Managing anxiety from its root causes looks slightly different for everyone. Some of us need to focus on a daily practice of self-love affirmations, while others thrive with making space for regular self-expression through art or music. Some of us require a full gut healing plan to balance our physiological response, while others need to focus on supporting their hormonal health. I find that with almost everyone, it’s a combination approach that works best.
Over the years, I’ve developed strong daily habits that assist me in feeling grounded and safe every day, managing my anxiety from its root causes. If I let one of these habits go completely, I would fall back into feeling anxious. This isn’t about numbing the anxiety away with another potion or a pill (although that can be part of the journey), this is about building the resilience of my mind and body from the ground up, so that anxiety does not break through my protective shield.
Start with 1 and work your way through at your own pace:
1) Meditate, Journal Or Both
My meditation practice has never been more consistent than it is these days, but I want to be real and tell you that life can get in the way sometimes. I may forget to meditate or simply not feel like it. I want to be clear it has taken years of a sporadic meditation practice to get to a place where I am really committed to it. I believe it is so important to allow space for flexibility and it being okay to go off the schedule.
You don’t have to have a perfect routine to manage your anxiety.
Adopting an attitude of feeling into where your energy levels are at, asking what you feel like doing and not so much forcing yourself to do things you don’t really want to do is so helpful. On these days, I will most likely write some words in my journal instead. Often I’ll meditate and write together. Either way I’m observing my thoughts and connecting to my intuition every day.
I’ll ask myself, “Am I thinking kind thoughts today?” or “Is my mind telling stories that aren’t true?”
I’ll enquire as to how I’m feeling about a particular question, challenge or situation in my life. From a space of calm, which can take anywhere from 5 minutes of meditation to 40 minutes on some days, I’ll wait for the answers to come to me. This is such a beautiful skill to nurture, as it helps me feel connected to my true self and really listen out for any messages that might be coming from any anxiety that pops up. The anxiety we feel carries a message, often directing us towards what needs healing within or helping us to reflect on the choices we are making and confront whether these choices are really serving us.
2) Eat Breakfast, Even If You’re Not Hungry
One thing I’ll hear all the time is, “I’m just not hungry for breakfast.” This is where so many of my clients struggle and I can totally understand why this is a problem. When we wake up feeling anxious or rushing about to get ready for the day, our stress hormones rise and switch off our hunger signals. When the nervous system is in the stress response, our blood flow moves predominantly to our limbs so that we are ready to combat danger, either by fighting it or running way. Even when there is no real danger present (except a day of looming pressures and responsibilities), our body will respond as though there is an actual physical threat.
This switches off our digestion completely, because there’s no time to digest food when you are in an emergency trying to run away from the bear you just came across in the woods!
We need a calm environment to feel hungry and digest our food. You can help yourself feel more hungry by taking three deep breaths into your belly before you eat. The benefit of eating breakfast is that it sets your blood sugar levels up for stability throughout the day, instead of the rollercoaster that happens when we skip meals, eat too much sugar or eat sporadically. A blood sugar drop will lead to anxiety. Just notice the next time you leave it too late to eat lunch, and observe the relief you feel when you finally do eat. Eating breakfast ensures more stable blood sugar and it’s something I do every single day.
3) Care For The Gut
Our digestive system is constantly under pressure with the way we live our modern lives: not sleeping enough, eating too many processed foods, taking various medications, stress and travel. Some of us really feel the impact and notice the changes in our bowel motions or symptoms of bloating and discomfort, which are exacerbated by anxiety. In these cases, deeper gut healing work may be required through working with me one-on-one or going through my 90-day anxiety program.
Generally, I look after my gut each day in some way because I want to protect it from the stresses of life and keep it in good condition.
Our gut microbiome has a huge impact on our overall health, including how well the brain can regulate our feel-good, relaxing chemicals like serotonin and GABA. When the gut is in balance, the rest of the body can function better, meaning that our resilience to stress and anxiety is much higher. We’re less likely to feel a rush of adrenaline from the ping of a new work email, or react with anxiety to our partner’s off-hand remark. To care for my gut, I’ll make an effort every day to include some gut-healing foods in my diet like kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, bone broth, miso and collagen powder. These foods either support the levels of good bacteria in the gut or help to protect the gut lining from damage.
4) Move The Body
I really notice it when I don’t move my body at all for a day. I often ask my clients to observe this restless feeling in themselves too and notice the difference in their anxiety when they do exercise. The results can be incredible. Studies have confirmed that exercise is just as effective a tool for managing anxiety as psychotherapy and taking medication combined. This doesn’t mean I am hitting up the gym for a massive hour-long sweat session daily that leaves me exhausted and depleted.
Moving your body can be quite simple.
For me, this looks like half hour walks on the days I don’t engage in more intense exercise. Sometimes I’ll just dance to fun music in between clients as a way to get my body moving. When I really want to work my body, I’ll go to a hot yoga class, lift some weights at the gym, play some tennis or go for a run. It’s all about what my body feels like doing that day, so walking is almost always a wonderful choice. It’s our most natural movement and gets the blood oxygenating your brain, but is also so nourishing and restorative. Our bodies crave the rhythm of walking. Just consider how our ancestors used walking as their primary means of transportation. Most of us need much more of this kind of exercise in our lives and less of the adrenal gland-sapping intense workouts, stressing out our already stressed bodies. A mix of both is a great way to go. It all comes back to balance.
5) Ask, “What Do I Feel Like Doing?”
It is so simple, but many of us stop asking this question after we reach adulthood. We stop playing. We forget how to follow an impulse just for the fun of it, even if it makes no sense and has no specific outcome. We become fixated on our goals, building careers or buying houses, urgently pursuing a sense of security and certainty outside of ourselves. The beautiful thing about doing something just because it feels good, is that it brings us back to the present moment. We’re not worried about our future security in that moment while we paint watercolours, get a manicure, invent a new recipe, run around with our dog, wander into an antique store, learn how to carve wood, explore the trails in the park or braid our hair.
Sometimes, my answer to this question is simply to rest and stay right here, on the couch. It keeps me connected to my inner child and also respecting my body. It’s when we ignore our bodies and stop having any kind of fun that anxiety will always creep in. This is about relieving pressure and allowing the experience of more pleasure, childlike curiosity and relief in our lives.
6) Connect With A Loved One
Bees need a hive and humans need a tribe. We have an innate need for connection and special relationships in our lives. It’s not all about loving yourself, being complete by yourself and being your own source of happiness, as the self-help rhetoric of today goes. We are allowed to lean on our close relationships too. In fact, I encourage my clients to do this if they don’t already. You don’t have to do it all on your own! I know I have the tendency to deal with my stuff on my own and I used to believe I didn’t have any fallback. Determining my own security and safety was up to me, all by myself. When, of course, I have amazing beautiful, supportive close relationships in my life who would always be there for me if I needed them.
Sometimes we deny ourselves the support that is right in front of us, because we’re afraid we might be a burden.
We cut ourselves off, afraid we don’t deserve it. But we all deserve love and support. Sometimes my work can be isolating, even though I’m working with clients all day. I do not have a team of colleagues to bounce off. So I prioritise the relationships in my life and organise catch-ups at cafes with friends or phone calls with family every single day. I do this to support them and I do this to support my own mental health. We all benefit from a greater sense of connection in our lives.
7) Choose A Coffee Alternative
I’m going to lose some people here, but the truth is: too much caffeine is pretty much guaranteed to make you anxious. Think of it like anxiety fuel. If it doesn’t seem to impact your anxiety directly, it will impact your sleep quality, leading to a less resilient nervous system, primed for anxiety. We do have different levels of tolerance to caffeine, but if you’re anxious already, why add fuel to the fire? I think coffee tastes great too, but I choose alternatives every day. About 3 times in a year, I might have a coffee, but it impacts my system so obviously that usually it’s not worth it. Most of the time, I’m just drinking water or herbal tea.
I love the various medicinal mushroom blends you can find in health food stores and online as coffee replacements. They have a coffee-like taste, which is still really satisfying and warming, plus you get the benefits of consuming adaptogenic compounds from the mushrooms that restore and protect your adrenal glands and nervous system. I’m quite happy to enjoy a chai at a café with a friend, but if I’m feeling anxious, I’ll avoid it. There is caffeine in the black tea in chai too, but it’s much weaker than a coffee. I notice that if I consume any caffeine, even a tiny amount, after about 2pm, then I’ll be tossing and turning trying to get to sleep that night. Perhaps you might like to reflect on how caffeine impacts your body, but for me, a caffeine-free lifestyle keeps me feeling calm and grounded.