Most commonly categorised as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome, anxiety can be paralysing and leave us feeling overwhelmed, insecure and paranoid. There are many different psychological approaches to dealing with anxiety which have wonderful results and extending our treatment and healing to our physical selves can have benefits, too. Here are five areas that target physical health and may reduce anxiety and rebalance us mentally:
Processed, additive and preservative laden, chemical products are detrimental to our health on all levels. Our bodies are designed to be nourished by wholesome, life giving foods that fuel us, feeding our cells and nourishing our wellbeing. Anything man made (this does things like not mean rice pasta or sauerkraut but chemically formulated or altered products) should be avoided and wholesome plant foods such as fruit, grains, nuts, seeds, ferments, sprouts, leafy greens and vegetables focused on. Unlike animal products they are hormone free and provide everything we need nutritionally. Bringing in whole food, plant based substitutes such as nut milks and cheeses, flax and chia and gluten free grains or sourdough can also help reduce dairy, egg and gluten in our diets, which have all been linked with anxiety, without creating lack or restriction. MSG, flavourings, sweeteners, table salt, refined sugar, GMOs and colourings not only cause inflammation, digestive disorders, skin issues such as eczema and acne and been linked with cancer, they negatively affect gut health which is where our ‘second brain’ operates, leading to mood swings and feelings of anxiety and depression.
Our bodies work extremely efficiently and even without the proper fuel and conditions necessary to thrive, will continue on for a long time, however, they will send us warning signs when things aren’t working as they should be. Vitamins, minerals, proteins and fatty acids are essential for optimum functioning and deficiency can create similar physical symptoms to anxiety, such as heart palpitations, dizziness, inability to concentrate, brain fog, mood swings, muscle weakness, nerve damage, fatigue and insomnia, just to name a few. Whilst random supplementation might not be our best bet, testing for deficiencies can help us identify anywhere we need to support our health and vitality with plant based, whole food supplementation.
Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise can be helpful in dealing with anxiety. Not only does exercise increase muscle strength, improve circulation, heart health, respiratory health and digestive health, it also reduces fatigue, improves cognitive health, concentration levels, relieves tension and stress and can elevate our mood. Research suggests that exercise helps the brain cope better with stress, relaxes our minds through the release of endorphins in some parts of the brain whilst creating new brain cells in others that release GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that reduces neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system and that even a gentle ten minute walk can be enough to enjoy these benefits.
Meditation takes us out of the conscious mind where we are consumed by constructions of self, into the subconscious where our patterning, conditioning and deep rooted beliefs work to shape our thoughts, actions and behaviours and where we are able to connect with the wholeness, health and freedom that exists within us. Stilling the mind by allowing our thoughts to flow gives us a break from engaging with every thought we think and we begin to realise that our thoughts are not instructions but constructions founded on conditioning and programming that fostered early misunderstandings about how life works, what will keep us safe, our place in the world and what we are capable of. Meditation allows us to fall out of constant thinking into the stillness and health that exist before and beneath our lives, relationships and identities, where we are able to let go of our belief systems, reprogramme our subconscious, become aware of our thoughts and the experience they create and gain insight into how to live happier and healthier lives.
Breathing is essential for life and how we breath can have as much to do with our health as the quality of air we are inhaling. Focused breathing exercises anchor us in the present moment, focusing our attention and calming the mind. Breathwork or conscious breathing helps us to centre ourselves and moves, releases and balances our energy. Breathwork is believed to calm the mind by bypassing or stilling the intellect, bringing us into the physical by way of meditation and releasing endorphins that improve our mood. A powerful practice that can restore our faith in our ability to take charge of how we feel and our experience, learning how to breathe properly, through the nose and into the belly with a relaxed diaphragm, for the rest of the day can also stabilise our energy, put less pressure on our hearts, improve our total physical health and relax areas of stress and tension including the jaw, neck, shoulders and back.
A physical approach to mental health can work especially well once we come to understand that we are always feeling our thinking and that our thinking in the moment may not be sound, trustworthy or helpful and that when it isn’t we often feel it physically. Peace, love, spaciousness, insight and wellbeing feel healthy and, as we are coming to realise in more areas of psychology, they can be as little as one thought away. Trying to force our thoughts out of our minds or avoid or repress or even manage them doesn’t work in the long term because we are focusing on them while doing so. Instead, noticing the ones that cause us anxiety and not getting involved with them because we no longer believe in them or trust them is actually the easiest way to let them move on and we find that at some point the anxiety they create moves on too.
Header image: Taos, New Mexico, Georgia O’Keefe