overwhelmed, is to unplug from devices ( and sometimes other people!) and step outside. Setting some clear boundaries around technology is a powerful way to reclaim your time, attention and energy. We spend far too much of our lives on screens and not enough in nature. The average American spends 90% of waking hours indoors. That's quite scary. I know that I feel so much better with less whatsapp and more wilderness in my life. Nature heals.
2) Clean up your mess
I always remember one of my favourite teachers telling me "messy desk, messy mind!" I don't know about you, but I find it hard to feel good and relax in a cluttered and untidy space. I may be a bit freaky in this, but I see cleaning as therapy. After spick and spanning the apartment, I feel restored to sanity. Clearing the clutter and having your essential things in order does wonders for feeling at ease. Space is medicine. If you've been living under a rock, you may not know of Marie Kondo, and her life-changing magic of tidying up that's taking the world by storm. In essence, only surround yourself with the things that bring you joy, and assign each of them a home. It's simple, and I love to use this system for an overall life edit.
Messy life areas or unfinished business that needs resolving can cause stress and anxiety. Resolve and tend to what's causing you to worry. Clean up your mess and enjoy some space and freedom.
3) Move your body to calm the mind
Exercise is the most effectively proven way to reduce stress. Getting into your body, helps you to give your brain a break. It encourages deep breathing which helps to balance the nervous system, clear the mind, and anchors you in the present moment. It releases neurochemicals in the brain that produce feelings of contentment and wellbeing. It's simple, free, and quite amazing. Take a walk outside with a pal, pup or podcast, stretch out with some yoga, dance in your living room. Find something that you LOVE to do so you'll do it often. Consistency is king. Aim for daily movement.
4) Be in stillness
Meditation allows your mind to rest, refresh and reset. It gathers back your fractured attention, and is soothing in it's simplicity. Focusing on a central anchor, be it the breath or a mantra, is a powerful healing balm for a scattered mind. Making time to practice simply being, is the perfect antidote for our busy lives of doing, and over-doing. I've written a whole blog devoted to meditation which you can read here.
Bringing your attention to your breath is the simplest way to return to the present moment. As we hold stress and tension in our upper bodies, drawing deep conscious breaths down into the belly helps you feel more grounded and stable, and less flighty. I like to close my eyes and place my hands on my lower belly and focus on taking smooth deep breaths. Buddhist Monk and renowned mindfulness teacher and author Thich Nhat Hanh suggests using these simple phrases to develop a practice of mindful breathing:
“Breathing in I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out I know that I am breathing out.”
Read more about the simple practice of mindful breathing here.
As a final note, I've noticed a big improvement to my own feelings of mental steadiness and emotional ease since giving up coffee. I'm definitely clearer and calmer, and less reactive and edgy. I knew it was time for me to try life without it, and I'm loving being on the other side. Check in with yourself, and see if reducing your intake of caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars and processed foods would be helpful and supportive. The link between food and mood is a strong one. Eat well, feel well.
As always, take what resonates and be open to change.