This list is all of the things I can think of that help during acute periods of anxiety. I wrote it for an extremely beautiful soul who has had a tiny bump in her recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder. But it can be used by all of us. Because we all struggle at some point and we all deserve a tool box full of awesomeness.
Tips & Tricks for Trips Down Memory Lane (You Know, The Not So Nice Ones)
Electromagnetic flux – our bodies build up positive ions when we are stressed. The earth and water contain negative ions. Think back to school biology and you might remember about osmosis. The ions move towards the place where there is less of them in an attempt to balance out. The build up of yucky ions in your body that make you feel buzzed (read: wired but tired) will want to leave your body when you are in contact with the ground or water and the good ions, that make us feel calm and peaceful, will want to rush in! Get your bare feet in the grass or dirt or the sea. The ocean is a particularly brilliant conductor of healthful ions.
Epsom Salts Bath – perfect segue. A magnesium salts bath will also help this electromagnetic flux and calm your butt right down. Add some Lavender for an extra boost. Lavender essential oil binds to the emotion regulation parts of the brain, relaxing the fight v flight response. If you don’t bathe in it just dab some under your nose. Be sure to get pure therapeutic grade oil. If you don’t have a bath you can dissolve the salts (can usually get them from the supermarket) in a bucket and just put your feet in OR absorb them into a towel and wrap it around your neck to soak into your skin.
Chamomile tea – you can also chuck in a few tea bags of organic chamomile tea to the bath. The tea bags will soak into the water and then into your skin, this reduces inflammation in the body. All conditions begin with underlying inflammation and mood fluctuations are no different. Drinking a couple of chamomile teas a day has been shown to be protective against anxiety and stress. Bathe in it, drink it, use the essential oil drops straight under your tongue…just get some chamomile in your life.
Magnesium oil and powder – magnesium is a godsend for mood regulation. You can dissolve the Epsom salts into a small bit of water to make an oil (a couple of tablespoons to a tablespoon of water? Whatever it takes to make a slick kind of oily water), then rub into neck and feet before bed to encourage sleep. Mag powder may be a healthful supplementation during acute periods of stress.
Sleep – this little sucker is vital. Mood and sleep cycles regulate each other. One is out the other is out. For a while at least, prioritise sleep. Make going to bed after 10.30pm a serious offence in your books. Turn off electronics (TV is kinda okay…) one to two hours before jumping into bed. The blue light emitted from screens disrupts melatonin, our sleep hormone. Without melatonin we don’t nod off! I use amber-tinted glasses (orange safety specks – totally dorky!) two hours before bed and this protects from unnatural light. Turn off all overhead lights two hours before bed and use low lamps or candles. I have a small torch next to my bed for toilet-in-the-dead-of-the-night trips so I don’t disrupt my ability to fall back to sleep. Don’t clean your teeth under a blaring light in the bathroom just before you go to sleep!
Have your room slightly cool and window open a crack, we cannot sleep in stuffy or warm environments despite what we may think. Have a hot shower or bath before walking into your cool bedroom, this will contract and dilate your blood vessels creating an acute fatigue which will signal to your mind that your body is ready for sleep. Remove any electronic lights from your room or cover them, the skin absorbs the light and even the tiny red flash from your TV can be detected through your skin when your eyes are closed. Cover the windows if there is artificial light coming in from outside. The moon and stars are fine! Put your phone on airplane mode to reduce emissions disrupting your sleep.
Nightmares – don’t push these away. When you wake, spend some time remembering the nightmare in detail and then play around with the images until they are ridiculous, funny or cute. When the scary images come to mind, imagine a rainbow bursting out of them or a friendly face, that you’d be excited to see, coming into the image. Conscious cognitive restructuring is very powerful.
Melatonin – and vitamin D. Hand in hand they go! To build up in the body melatonin – the sleep hormone – requires vitamin D. Make sure you are out in the sun for 15 minutes each day, even if it’s not sunny! The sunlight, no matter how dull, sends important messages about sleep/wake cycles to your body. Good quality meat (lambs and cows that have been raised on grass out in the sun) will have vitamin D in the fat – don’t be afraid of fat! Organic Cherry Juice before bed may also help to create sleep melatonin. Adding your magnesium to the juice and having a chamomile tea in the evening could help too.
Coconut – oil, cream, milk (not with added emulsifiers) are beneficial fats for boosting up the brain. Eat coconut oil straight off the spoon each day if you can’t get it into your meals.
Avoid inflammatory foods – as much as possible try to limit foods that damage the gut and create inflammation. An enormous percentage of our serotonin receptors are in the gut. The gut-brain barrier is like a long spindly tree reaching from the brain right down into the gut. Serotonin is our mood regulating hormone. This means that everything we eat directly impacts our brain. Inflammatory foods are gluten, dairy, refined sugar, soy, seed oils and vegetable oils.
Maca powder – is an adaptagen. This means it goes into your body and finds whatever hormone is out of whack and regulates it! I know right, incredible! I have tonnes of recipes using maca on Instagram and the blog.
Brazil nuts and green leafy veggies – selenium is calming. 2-3 Brazil nuts a day have been linked to lowered anxiety. Vitamin B in green leafies like varieties of Asian vegetables, broccoli, kale, etc. are also important for recovery.
Frozen bananas – they are yum.
Gratitude Ritual – research has shown that thankfulness is a powerful creator of happiness and peace. Make a daily routine that involves listing what you are thankful for that day. It may just be running through your list quickly before you fall asleep or writing down 3-7 things, as tiny as “I got a wave from a stranger today and it made me laugh” “I ate sardines out of the tin for lunch and they were amazeballs”.
Calm.com – try this app for sleep and day-time meditations. Meditation is the bomb! It has gotten me through some sticky shit. And yogadownload.com for free sessions.
Mindfulness – stay in the here and now. When you have a painful memory, thought or feeling, get out of your mind and back into your body. Push your feet firmly into the ground. Breathe deeply and purposefully, making the out-breath longer than the in-breath. Notice three things you can see around you, three things you can hear, three things you are in contact with (chair, floor, clothes?) and anything you can smell or taste.
Belly Breathing – you know this is awesome. It will do two things. If you do it daily while calm (I do it every morning when I wake as an automatic ritual) it will increase your Stress Threshold so that it takes bigger triggers to set off your body alarm of panic. Secondly, it can get you through the moments when you are anxious.
Oxytocin – this little beauty is a treasure trove of health. And produced in your very own body. It is the hormone that creates social connections, safety, feelings of trust, comfort and tension release. It is released after orgasm and during social interactions. Orgasms are incredibly powerful for regulating mood and other hormones (can be self or partner love!) Social contact is also vital, we feel like withdrawing when our insides are wobbly with anxiety but just being in the same room as other humans (and animals!!) is physiologically therapeutic.
Fun and adventure – we also withdraw from fun. Plan a ridiculous adventure. Jump on your bike and just float around as if you were a tourist. Have a picnic. Hike in a national park. Play at a playground (swinging is particularly nourishing to the brain and body). Book a trapeze lesson.
Movement – walking, swimming, lifting heavy weights, dancing, yoga, slow bike riding around cool places. All brilliant and nourishing movements to help calm anxious bodies. The very last thing you want to be doing while anxious is cardio. Running and getting your heart pumping will feel amazing while you are anxious. But then you’ll crash. Hard. Cardio puts your body under physiological stress. You are already in “fight or flight”, you don’t need to put on Lycra to get there. Foam rolling and self-massage are great for calming the body (check out my YouTube vids for some self-massage tutorials). Gravity-defying exercises are brilliant for the body (trampoline, yoga inversions, swinging).
Practice Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – Notice Name it Let it Be
Cheeky postscript: music has an incredible power to change mood. Studies show that music choice can enhance a crappy feeling or get us out of it. Choose wisely.
****Remember: You are beautiful. You are kind. You are talented. You are hilarious. You are human. You will have ups and downs and hoola hoops. Take it all as it comes and soldier on. You are wonderful.