Do you often wish you could just pop a pill and slip into a permanent state of bliss? Or read that one book, take that one course, watch that one video that will cure you of all worries?
If only it were that simple.
Fact is, there is no Dr Calmmind’s Anxiety Alleviating, Brain Boosting, Best Ever Self Miracle Mind Serum (only $29.99 with a free essential oil!)
And all the books and e-courses and best intentions won’t stop you from worrying what the barista thinks when you nervously fumble in your bag for change. Nor will these things completely clear your mind and plant a genuine smile on your face, as you head off to yet another engagement party or bridal shower or work event.
But why not?
You can pop a pill to dull a headache. Or have surgery to remove a burst appendix.
Why can’t we just find that one thing to cure anxiety, forever and ever, amen?
There are a couple of reasons and hypotheses. Let’s explore a few:
1: Anxiety is different for everyone
There are so many things one can worry about in this world. Your health, bank balance, career, family, friends, bus schedule, holiday plans, or that one spot on your chin that just won’t go away. Our worries can be endless.
Ergo, if there are a million different worries, there are a million different types of anxiety.
What triggers your anxiety (say, a busy shopping mall) might be different to what triggers mine (too much alone time).
Anxiety might feel different for you (racing heart, sweaty palms) as it does for me (fluttery tummy, a sense of impending doom).
One person might have anxiety that only flares up in anxiety-provoking situations (like a school exam). Another might have it bubbling away in the background every single day of their life.
So you see, when you say ‘anxiety’, you’re referring to a kaleidoscopic spectrum of experiences and diagnoses and sensations and triggers.
There’s no ‘one anxiety fits all’.
Here’s reason number two:
2: Your anxiety can change
I once had a panic attack 30m underwater while scuba diving. Let me tell you, that anxiety felt a heck of a lot different to how I feel when walking down a busy street.
Have you experienced the same? You’ll feel more anxious one day than the next. Sometimes, for no apparent reason. It helps if you know what’s triggered your worries, but it’s not always obvious.
Let’s say your go-to technique is going for a walk. Most times, you enjoy a leisurely stroll to the park, breathe in fresh air, and feel relaxed and renewed. But some days, the whole thing just agitates you more. The park is packed with noisy teens, it starts raining, and you drop your phone on the pavement.
That’s an example of external factors influencing your anxiety. Now let’s look at an internal example: meditation. On some mornings, meditation calms your breath and focuses your mind. On others, you can’t sit still. Your monkey mind jumps from one worry to the next. And all can think is, “When is this bloody session going to end so I can get back to all the things I need to do?”
Because of this, what works to bring you back down to Earth isn’t always the same.
So what can you do?
Gather your anxiety arsenal
Have a few go-to tricks you pull out of the hat when your anxiety creeps up. Here are some of my favourites (and some our private Facebook community likes):
- Meditate. Every day. No question.
- Exercise. Every day. No question.
- Deep breathing exercises.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Limit caffeine and sugar.
- Find a quiet place in nature for reflection.
- Disconnect from digital devices at night.
- Limit your time on social media. It breeds unhealthy comparison and worries about the world.
- Sip sleep teas before bed – and swap coffee for herbal teas during the day.
- Journal your worries in a book. Avoid going back to read them.
- Talk or hug it out with a loved one. Cuddle a pet if you have one!
- Get a massage or facial.
- Keep a gratitude list. Add to it every day. Focus on the small, simple things that bring you joy…rather than worrying about what you apparently lack.
- Don’t hide your anxiety. Let people know what’s going on. You’ll feel less alone.
Check out these anxiety resources for more ideas.
Quick fix: stop the stress response
OK, I know I said there was no quick fix for anxiety. But there is a trick that can work faster than others: learn how to cut the stress response in its tracks.
What is the stress response?
Here’s a little anxiety 101 refresher:
When you’re anxious, it triggers a stress response in your body. This releases stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenalin), which travel via your blood to spots in the body that can prepare you to battle or flee a threat.
These hormones, like a darn strong cup of coffee, are stimulants. So they bring on all those yummy anxiety symptoms like a racing heart and sweaty palms.
That’s great when you want to fight the guy who called your girlfriend fat – or run away from a rhino. But when your body is undergoing a stress response regularly, you have all those hormones swimming around and sparking a surge of flighty feelings.
You’ll only start to feel back in balance and calm once the body gets rid of all those excess hormones. Until then, it’s panic stations.
So the sooner you can stop the stress response, the sooner you can ease your anxiety.
How can you do that?
Try the ‘big three’: meditation, deep breathing, and relaxing the body.
Do this until you feel calmer, and your symptoms start to subside.
But what about every day, lingering anxiety? Ah, I’m glad you asked…
Slower fix for lingering anxiety
You can quickly ease a panic attack by running through a checklist: sit or lie down somewhere quiet, drink water and keep your body cool, focus on your breathing, have someone wait with you until the panic passes…
But what about that niggling, lingering feeling you experience every day? That general sense of dis-ease, of feeling a bit flighty or nervous – even when you’re just watching TV or walking.
It’s called ‘stress response hyperstimulation’. And it’s a little trickier to treat. If your body activates the stress response too often, it can stay that way. Stuck in a halfway house, ready to respond to stress. And even when you stop the stress response, the anxiety stays simmering in the background. Just enough for you to feel agitated, even mildly, most days.
And for that, I’m afraid there is no cure. And it takes a tonne of hard work and self-exploration to manage well.
But, you can manage it well.
Try the techniques we discussed in the ‘gather your anxiety arsenal’ section. Consider seeing a professional therapist regularly. And remember, your anxiety doesn’t define you. You are NOT your anxiety. It’s simply a feeling that makes up a beautiful collage of emotions that we all experience in life.