As the relaxed routine of summer draws to a close, it's common for anxiety to rise as we move towards the Christmas chaos. I’m Anna Mathur, a Psychotherapist who is passionate about working with anxiety. That’s because there are so many little things we can do to help ease it and make a difference to our daily lives! I am going to share with you 5 easy ways to ease anxiety, but first of all, let me explain a little more about what anxiety is.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety gets a bad rap. This is because often our focus is on the type of anxiety that robs us of feeling peaceful and present. We might consider ruminating thoughts that dominate your mind or your dreams, or panic attacks that swoop in and steal your feeling of calm, replacing it with fear and worry.
Anxiety as it was intended, is an incredibly effective, inbuilt mechanism that fuels you to be alert to danger, whilst filling you with all the energising hormones you need in order to navigate it. Consider how a zebra at a watering hole, on hearing a distant roar, will suddenly become tense and sensitive to sound. Their ears prick up, their muscles are poised to fight or flee, and their pupils dilate so that they are hypersensitive to any movement in the distance. This is an anxiety response triggered by a roar.
This process is what happens within your body when you face a threat. It could save your life, helping you to fight or flee danger. Ideally, as the sound of the roar passes, and the threat is lessened, the zebra relaxes and returns to enjoying the water. It’s the same with you. As the true threat passes, your stress response abates too.
However, the challenge is that often the threats we face are imagined. They are worries we have, thoughts that intrude or minds, or fears based on previous experiences and memories. We can be sitting on the sofa, happily watching our favourite programme, before a thought comes into our mind, and our body responds. Suddenly we are no longer present with what is actually happening, but utterly preoccupied with what could or might happen. This is an example of when anxiety becomes problematic, and impacts our daily life or wellbeing.
Imagine if the zebra reacted to every thought or a memory of seeing a lion. It would never feel at ease drinking or sleeping, but live on edge, full of adrenaline. It would feel exhausted from maintaining that hypersensitive state, when it wasn’t needed. I have been that zebra, living on high alert, and I’ve worked with so many who are exhausted by this too.
If you find yourself relating, there is hope. Here are 5 easy ways to ease your anxiety this autumn, so that it doesn’t rob you of the calm and presence you deserve.
5 easy ways to ease your anxiety this autumn
1. Nurture your gut
There is an incredible connection between your brain and your gut called the gut-brain axis. The brain and the gut share many of the same nerve connections, so how one is feeling, impacts the other. If your mind is full of busy and anxious thoughts, it is likely that your gut won’t feel great either. Stress hormones released by your body impact the environment of your gut and lessen the production of antibodies that help keep you fit and well. But the brilliant thing is, that as you nurture your gut, and find great tools for your anxiety, your brain and gut will thank you.
Seek a fabulous, colourful diet to benefit from the variety of gut-loving nutrients. And don’t forget to take your Symprove shot to give yourself a daily dose of live, active, anxiety-hormone-calming, bacteria.
2. Seek routine
Autumn welcomes a return to routine after a couple of months of summer disruption. Maybe you’ve enjoyed a holiday, or perhaps you’ve had to step up the workload as your colleagues switch on their out of offices, or exhausted yourself scrabbling to piece together an intricate jigsaw of kid’s clubs. Either, way, we are creatures of habit, and routine brings an anxiety-calming sense of predictability into our lives.
Each morning, the first thing I do when I head downstairs is take my shot of Symprove. I then spend 10 minutes unloading the dishwasher and sorting the kids breakfast whilst it absorbs into my gut, and then I turn on the coffee machine! Walking through the motions of routine is grounding to our minds and nervous systems. How can you cultivate a routine that feels sustainable for you? Consider what rituals you can add into your daily life to add some comfort and a sense of knowing what to expect amidst the unpredictability of life.
3. Add some new tools to your toolbox
When you feel your thoughts err on the side of anxiety, grab a tool from this list to see if you can help calm your mind and body.
- Count back from 100 in 3’s. This disruptive technique is great for halting spiralling thoughts.
- Take 10 deep breaths. Inhale deeply into your belly for 4, and exhale for an extended count of 7. This tells your body that you are safe, and activates the calming parasympathetic nervous system state, also known as the ‘rest and digest’ state.
- Write down a list of the things you can control. Whilst anxiety is often focussed on the things outside of your realm of control, it can be grounding to consider what you are able to do to support yourself.
- Practice gratitude. Anxiety draws your attention to what is hard and scary, or bad things that may happen. Gratitude is the practice of noticing what is good, and going well in your life. This brings balance to anxious thoughts and helps introduce a sense of calm.
4. Let your movement be led by your mood
We wake up with different resources every single day, dependent on how we’ve slept, what our bodies are navigating, and what we’ve journeyed through the day before. Instead of committing to a certain type of movement each day, it can be wonderful to consider what your body needs. One day it might be a sweaty workout, another it might be a gentle walk or a stretch. When life is busy, we can overlook what our bodies are trying to tell us. Consider your current energy levels and health, and take this into account when choosing how you move each day.
5. Find your fun
So often, when life gets busy, the things that bring us joy get placed on the back burner. However, when we stop doing the things we enjoy, we feel less joyful! It can be hard to prioritise those things you do that feed and fuel you, but I highly recommend trying to find small ways to fit these activities in. You know those things you do when you lose track of time, and the world melts away? Seek the activities that take you into this glorious state. This is called ‘flow state’ and it has so many benefits, including reducing anxiety and stress, and increasing confidence.
Enjoy finding new ways to ease anxiety, so that you can feel more present and grounded throughout autumn. Find your fun, move to your mood, breathe deeply and nurture your gut.
Want to read more from Anna? Find out how to create good habits that (actually) last.