By default, I’m an anxious human. When not in check, my subconscious mind has the ability to get the best of me. And if I’m not careful—I’m in deep before I even realize. At that point, it can be a steep uphill climb to move beyond the bundle of nervous energy that has come crashing down on me.
For those (millions) of us living with anxiety, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing. That said, anxiety is something that we must live with and manage so it doesn’t cause our bodies harm, or have a negative impact on our relationships (with ourselves or others).
Although some seasons of my life are more anxiety-ridden than others, the following methods and activities help me cope and live with a clearer mind regardless of what is happening externally.
There are a number of reasons I love running, but one benefit of running that oftentimes goes unrecognized is its stress-relieving properties. When I start my day running, it sets the tone for the whole day—clear mind, energized body, focused spirit. This is true for every single run, whether it’s a strong 10 mile training run that’s invigorating and empowering, or a 2 mile shuffle that’s so miserable I can barely keep my feet moving. When I follow up my work day with a run, it’s a similar scenario. A post-work run allows me to reset my brain and shift my attention away from work before the evening begins. No matter how intense, or what time of day, running provides me with instant decompression and gratification. It gets the blood flowing, not only to my brain, but to each and every part of my body.
TIP: If you hate running, try another aerobic activity. What do I mean by aerobic? I mean cardiovascular exercise, be it biking, hiking, swimming, dancing, or even simply taking a speedy walk with your dog— anything to get your body moving, oxygen flowing, and your heart rate up. I find that getting my heart rate up while exercising helps me have a lower resting heart rate, which also means my body is less likely to store up nervous energy to be released in a negative way.
2. STAYING HYDRATED
I see a direct correlation between my level of hydration, and my anxiety. When you are dehydrated, it directly takes a toll on your nervous system. It should be no surprise that for those with sensitive systems, the effects of dehydration are particularly noticeable. Living in Florida, this is an incredibly real scenario in the summer. In between iced coffees, I make sure I carry a water bottle with me constantly. Rather than flushing my system totally clear with too much water, I infuse my water with electrolytes—be it GU tabs, Vega Hydrator, or Scratch Labs hydration products. I see incorporating electrolytes into your hydration regime as crucial, and notice a monumental difference in how energized, focused, and hydrated I feel after sipping on an infused water.
3. PROPER NUTRITION
Undoubtedly, the best decision I could have ever made for my mind and body was going vegan seven years ago. Still, it’s possible to be a bad vegan. And when I find myself being bad—it throws my body off. What do I mean by bad? I mean TOO MUCH SUGAR. And I don’t just mean in the form of sweets. I’m primarily talking about foods that might seem healthy but pack a high glycemic index, like white rice. When I let my body take in an influx of sugar, I feel lethargic, and as a result, I see myself becoming frustrated, tense, and anxious. By keeping my blood sugar levels balanced and not experiencing dramatic highs and lows, I’m able to remain on a more even keel.
4. NOT DRINKING ALCOHOL
“Blame it on the A-a-a-a-a-alcohol.” 21-year-old Sarah was all about some gin and juice with a side of karaoke. 28-year-old Sarah swings for juice shots instead, like these shots from Atlanta’s Kale Me Crazy Juice Bar.
In addition to the positive results my lack of drinking has had on my appearance (skin, shape, etc.), energy level, writing, and athletic performance, I wholeheartedly attribute my ability to better manage my entire emotional state to the lack of alcohol in my system. Sober life is a clear-headed life and a clear-headed life leaves you totally in control of and in tune with your body. For me, I’ve found that having the occasional post-run beer or glass of red wine is fine, but any more than that immediately unravels my hypersensitive psyche.
When I’m most anxious, I notice I’m especially glued to my phone, taking in way too much information by way of an intangible reality. I once wrote a story titled, “It’s All In Your Head,” exploring this very subject. A therapist I spoke with for the feature attested to the fact that for many, being constantly tied to what is happening elsewhere via the Internet can lead to a number of issues. It can result in phantom buzzing (hearing or feeling your phone ring when it’s silent). It can also spike a very real case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Plus, it can put a strain on your real life relationships. While at home, Andrew and I try to hold ourselves to leaving our phones charging in the other room for extended periods of time. I find this to be a huge relief (when I actually follow through). This is something I’m constantly working on improving upon.
6. LIVING WITH LESS
For those of us who like to be constantly in motion, the idea of “doing less” is a hard concept to become comfortable with. However, it’s a way of life that has gradually become more natural to me. Focusing on doing less helps me decrease my FOMO anxieties, and decrease the amount of time I spend feeling pressured or overwhelmed by too much all at once. Understanding the confines of your own self is key to figuring out what is “too much” and establishing your own balance of time spent “being” vs. “doing.” For example—while I enjoy traveling and it’s something Andrew and I want to do more of together, I’ve learned that if I try and push to take a relaxing trip at a very hectic time, I’m more inclined to pile on an insane amount of stress leading up to time, whereas, I would be much better off enjoying a brief staycation, and saying yes to a lengthier vacation when I feel more at ease. Right alongside the idea of doing less, is having less. By minimizing both my activities and my material possessions, I feel less trapped and closed in, and more free to live, breathe, and be. At the beginning of the year I stated that I long for a life that fits in a tent, and it’s something Andrew and I continue to work toward together.
7. PRACTICING YOGA & STRETCHING
My mind races pretty fast. For this reason, I’m pretty confident in saying that if I can focus my mind on yoga and stretching and nothing else for an hour, you can too. And the best part is your body will thank you for it. Whether we stand on our feet, or sit on our butts all day, stretching out our body and releasing muscle tension is crucial to keep our bodies relaxed and our organs and endocrine (hormonal) systems functioning properly. Setting aside time for yoga strengthening and stretching might take you away from other “doing” you have planned, but believe me when I say, it will change your entire mindset and attitude.
+ Adding oils
To help with relaxation and focus (and a number of other ailments) try introducing oils into your life. I am not an oil master, but I have found that rubbing lavender on my temples routinely helps me relax. Lavender shampoo, lotion, and household cleaner hasn’t hurt either. My advice: whether you buy into oils for everything or not—if you are looking for a scent to focus on to help you chill, give lavender (or another calming blend of oils) a try while you’re stretching or having some quiet time. You can also apply at any time you are beginning to feel worked up.
8. GETTING CREATIVE
Whether you define yourself as creative or not, I am of the opinion that everyone needs a creative outlet of some sort. Although I do less “me” writing than I care to admit these days, when I am actively writing for the sake of writing, or to get my creative juices flowing I feel better internally. I’m incredibly thankful and most fortunate to have a career that aligns with my passion and keeps my creative juices flowing and producing constantly. Truthfully, when I am not working, writing for myself, or brainstorming creative ideas alongside Andrew, I should be playing music. My spirit lights up every time I sit down long enough to play something – I just don’t always give it the time it deserves.
9. BEING OUTSIDE
Last week I returned to one of my favorite crystal clear fresh water springs. Jumping into the water immediately took my breath away. I came up to the surface feeling like a whole new person. The day before, I let myself get knocked down by waves in the Atlantic Ocean. There’s something about feeling weightless in the water that shocks my core and resets my being every single time. The same effect occurs when I am trail running through the mountains, or experiencing some other intimate connection with nature. Even if it’s simply sitting in the grass at a nearby park, or sprawled out in the sand at the beach, during moments when I feel frazzled beyond measure, taking a time out and retreating to nature is my saving grace.
10. CONNECTING WITH COMMUNITY
As an introvert, I’m drawn to isolation. Alone time is necessary, yes. However, there absolutely must be a balance. We were born into communities and I personally believe it’s how we were intended to live. This doesn’t mean you have to be around a million people. My “inner sanctum” as I like to call it, is pretty small, and is made up of a handful (or two) of family members and trusted friends. Fully inviting select other humans into my journey on a personal level has been, and continues to be, the best medicine for keeping a grounded, open, and authentic spirit. It adds context, perspective, and enrichment. I swear by and fully support the power that exists and blossoms within [true] friendship.
The next time you’re feeling anxious….
Lie down on your back, on the floor, with your arms and legs outstretched, palms facing the sky. Stay here for at least 10 minutes. Take slow deep breaths. With each breath, release any tension in your body that you are feeling, focusing on one area of your body at a time. Exhale slowly. With each inhale, focus on breathing in new life, a new attitude, a new mindset, a new chance at a positive experience in the breaths and the moments that follow. This breathing exercise will help you return to mindfulness anytime you are feeling unraveled, and hopefully, help you see beyond your current worry.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an anxious person, do you have a go-to practice that helps you feel relaxed and at ease when you’re feeling stressed?