Managing anxiety and stress is something we all have to do at certain times.
Whether is it an acute crisis or long-term undercurrent of strain.
Stress can be good in certain cases, to make us shift to a higher gear of thinking and working, but often the underlying damage to our health of undealt with issues can cause us problems.
When we start to feel a little apprehensive about life, this can increase the tension and worry that we experience and stop us from enjoying everyday things. I am not alone in feeling these things, and there have been times in my life when this has been at the point of overwhelming me, and so I sympathise so much with anyone going through this. These are some science-based practices that I have found to help me, not only in the short term, but to bolster my ability to withstand, or control worry getting out of hand and turning into terror or panic.
Like many people, food to me is all about the taste – but over the past few years, I have also relied on food to support my physical and mental health. Making choices based on what is “in” the food as opposed to how it looks or governed by my appetite and choices. The strange things is, that there is much pleasure to be gained from eating foods that you realise are “good” for you. So much so, that not only has my palate changed, but I also find it more difficult to really enjoy food that I know can have a detrimental effect on my body (!) – not saying that this should be your goal of course, but, to be honest, your mind and body do work together to allow the senses to increase your “pleasure” of food, and anything that feels like a treat, often tastes better when we get that reward. This all sounds a bit bonkers, but bear with me.
First, let us look at what is known as the “hippocampus”. This part of the brain plays an important role in learning and memory – and since my father and grandmother both have/had dementia, which causes damage to the hippocampus, this became an area of fascination for me. Diet and exercise all have a positive effect on the health of the hippocampus as it is only one of 2 areas of the brain that continue to grow throughout our life. This “neurogenesis” has a direct link to our mood and thoughts and changes to our diet can influence our mental health and wellbeing. The good news here is that we can support this through simple changes.
Increasing our “BDNF” food – so when I look at eating blueberries, I think about how I am doing my best to support my brain to protect it from dementia. Likewise, I try to shove as much ginger and turmeric into every meal – and I can highly recommend the frozen cubes of ginger that you can buy.
You will be surprised how little you taste the ginger, but how much you will benefit from knowing that this is in your meal – seriously, even in pasta sauces and curries, mashed potatoes and mixed with mint sauce over your peas. Be inventive and believe that you can make a difference. Have a look at some of my other blogs on “anti-inflammatory food” or search BDNF.
Unfortunately, there is also clear links between what is known as the “westernised” diet, where higher levels of saturated fats and simple carbohydrates (sugar) is linked to the development of dementia and obesity, so try if you can to reduce your daily intake - think of the positives to your health when doing this – promise, the different view point can help you when you are trying to change your eating habits.
Throughout my life, I have known that my job as a fitness instructor has saved my life in so many ways. Whilst there is no need to become and instructor, having the discipline of including exercise or activity into your life, especially during times when “you don’t feel like it” is inestimable. However, you don’t have to take my word for it! Far from it, you can just ask the internet about the effectiveness of exercise. NICE set out new guidelines earlier this year - and offered exercise as the first point of call when treating anxiety and depression – Why? Well, once again, we find that moving has such a huge impact on not only how we feel, but how we feel about ourselves. This “moving” can be anything. Walk, run, dance, swim, cycle, gym and on – the key is to be regular – i.e., daily, and then sustained, i.e., at least 10 minutes but longer sessions can bring more benefits. And that pushing our heart rate at times can also boost not only our fitness, but our ability to withstand stress.
When I talk about exercise, I can see that some people will be saying “yeah, whatever, yadiyadiya” and so it can sometimes feel like when you are a fitness instructor people are going to say, of course you believe in exercise, and I get that. Anxiety can be crippling to our self-esteem and our belief that we “can” do something, or that we are too fearful to even go to the gym or be any good at sport. Reframing what you will get out of it can help you get over that. There is many a time I start a walk, and probably yawn and complain for the first 10 minutes – especially if I have been sat at my desk all day. Not doing exercise actually makes us less likely to want to do exercise. BUT, and it is an important but, the evidence is there. So, whinge as much as you want, but force/encourage/cajole yourself to get out and do something. I promise you, you will feel better, and you will be able to manage depression, anxiety, panic a little better. Every step you take is a step for you and your health. And, if you are an exerciser, then I also encourage you to push your fitness, push your boundaries, challenge yourself, your confidence and aim for high attention and concentration x
Both of the above are of course examples of self-care, nevertheless, thinking of other ways to support your mental health is the icing on the cake (healthy option of course!). First, relaxation from deep breathing is fast becoming an area of scientific interest – even though it has been here for millennia. Learning to control the speed and pattern of our breathing, brings not only instant relief from nervousness, but can be shown to boost our neurotransmitters to prolong our feelings of happiness and contentment.
Secondly, the act of “taking care” of yourself by improving your diet, increasing your exercise, and then including relaxation makes you feel better. Do simple things each day to show yourself how much you care about your body and mental health – it is a circle of life that is worth pursuing.
Look at the practice of seeing what is good in your world – starting with point 2, expand this into detailing what you are doing in a diary, maybe look to ways you can help others by maybe exercising together, or even helping others out – these small things go a long way towards improving your self-esteem.
Finally, human interaction is a necessity. Being on your own makes it more of a challenge to get involved, but try if you can. Think about volunteering in a project or charity close to your heart and supporting your beliefs. I found that raising money was a great way to feel positive about my contribution to the world. It can be challenging, and frustrating, but when you look back, then knowing you made a small difference, balances your anxiety – sometimes this is due to the fact that you can put your life “in context” to others, and how others suffer/cope with situations.
Sometimes it comes from finding out more about life when getting involved with charities and you find out useful information about issues. Sometimes, it is the simple act of giving money to support others. Never underestimate the positive vibe that comes from being human in a world of other humans and all of their foibles!
There are of course, many other ways in which we can help manage anxiety, but I hope that this blog gave you some hope confidence in tackling this subject. Take Care. Cariad Mawr x