Artwork by Annelinde Tempelman
There are many simple ways - practical things that you can easily introduce into your day that help reduce anxiety, which paradoxically is a state which may have you believe is beyond all control. Here are some helpful tips - thanks to the wisdom of Ayurvedic Medicine - that will help you regain some mastery over your emotions. But first, let’s understand the nature of Anxiety.
Anxiety is Fear. It can come in the form of worry, concern or insecurity but all of these are deviations of the human emotion fear. Some people are not aware they have it; they simply rationalise it - concern for the future, worry about health, nervousness about our performance, apprehension about how we are perceived, uneasiness in social situations - as a part of life. Other people feel it so severely that angst begins to determine their choices in life. Yet life does not have to be lived through the lens of fear. In fact, we can live with ease, peace, even, dare we say, joy.
We all experience distress in various degrees at some point - that is normal and human - but it becomes a problem if it gets overwhelming or uncontrollable, if it stays with us for long periods after the initial trigger, or if it is so crippling, such as dread, that we can no longer function normally - that is, it affects our sleep, our work, our eating habits, our food choices, our relationships or our day to day decisions.
Some people mask their anxiety well, with overachieving, or anger, or defensiveness or addictive behaviours or plain overstimulation or busyness. But none of these behaviours are sustainable - eventually the anxiety program running underneath will surface in the day or during the night when our subconscious is free to let loose.
The most important thing you need to know about anxiety is that it grows the more you feed it. And you feed it by buying into it or by believing its story, by acting out of it or by actively avoiding it - which is just another way of giving attention to it.
So what is the best way to deal with anxiety then? Firstly, we need to stop fearing it - excuse the pun - stop ignoring it hoping it will go away, and start befriending it. In many cases, anxiety is a good friend: it is an alarm pointing to something that does not sit right with our conscience. Hence we can consider what that is and what can we begin to do about it, correcting what feels wrong.
In other cases, anxiety can be related to our sense of self-esteem, the way we treat ourselves internally may be harsh and we cannot get around the voice of our inner critic to change this. We feel disempowered because our rational mind cannot rationalise a way through what is a deeper problem. Here, working with a professional is an absolute necessity - as this pattern will never lead to personal success nor happiness - nor is it useful when we are seeking to contribute positively to the culture in our community, be it our work environment, our home or our society at large.
But here are a few things that we can easily put in place:
1. Develop a routine that we enjoy and stick to it - to counteract fear and unpredictability, a daily routine holds us and our system will begin to feel safer over time.
2. Settle into a rhythm - just as we breathe in and breathe out (as opposed to hyperventilating) our day needs to have a rhythm to it so that our mind does not get overwhelmed and can actually function at its optimum. So slotting in regular pauses where we ‘catch our breath’ in our day allows us to digest your thoughts, and access more creative and progressive solutions to the problems that we face.
3. Nourish with regular meals - stress, irrespective of its nature, triggers a fear response in our system. So our primal brain will immediately kickstart the process of preparing for famine (increase cholesterol, pack on fat), a physiological state which is more difficult to bounce back from. Having regular nourishment coming in will mean that no matter what we are enduring, our body can feel safe and stay healthy, and we can maintain some kind of mental balance.
4. Consider the quality of our food choices - our nerve cells run on fatty acids, this means that good fats will keep our nervous system more lubricated, and like car engines, we will function better, even with pressure or at high speed. So we need to take more foods such as avocados, nuts, coconuts and their oil, quality ghee, organic whole milk products (rather than skim or lite) or even an oil supplement such as Udo’s Oil drizzled over our meals.
5. Care for our digestion - a state of stress will decrease our capacity to digest as all the blood flows away from our core body and into our extremities (arms and legs) in order to respond quickly with fight or flight, again a primal brain response to perceived threat when we are in fear. So the best way to eat when our digestion is weak or compromised is to stay away from cold, raw foods which are hard to digest, and instead favour warm, cooked hearty and nourishing meals. For instance, we can easily bloat after eating an apple or a salad when our stomach would feel better with a soup or a stew. If our digestion works well, so will our immune system, our energy levels and our mental acuity in the face of challenges.
6. Simplify stimulation on our senses - when we are already overwhelmed and pressured by projects and deadlines, we need to simplify what we expose our senses to in order to support our nervous system. For instance, radio, traffic or background noise could easily push us over the edge, when we could listen to classical or soothing music on our commute to and from work. Inspect the office environment for possibilities of bringing in natural light, or green plants, maximising on views or exposing beautiful images or art.
7. Mindfulness is a key element in rising above stress and anxiety. This practice is an essential reference point that gives us a perspective on our lives, our choices, our direction instead of drowning in our problems, and repeating patterns. This is key not only in our personal growth but also in our creative thinking and innovative problem solving.
8. Mindfulness leads to better communication that is then conducive to a better team performance and more positive culture.
In a world that is nothing short of crazy, where our politics are failing, we as individuals can transform the culture of our work place, to create a sense of safety and mutual support for achieving our personal best, as well as finding innovative ways of contributing to a better planet.
Natalia Perera of Saffron Rose, is a Chief Happiness Officer helping organisations to create a positive and fruitful work culture where its people can blossom and together, we contribute to a more equitable society, a more humane world. Her LinkedIn profile is here - feel free to connect - and say hello.