|Posted by Britt Got Fit on February 14, 2017 at 11:45 AM|
Anxious Mind? These 5 Daily Practices Interrupt Anxiety Thought Patterns
I was diagnosed with social anxiety in third grade. Our family doctor wrote a prescription for a therapy pet and offered medication, and then a psychiatrist taught me a few pressure techniques to help interrupt public anxiety attacks. Unfortunately, that was the extent of the coping education I was given in the traditional medical world.
20 years later, after what seems like a lifetime of avoiding life, rearranging, and having to ask for special considerations to simply become functional - I have developed a system of coping practices that interrupt anxiety thought patterns and allow me to move through bouts of anxiety with greater ease. These daily practices help me keep anxiety in check and step back into the present whenever I am bombarded by paralyzing physiological responses to my environment, fear, or worry of future outcomes.
Many of these practices are closely related to the niyamas or self-care principles found in the Eight Limb Path of Yoga. If you wrestle with anxiety, consider participating in a yoga teacher training program not necessarily to become a teacher, but to be led through an in-depth study of self in a safe environment, and to become aware of what anxiety is from an energetic perspective. Of course there are a number of ways to accomplish these tasks, but personally, self-study through the practice of yoga has been the most effective tool for managing anxiety.
Anxiety processes may be triggered in a number of ways. Some predict the outcome of a particular moment, relationship, or life event in their anxious mind (ego), and then consciously or subconsciously react to those predictions at the physical or emotional level. It can also be a response to seen or unseen environmental stimuli or “triggers” – in this case, you must do the work to become aware of your triggers.
We have to know the origin of anxiety patterns to operate above them. It is only with this type of awareness that we can begin to “play chess” – anticipate and take action, remain calm, be proactive, move things around in our favor, and so on, rather than checkers, simply waiting for the next hurdle to “jump over.” I am constantly reminding my clients to play chess, instead of checkers, and the simple techniques I share below can make that difference when it comes to anxiety thought patterns.
To interrupt anxiety, we must lean into the present through grounding work. Grounding work is a powerful remedy for the anxious mind and body.
Here are a few ways to do this:
1. Cover your self-care basics first thing in the morning. Brush your teeth, slather your skin with nourishing oil, get dressed, do your make-up if that’s your thing, and drink a tall glass of room temperature water or tea. I place a glass of water on my nightstand before bed and then commit to the other “basics” first thing. As soon as I start tending to my little ones or settling into work for the day – these basic things become a nuisance, so I’ve learned to do them before I join the hustle and bustle of family life, work, or other preparations for the day. The anxious mind sends the message that you don’t have time to take care of yourself, so it’s important to slow down and make space for self-care practices that are important to you at the beginning of your day.
2. Express gratitude in your own way. At first, it may be challenging to thank the Universe for guiding you through your day and revealing the greatest good; that’s not how the anxious mind works. The anxious mind focuses on what’s missing, what’s going wrong, and is constantly trying to generate reasons as to why. Resetting that tendency to lean into fear and worry before we get deep into our day is a helpful tool in lessening anxiety. In expressing gratitude, we strengthen our ability to lean into the present. After my “self-care basics” are complete, I give thanks for being alive another day, for my husband and for my children and anything else that comes to mind. On “tougher” days I’ll tune into a guided gratitude meditation to help my anxious mind focus on the present reality.
3. Make your movement intentional. If you suffer from anxiety, it is likely that you’ll benefit more from decompression-based exercise than compression-based exercise. My exercise routine has evolved quite a bit over the years, and it’s quite alright if yours does too. I’ve learned that for now, heavy lifting and intense workouts leave me feeling drained and anxious, while yoga and nature walking leaves me feeling energized and centered. Consider giving consistent yoga, tai-chi, swimming, or outdoor walking a try to see if your body responds in a different way. Notice if the frequency and severity of anxiety lessen.
4. Get grounded. If I notice the familiar feeling(s) of anxiety start to challenge my focus and decision-making ability, I will stop whatever I’m doing - or trying to do - and take 10 minutes for a grounding practice that is available to me in that space.
Here are a few suggestions:
• Step outside, let the sun hit your face and take a few deep breaths. Focus on the sounds, colors, and smells of nature around you. A study published by the University of California at Berkeley revealed that moments in nature could improve our health by lowering cytokine levels. Cytokines are small proteins that trigger our body’s immune response, thus increasing inflammation. Chronically elevated cytokine levels underwrite anxiety, poor health, disrupted sleep patterns, hormone imbalance, depression, and other chronic diseases.
• Practice basic aromatherapy. I keep both grounding and elevating essential oils like cedar, sage, lavender, grapefruit, and frankincense close. It can be a fun experience to browse and smell different essential oils at your local health store, and then to select a few that appeal to you. Your body will naturally be drawn to the scents that will benefit you most. Massage a few drops at your wrist or behind your neck and take a few whiffs to get out of your head and into the present. Stronger essential oils may need to be blended into carrier oil before being applied to your skin.
• Work through 5-10 revolutions of alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana). Alternate nostril breathing moves breath in one nostril and out the other, bringing centeredness to our body’s energy. Nadi shodhana provides the opportunity for us to move away from our anxious mind and into “right thinking.” Gently plug one of your nostrils with your thumb and inhale deeply through the opposite nostril. You may notice that you’re able to pull a deeper, more intentional breath. When you’re ready, exhale through the opposite side and continue the pattern – in the right, out left, in left, out right.
5. Forgive yourself. There will be days when anxiety seems to get the best of us. Forgive yourself and continue to practice leaning into the present one movement and one meditation at a time. Remember that we are striving for progress, not perfection and that each time we lean into the present and away from fear, our ability to choose is strengthened. Little by little, a little becomes a lot.