3 Gentle Ways to Calm and Soothe AnxietyJuly 23, 2017 10:48 am
Anxiety is something that many of us experience at certain times in our lives, some of us more so than others. When anxiety makes itself known, it can really take over, sometimes without reason or explanation.
Sometimes, we know what we feel anxious about. Sometimes, it can be more of a free floating anxiety that we feel in our body (maybe a tightness in our chest or a churning in our stomach) that seems to appear for no reason at all. Whatever ‘type’ of anxiety you experience it can be hard to explain to others just how horrible and frightening these sensations can be.
I’m so grateful that these days I don’t tend to get anxiety in the way that I did for many, many years of my life. I used to have anxiety that was all consuming. Phobias as a child. Panic attacks through my early teen years. Then crippling anxiety that seemed to take over my entire being for months on end during the time I found myself back in the world of severe ME/CFS back in 2010, after making what I thought was a full recovery for a number of years.
I’ve worked through a lot and I’ve healed a lot. I’ve gotten to know myself more and generally these days am a much calmer, centred person. But… that doesn’t mean I don’t still get anxious from time to time. Often these days, any anxiety that I do experience is triggered by a succession of months where I’ve struggled that bit more than usual on a physical level, along with all of the uncertainty that comes alongside living with a number of health conditions.
I’ve put this blog post together to talk a little bit about anxiety and also share some of the simple things I do to help me when I’m feeling a bit anxious in the hope they may help any of you who experience anxiety too. Firstly though, I’d like to share a bit about my experience from the past few weeks and how anxiety has popped its head back up in my life for the first time in a while.
A couple of weeks ago I was in the middle of a setback after having raised my thyroid medication, which I ended up having a bad reaction to. My heart rate was skyrocketing to around 140 beats per minute every time I moved (PoTS) and I felt jittery, racy and anxious on a physiological level due to too much thyroxine being in my system and my adrenals not being able to handle the new dosage. That same week, I also got an infection that needed antibiotics, so looking back, no wonder I was feeling so unwell.
I began to get worried about the increased level of crushing fatigue and overwhelming symptoms I was experiencing. It had shocked me how quickly I had crashed back down. I always think it feels ever so much like a rug being pulled from underneath you – you suddenly find yourself having tumbled down from the tightrope you’ve been trying your best to balance on, and once again find yourself consumed by ‘that level’ of deep fatigue and a thick fog that makes anything other than laying with your eyes closed an impossible feat.
It can be such a challenge to stay calm when this happens, no matter how long we live with it or go through it for. It’s a frightening feeling not feeling in control of your own body.
I’ve come such a long way overall when it comes to the part anxiety plays in my life. It doesn’t show up in the way it used to, it’s usually there due to an obvious trigger these days (such as the above experience) and less so in the form of an intense body based free – floating anxiety feeling which I had pretty much continuously for many years of my life. I think that for me personally, psychotherapy actually helped with that and I would strongly recommend it (with an experienced therapist who is right for you) to anyone experiencing anxiety that affects their day to day life. It helped me address some of the underlying contributing factors on such a deep level and assisted me in healing a lot from my past and my childhood.
So, when anxiety does make an appearance these days, it’s usually less intense and more of a ‘mind based worry’. I can deal with this much more easily than the full blown panic attacks, depersonalisation, shaking, and all consuming body based anxiety that I used to be so familiar with.
The reality is, that living in a body that has no certainty, increasing symptoms, lack of medical support and things such as a lack of daily structure (something I currently struggle with due to how much I fluctuate at present) can all fuel anxiety, no matter how much work we’ve done on ourselves or how much therapy we may have had.
As humans we tend to like the ‘known’. We like stability. We like structure and knowing we are safe. When you live with ME/CFS and related conditions, all the above goes out of the window!
When I find myself feeling uncertain and anxious, there are a few things that I do to help calm my mind and my system down
3 of which I am going to share with you now…
1. Hand on Heart Exercise
A simple little exercise that is so soothing when you are feeling a bit uneasy, anxious or overwhelmed is sitting quietly, closing your eyes and placing your hand on your chest over your heart area. Then taking some slow, deep breaths.
Sometimes when doing this, I’ll just gently focus on my breathing. Deep slow breaths into my tummy, watching the rise and fall. Sometimes I’ll imagine my body calming and relaxing, noticing my shoulders dropping and my overall tension releasing. Sometimes I might visualise a healing energy coming from my hand balancing my heart chakra. Sometimes I may consciously focus on sending myself some love. I let it come naturally and do what feels right to me in that moment.
I might also repeat a few simple mantras such as ‘I am safe, I am healing’ or simply ‘it’s okay’.
This is a lovely self soothing practise we can do for ourselves and one that I find really does help, especially when things feel uncertain. It connects us to our own inner guidance and stillness, and the contact of a warm hand sends messages to the subconscious that we are safe. It also helps to bring us out of our heads (worrisome thoughts) and back down into our body.
2. Write it Down / Journalling
One of my all time favourite things to do when my mind is busy and filled with anxious thoughts, is to get a pen and paper, and write things down.
I’ve used writing as a way of easing anxiety for as long as I can remember. As child, and especially as a teenager, I often used to sit on my bed and write things down. Streams and streams of thoughts – now known as journaling I guess, but at the time it had no name, I just knew it helped.
You can write anything that comes to mind. Sometimes I write just free flowing words, sometimes a list of the ‘anxious thoughts’ (it helps to see them written down and out of your mind – you’ll often find there are common themes and similar versions of the same core worry)
Once I’ve got it all out, ill then often write some reassuring things to myself and also some ways to move forward.
Writing things out can help us rationalise things and stop us getting carried away by the stream of worrisome thoughts that can easily overwhelm us when swirling round in our heads.
I often find at the end of doing some therapeutic writing, I can see things more logically again.
3. Reconnecting with the Earth
Getting outside and putting our bare feet onto the ground (be it a patch of grass in your garden or the sand if you are lucky enough to live by the beach) can soothe and calm us. When we are anxious the aim is the get out of our heads and back down into our body. Putting bare feet directly on the earth can help reconnect us to the strong solidity of the earth and also helps rebalance our bodies energy system.
It sounds a bit new age-y but so many people find it such a healing practise and I am definitely one of them. It stills the mind and helps me to feel much more connected to myself and my surroundings.
Spending some time in nature is also excellent for soothing anxiety, especially somewhere like a forest or near the ocean.
There are no quick fixes for anxiety, but there are things we can do to help ourselves and support ourselves when we are experiencing it. For me it’s been such an ongoing path of learning what little things help. When you are in the midst of anxiety, its also important not to try and push it away and add further stress to your system by fiercely resisting what is happening.
Dr Claire Weekes, an amazing lady who wrote the infamous book ‘Self Help for your Nerves’ (which was first published in 1962) gives the advice ‘face, float, accept, let time pass’.
It sounds like really basic advice, but those little words have helped me since I first read them over 15 years ago. I guess in essence they mean, don’t push away what is happening (resistance can add another layer of anxiety to an already anxious mind and body.) Gently face it. Accept the sensations as best as you can, knowing they cant physically harm you. Let time pass….knowing that in time….with love, self compassion, and just the general passing of time, your system will calm down and find its homoeostasis once again.
As uncomfortable as it feels, so many people feel a level of anxiety from time to time, especially when dealing with challenging times. In a way, for many of us it is a part of the human experience,
Lots of self compassion, speaking kindly to ourselves and remembering that ‘this too shall pass’ is key.
One last tiny tip I have that I personally have found helpful when I’m feeling anxious, is listening to a bit of Echart Tolle on YouTube. His calm hypnotic voice and wise words can really comfort and relax a tired, anxious mind. There are also some other fabulous teachers and inspirational people on there too, talks by Brené Brown and Tara Brach are also soothing and lovely to listen to when feeling anxious or sensitive.
I hope this post has helped a little, and if nothing else, let you know that you are not alone if you experience anxiety. It is something that can definitely get easier to cope with the more you learn about yourself, as has been the case for me.
I’ll list a few books below that have been a great help for me when its come to managing my own anxiety.
Books that have helped me with anxiety are –
Self Help for your Nerves ~ by Dr Claire Weekes
The Power of Now ~ by Echart Tolle
The Mindful Path to Self Compassion ~ by Christopher Germer
The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook ~ by Edmund J Bourne
End the Struggle and Dance with Life ~ by Susan Jeffers
Reviews of some of these books along with a list of many others that have supported me on my healing journey can be found here.
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