Dr. Lisa Ghent, ND
Once upon anxiety
There was a time in my life, not too far in the distant past, when I would have told you stress and anxiety weren’t a ‘thing’ for me. In retrospect I can see that wasn’t the case but at the time I thought I was all good, despite things occurring in my body that were telling a very different story. The thing about stress and anxiety is that when you’ve lived with it long enough, it becomes simply normal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not impacting you. It literally took a
breakdown where I sat at my front door sobbing, wondering how I was going to get up and keep going for me to admit to myself that anxiety was most certainly a ‘thing’ for me. Knowing things had to change for me, I started to put into practice some of the tools I teach patients about. It took time and consistency but there is no doubt that they helped. Here are some of the things I use to help manage my stress and anxiety.
When I really examined my lifestyle, I noticed that I started my days at a frenetic pace. I would hit snooze until the last possible moment, typically spurred on by a child asking me to get out of bed, and then hit the ground running. And then I would run until the second I got into bed at the end of the night. No wonder my day felt overwhelming; I had never created a solid foundation for the day. So, I fixed up our backyard patio and started to take my coffee out there and read for just five minutes every morning before starting my day, and I have continued to do one version or another of this ever since. It’s one of the most important changes I’ve made in my adult mom life. My days still get crazy, but at least I start the day feeling grounded and relaxed. I find I have more patience and it’s easier for me to come down after a busy, demanding day.
Meditate Like a Boss
It’s nearly impossible to learn a new skill in the midst of heightened emotion. So often when I ask people how they cope with their anxiety they say they will try to breathe but that it doesn’t really work for them. When I ask if they practice breathing on a daily basis, they say no. Learning how to breathe effectively is like trying to learn CPR when someone in front of you is having a heart attack. Your brain is too preoccupied with panic to be able to absorb information and think rationally. This is why it’s important to practice skills like breathing and mindfulness daily. Practicing stress reduction daily creates a kind of muscle memory so that when you actually need them, you can do them. Breathing exercises may seem simple, but they are powerful. Studies have shown that diaphragmatic breathing can slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. I get people to practice while lying down with a hand on their stomach. Concentrate on feeling of your hand rising up and down with each breath. Breathe in for five seconds, hold for seconds and then breathe out for five. Do this five times. 5-5-5-5. Really this is an exercise in being present and mindful, and there are lots of other exercises that accomplish the same thing – using a mindfulness app, yoga, repeating a mantra, using your senses to notice things in your immediate environment. It’s less important to me what skill is being practiced, as long as it’s done consistently and produces the desired physiological response.
Sleep Like a Baby
Let me tell you, nothing in your body can function properly if you’re not sleeping well. Exhaustion = lack of patience and irritability that is worse than PMS. Sleep is our body’s ultimate repair system. If you either have problems falling asleep or staying asleep, it will make any stress and anxiety in your life worse. Then when you start to expect your sleep to be difficult you get stressed out and anxious about going to bed. It’s a vicious cycle. If you have kids, think back to when they were babies and toddlers and you were trying to help them become good sleepers. What was the first thing you tried? Setting up a consistent routine. It’s should come as no surprise that this helps adults, too. It’s an interplay of hormones that dictate the quality and timing of our sleep, and the key ones are triggered by things like light and darkness. They run on a schedule and a consistent bedtime routine can help to make sure that they run on a schedule that aligns with your sleep goals. I suggest a bedtime that is no later than 10:30, and a routine that starts at least an hour before that. During this hour, there shouldn’t be any screens. No TV, no phones, no tablets, no computers. Eek. I know from experience how hard this one is. We all have an excuse to be online, but that doesn’t mean we need to do it 24/7. Turn down the lights; our main sleep hormone, melatonin, is triggered by darkness. Have a snack that has a good amount of protein in it, which will help to stabilize your blood sugar overnight, just in case you’re waking up because your body is hungry. Do something relaxing and that brings you joy to naturally lower stress hormones. When you get into bed, breathe. In fact, this is the perfect time to practice the 5-5-5-5 I talked about above. Consistency is key; just as with the mindfulness tools I talked about, our body doesn’t naturally learn how to sleep in one night, so don’t give up. Getting to bed at a decent time and turning down my engine long before I actually get under covers has been instrumental in helping me better handle what my days throw at me.
There is rarely one single thing that helps to get rid of anxiety and stress, but these tips can help you get started. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or naturopath about your feelings, and make sure you’re enlisting the help of those around you. You may be surprised to find that more people around you are feeling the very same thing and you just never knew.
Want to talk more? Head over to our booking page and I’m happy to help.
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