Last week we looked at why, for some of us, anxiety causes a massive craving for cake (and feel free to insert whichever coping mechanism applies to you here too - be it chocolate, booze, cigarettes and more). Unfortunately, we are also beginning to learn of a connection between diabetes and pre-diabetic states and susceptibility to the coronavirus. So, if like me, cake has been calling, it appears we are all going to need to quickly raise our game!
In last week's post, we took a quick look at the amygdala and how it takes immediate and unequivocal control when an awful crisis hits. So with the amygdala seemingly sat firmly in the driver's seat these days, what can we do to calm the anxiety and regain control? How do we take the power back?
Well, we could pin several large pictures or our favourite fella - Dr Nowzaradan - and abide by his uncompromising advice.
But personally, Dr Now makes me feel more anxious not less! Instead, why not try some of these ideas to help kick that amygdala back into touch. It can take a while to perfect these techniques but as Aristotle says
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
So keep calm and carry on!
Here are 10 simple yet effective ways to dial down the stress
Breathing exercises are simple and effective. They work in minutes and you can do them anywhere. Why do they work? Rapid breathing is the only one of all the physical reactions the amygdala triggers over which we can ever gain CONSCIOUS control. And if we can control our breathing, then we start to feel calmer and our body can start to pull back from flooding the system with all the hormones and chemicals that produce that jittery fight or flight feeling. Control our breathing and we are basically telling our body its OK there is no need to be afraid, there is no immediate danger. And no need to reach for comfort foods and cake to soothe us, we got this!
There are many breathing exercises on google for you to discover. Used by top athletes, yogis and even the US military to combat stress levels, this is perhaps the number one technique to help us overcome our own self developed calming techniques which are not always as helpful!
2. Activate the vagus nerve
The vagus nerve is a crucial part of the nervous system interconnecting the brain and the eyes, ears, heart, lungs, digestive and reproductive systems. It enables the brain to control a broad range of functions (blood pressure, digestion, blood glucose levels, inflammation) including anxiety and depression. By stimulating the vagus nerve we can help to treat anxiety. There are a number of ways to do this but perhaps the least invasive technique to use is that of gargling
3. Try the Havening technique
The new kid on the block but proving to be very effective for self-soothing and calming anxiety. Here is a short clip of Paul MacKenna talking to Jeremy Vine and explaining the havening technique and why it works for anxiety
Maintain a sense of humour at all times. Tricky but laughter has a profound effect on anxiety and sadness, and really the sillier the better. Laughter is just a huge release of endorphins. Daft jokes, memes, videos on youtube, share in a watch party with friends and somehow you no longer feel so alone. This may help - still gets me every time!
5. Get creative – occupy your hands! Baking, making, sewing, drawing, painting, quilting, knitting, writing, drawing the list is endless and endlessly distracting. But in modern parlance, its called mindfulness and it surely works by bringing you out of your head and into the present moment. Try it! Here's one I made earlier. Keeping the ink pen on the paper is wonderfully mind occupying and freeing at the same time - you're welcome!
6. Eat healthy food and treat your body well
Choose simple nutritious wholefood. Real food, no wheat, no grains, no white refined sugar, no nasties, respect what is going into your body and your body will respect you! We all hold so much stress in our bodies and it is important to let this go. Enjoy long indulgent hot baths, dress in clothes that make us feel good and feel nice against our skin Stretch, move, dance - my own personal favourite - put on some great music and move
7. Walk in the sunshine
Hey, its springtime! The clocks went forward this weekend amidst all this horror and there will be more time to walk and feel the sun on our faces even if it is only for a short while each day. Get out and get those rays, inhale vitamin D and enjoy, fresh air - and sunshine will mostly always alter the mood and help us feel brighter.
8. Call a Friend
Be honest, rant, vent, cry, ask for help but don't any of us suffer in silence. Reaching out can be half the battle and if you do get one of those phone calls - be prepared to listen! We really are in this together and will need each other to keep strong and hold the line together. And if you have kicked that amygdala into touch and your anxiety is under control, reach out and phone a friend and check in on them. Especially if they've gone silent.
9. Limit exposure to news
Watching the news these days should carry a government health warning. It can cause all sorts of jittery and unwelcome feelings and re-awaken anxiety and fear. Choose to limit our exposure to the news. Once a day if you must. There is an update from the PM each day at 5 pm – although how much longer that will continue is now unknown. As I write, even Boris has succumbed to wretched coronavirus and is currently holed up in a flat above the shop at Number 11 Downing Street, enjoying we are told, only the occasional sandwich poked on a long stick through the door…
10. Be kind (especially to yourself)
Move only as fast as the body allows you to move, absorb only what you can handle and be gentle with yourself. These are terrible times, the like of which we have never seen before. It is not surprising we need comfort and for many who struggle that comfort is often to be found in food. Be kind to yourself as you make those food choices. It's not easy out there!
Now we've explored ten simple ways to tackle anxiety, we'd ask you to remember only this: that the sugar in ultra-processed junk food (that's in the cakes and the biscuits and the sweets) will only ever signal immediate danger (or RUN FAST NOW) to our hard wired brains because of the chemical response it triggers in our body. It is, if you like, a vicious circle.
And if you can break this, you're halfway home! We hope that the 10 suggestions above will help!
Hold the line folks. This is the toughest thing. Just keep putting it out there and talking to each other.
This sense of togetherness and community is what is going to get us through.
Til next time x