Calm and patient. Two words my clients have used to describe my coaching style over the years.
Anxiety and panic attacks.
Things I never thought I’d experience, much less need to manage… until this year.
This is new territory for me, and new experiences lead to growth. As I’ve adjusted I’ve learned about myself and how the self care I’ve implemented over the years is making a big difference for my mental and physical well being during this time.
Here are my Top 5 Strategies for Managing Anxiety:
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a counselor. My intention with this post is to share what’s been helping me through a time of heightened anxiety. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety and/or depression please seek out professional medical help. I definitely have, and it’s been helpful.
Give Up the ‘People Like Me’ Belief
People like me don’t experience high levels of anxiety or panic attack episodes.
That’s what I believed.
How can these episodes happen to a yoga teacher, health coach and outdoors woman who’s had a dedicated and steady morning yoga, breathwork and meditation practice for years?!
Instead of feeling frustrated that a calm, grounded, self-care junkie like me is experiencing anxiety, I’m choosing to look at it with curiosity.
What are the stressors in my life I haven’t been willing to face?
Clinging to the false belief that people like me don’t experience anxiety only increases and intensifies the suffering.
Creating separation between me and ‘other people’ is an illusion. We’re all human, and accepting that I’m susceptible to being human, helps me to accept what’s going on. From that place of acceptance I can powerfully choose how I move forward.
Nothing to Fix
Experiencing a health ‘problem’ that can’t be explained or controlled feels extremely vulnerable. Although I’ve advocated for vulnerability as strength for a long time, the truth is, I’m not very good at being vulnerable.
I resist it like crazy, viewing the fear and anxiety as problems that need to be fixed.
The problem with that approach is that what we resist persists. Resisting the anxiety and wanting it to go away only makes it worse.
I’m grateful to have rediscovered a book called When Things Fall Apart by the Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron.
She talks about the power of not resisting the fear, the anxiety and the discomfort. Of having the courage to sit with it, to sit with the heart pounding, the discomfort, the feeling that something is wrong, without trying to fix it or make it go away.
It can be really uncomfortable and painful, AND it’s the number one most powerful strategy I’ve used for moving through the anxiety when it comes up.
I highly recommend starting a meditation practice and I’m very grateful that I’ve been meditating for years. It has helped a lot.
There are a lot of meditation resources available such as the Insight Timer App, guided meditations (I really like Deepak Chopra and Oprah’s meditation series), classes in your local town, and you can also check out my online course Vibrant Body Empowered Mind.
Get Outside and Get Moving
When I went to my family doctor to check things out and make sure I wasn’t actually having heart problems (in the very beginning I experienced heart palpitations), he said that vigorous exercise shows better results for pacifying anxiety than any medication or other treatment.
I obviously love being active, and had noticed that getting outside and getting moving really did help when I started to feel anxious.
I upped my activity level, and luckily I had already planned a ski trip in British Columbia and co-guiding on a SUP camp in Barbados in the month right after these episodes started to happen.
What I found challenging, especially the first week (which was the worst), was that I wasn’t sleeping very well so I was afraid that I wouldn’t have the energy to do what I loved. I was also concerned about having an episode on the mountain or while I was guiding on the water.
It could have been tempting to cancel my plans or modify my behavior due to the fear of not being able to manage the anxiety. I was determined to not let it affect me in that way.
On my ski trip I did experience moments (long moments) that were uncomfortable, but they occurred mostly off the slopes. The first day I was on the slopes I was surrounded by friends I hadn’t seen in many years and we skied really hard, and I could feel how good that was for my mind and my body.
In Barbados the symptoms almost completely disappeared. We’re spending a lot of time outside and paddling. And, I always feel uplifted when I’m being of service to others. I’m sleeping well because I’ve expended a lot of energy and my body is ready to rest at night.
Follow the Out Breath
I’ve been saying for many years that the breath is the cheapest stress/anxiety reliever on the market, and it’s accessible anytime, anywhere.
It’s easy to take breathing for granted because our bodies do it automatically. Breathing deeply and fully is a simple way to activate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) system, and relieve anxiety.
Fear and anxiety are almost always about what might happen in the future. It’s very rarely about what is happening right now. Focusing on the breath brings attention to the present moment and what is going on right now.
The exhale has a calming effect on the mind and body. Focusing on the out breath and making the exhalation longer than the inhalation is a very effective anxiety relieving exercise.
I’ve created a short video to guide you through a simple breathing exercise for anxiety relief.
Be Consistent with your Daily Routine
As a student and coach of Ayurveda and yoga, I’ve had a consistent morning routine for years. I always knew it helped set up my day for success, contributed to my health, and enhanced my performance on the water and at work.
What I didn’t realize was how essential the tools I’ve cultivated on a daily basis would be when sh*t hit the fan.
That doesn’t mean that if you don’t already have a morning routine that you’re out of luck. If you’re suffering from anxiety this is a good time to start morning routine self-care practices.
The key is to practice consistently through the good times and the bad.
For all of you whitewater and surf paddlers out there – it’s like practicing easy moves in hard water. It’s very difficult to learn effective paddling technique in a rapid or in the surf zone with waves crashing on you.
Effective technique is best learned in calm, flat water that feels comfortable and safe. If you practice consistently then you are able to call on the technique you’ve learned when it really counts, in the whitewater.
Start a morning routine and a bedtime routine now and stick to it. It’ll feel awesome when you’re feeling good and it’ll give you a glimmer of light when you’re feeling bad. It may even bring you completely back to center when you feel bad.
If you’re interested in learning more about the ins and outs of daily routine you can read a blog post I wrote here. You can also contact me for health coaching, take my online course Vibrant Body Empowered Mind or sign up for the next Art of Self Care Retreat.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, know that you’re not alone. I’m right here with you feeling vulnerable, finding courage and appreciating the loving, supportive relationships that surround me.