Anxiety can be a big deal. I know, I’ve lived it and continue to deal with overcoming its challenges. Our brains and bodies and nervous systems can cause all sorts of havoc and experiencing anxiety can be very distressing not only because of the physical sensations but also because of the intrusive and scary thoughts and memories that we can have, especially if they are coupled with other things like trauma or depression. When we are in the midst of this it can be very difficult to separate what we are experiencing from the reality that we are not our thoughts and that what our brains are doing are not real experiences in the moment. That’s not to say that we are not experiencing them, it’s just they are not in the real world. Thoughts are powerful but at the end of the day they are just thoughts and with time and effort we can replace them with Truth.
Our fight / flight / freeze mechanism can keep us in that heightened state of stress and anxiety and troublesome brain activity. So practically what can we do to alleviate some of these symptoms which many of us are facing on an almost daily and nightly basis?
Sometimes it can help to slow down and focus on just one thing at a time to calm down that frantic sense of the many things we need to do that can leave us immobilised. I find that if I am struggling then if I set a five or ten minute timer on my phone I can focus on a task at hand for a few minutes and get ‘out of my head’ a bit more because I have a goal at hand to achieve. That doesn’t mean troublesome thoughts don’t exist but I’m not merely sitting with them and getting lost in them or overwhelmed by them. I’d have still have done my dishes or made something to eat in the meantime, or accomplished whatever small goal I might have, and then be able to take a break and go on to the next thing.
2. Eating well
Speaking of something to eat, it’s important to fuel up our brains and bodies but when we are running on high levels of stress it can be hard to get past the anxiety and depression to be able to take care of ourselves and focus on eating well. Planning in advance during the times when you do feel a bit better or asking someone for advice in this area can help because nutrition will help build us up and provide the energy that our brains need to operate better.
Deep breathing can help calm the nervous system and get us out of fight / flight mode when thoughts automatically pop up causing us distress to think that there are things we need to fight or flee from. If we can calm our bodies to be in a state of rest and digest rather than fight and flight then we can be better placed to calm that anxiety and get on with our day more productively and healthily. This can take time and practice but it is good to know that something so simple as breathing can help with our wellbeing. Breathe in deeply through the nose, and exhale for a longer count through the mouth, and repeat as often as required to calm the nervous system.
4. Talk to a friend / get support
Anxiety and distressing thoughts can be overwhelming, especially if we feel like we are going crazy or don’t realise that these are ‘normal’ symptoms. Sometimes we need the reassurance that we are not alone, that we are not going to act on these scary thoughts (some of which for heightened anxiety include suicidal or harming thoughts) and we can diffuse what we are going through by chatting to a friend, or a counsellor. Spending time with people, making connections can all help to keep us grounded in the moment that we are in and out of our heads. It also helps to know you’re not the only one going through what you are and that there isn’t something wrong with you for experiencing anxiety and stressful thoughts.
5. Exercise, rest and time outside / in nature
It really helps the mind to keep the body moving, especially if this can involve getting fresh air and exercise outside or going for a walk in nature. There is something calming about the pace of nature and if we can engage our senses to notice the things going on around us in the here and now that can help us get outside of our own heads. That doesn’t necessarily mean distressing thoughts or feelings will automatically go away but they will be alleviated in the moment. Rest and listening to our bodies is also important so make sure you get good sleep as well, and if need be have a nap during the day.
6. Things you can’t control
Our brains are processing so much and especially with the things going on in the world right now it can feel hard to ‘switch off’. We might find ourselves worrying about so many things outside of our control that we can’t do anything about whether in our own lives, those of our friends and families or at the world at large. We can try to make a conscious choice during our waking hours to engage with what we can control rather than worrying about what we can’t. I know it sounds easier said than done, but at least we can try.
Whether it be cooking, gardening, colouring, drawing, dancing, playing an instrument, or reading or writing a blog or a book, creativity can really help to keep us grounded and engage our hands and our minds in a productive way. So too can learning something new. It might help ease some of that stress even if we start small at first.
8. Faith and the Reality of God
The other week I was trying things to help alleviate anxiety and stress – deep breathing, I started adult colouring again, and for the first time perhaps in years I tuned in to a Ted Talk. The remarkable thing was that that very Sunday at church my pastor talked about all of these things as ways and means people turn to in order to help with stress and anxiety and seeking wisdom (including the ‘art of decluttering’) in how to live and get through these stressful days. It really did make me take notice, as sometimes you know God Is speaking specifically to you. However, he went on to discuss the importance of seeking our wisdom in the True Source of hope and wisdom for life, and the only True source of real Peace – Jesus Christ. We need to ask for the Spirit’s help to reveal the reality of these things to us, we need a saving relationship with the Living God, and that reality is only found in Jesus Christ. I am so grateful that while I may try various things to ‘help me through’ He Is The One Who has saved my soul, Who will hold me fast through this life and bring me safely to Him after death, and Who Is with me each and every day on earth. I have something better than mere ‘tools and techniques’ to get me through, I have a Living Saviour Who loved me and gave Himself for me and Who will be with me in every anxious moment, helping me to look to Him and find Peace. ❤