Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears. —Les Brown
Anxiety—that feeling of worry, nervousness and unease—can erode your confidence and wellbeing, turn your stomach into knots, generate stress and rob you of a peaceful night of sleep. While depression is activated by regret about the past, anxiety is typical triggered by fears about what might happen particularly worries about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
If you suffer from anxiety, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States affecting 18% of the population or about 40 million adults.
For women at midlife anxiety can be particularly troublesome. We’re part of the sandwich generation with children and parents to worry about as well as aging bodies and career challenges to contend with. The good news is like an imagined monster under the bed, there are numerous techniques you can use to shine a light on anxiety and make it disappear. Here are five of my favorite techniques to manage and even end anxiety.
- Meditate rather than medicate
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” —Amit Ray
Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t need a guru to learn. It entails just sitting calmly for a few minutes a day. You can follow your breath or repeat a positive word such as love or peace silently to yourself. It’s also very helpful during meditation to observe your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, emotions, sensations with compassion without judgment.
Start your day off with 5-10 minutes of serenity and that feeling will seep into the rest of your day helping to reduce anxiety. Plus, once you learn to meditate instead of worrying about the future you can easily return to the present moment and generate calm whenever you feel anxious.
- Soothe yourself
When you start to feel anxious, rather than plowing forward take a minute to pause and soothe yourself. Here are some simple methods
- Notice where you are feeling anxiety. Is it tightness in the chest or throat, a throbbing head or pain in the stomach? Relax that body part and/or give it a gentle rub.
- Do a few minutes of deep breathing, which helps to activate the relaxation response and deactivate anxiety.
- Engage in a few minutes of positive self-talk by reassuring yourself that everything will be all right and this too shall pass. Be your own cheerleader and be gentle with yourself, you’re doing the best you can.
- Try Hand-on-Heart (click HERE to learn how to do it).
- Repeat these self-compassion phrases: May I be safe, may I be healthy, may I be happy, may I live with ease.
- Eat right
What you eat and drink has a huge impact on how you feel and your levels of stress and anxiety. Skipping breakfast, consuming caffeine, sugar and processed foods and then trying to relax with a drink or two in the evening contributes to anxiety and weight gain. In contrast, a whole foods diet that contains plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein with plenty of water will help you to stay fueled and feel calm and centered.
Movement burns up stress and anxiety and increases your energy, vitality and overall sense of wellbeing. Plus, when you exercise your body releases feel good chemicals called endorphins that reduce pain and help you feel good. Exercise also helps you sleep better which itself can help reduce negative feelings and states like stress, exhaustion and anger and sadness.
You don’t have to join a gym or take an exhausting spin or Body Pump Class to get the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day. Going for a walk, dancing in your living room or playing with your kids all count. Short on time? Break up your exercise into small breaks throughout the day. Take the stairs, park your car further away from the entrance, go for a short walk at lunch. It all counts.
- Guided visualization
Anxiety is essentially a message from your unconscious mind that you have an event in your future that may end in a negative way. And the scary truth is that projecting the worst-case scenario out into the future increases the chances of things ending in a negative way. Conversely, visualizing the best possible outcome makes it more likely for the event to end in a favorably.
Try this visualization exercise for yourself. Pick an event you are anxious about. Take a few deep breaths, center yourself and relax completely. Visualize yourself in the future about 15 minutes after the event has occurred. See it ending in the most successful, positive way possible. Use all of your senses and fully connect with how good you will feel in the future after this event is over. What and who will you see around you? What will people say to you and, how will you feel when the event ends well? Then float back to the present and notice how you feel.
So the next time you feel anxious rather than ruminating—chewing over the anxiety in your mind—question the thoughts running through your brain. Follow the Reiki Principle: Just for today I will not worry. Remind yourself you can handle whatever you are facing. And choose one or more of the above techniques to get back to a peaceful state of mind.
Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. —Ralph Waldo Emerson