Top 5 Hacks to Deal with Anxiety
Ever felt a little anxious? Or maybe a lot? I certainly have. From full-blown panic attacks to Generalised Anxiety Disorder and being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in my early 30s, I have had a long and illustrious relationship with anxiety. We are tight. And I know I’m not alone - in Australia, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition with 1 in 4 people (1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men) experiencing serious anxiety in their lifetime.
Anxiety can be crippling, it can bring you to your knees, stop you from leaving the house, driving your car or getting out of bed. It can turn you into a raging, paranoid Medusa who flips out at the drop of a hat, or you can be a what I like to call a “functional anx-aholic” - someone who lives in a perpetual state of low level anxiety, but who generally goes about life and looks pretty peachy from the outside. These folks have difficulty experiencing joy, being present, don’t sleep terribly well, go to yoga, drink green smoothies and eat clean (mostly) but wonder why they can’t shift their extra weight because the constant supply of cortisol is screwing with their hormones. Then they drink half (or a whole) bottle of wine every night, seeking comfort in their vices (hello chocolate, biscuits, social smoking, recreational drug use) because nothing is working anyway so might as well escape, just for a little bit. Right?
Note: neither of these scenarios add up to living your best life!
Either way, anxiety has a huge impact on your day to day wellbeing, both emotional and physical. Did you know that studies show the heart muscle physically degenerates in response to extended periods of negative emotion? So, it’s important to have some tools up your sleeve to help you think clearly and feel in control.
I’m a strong advocate for taking a well-rounded approach to everything in life, there is never a ‘one size fits all’ solution and your emotional health and wellbeing is no different. That said, as I’ve gone through my own journey I’ve come to realise that there are many more options available to provide me with the support I need than first thought. I spent 10 years on an off anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication. It never sat well with me to be medicated for my own mental health but I acknowledge and am very grateful that I had access to a tool that kept me out of psych wards, in a great job and helped me keep it together just enough to have a life. But it was murder inside my head. And to be honest, the medication may have taken the edge off but I was still anxious, and still depressed. Plus I had the bonus side effects of flatlining emotionally (I didn’t cry for two whole years at one point!), decreased (read zero) libido and weight gain. The lightbulb came when I was nine months into post-natal depression, wondering how the hell I would find my way out when I was ALREADY medicated. Clearly it wasn’t working, so I had to find another way.
Enter the world of ‘alternative’ medicine.
Alternative medicine encompasses a range of holistic health approaches including Nutrition, Naturopathy, bodywork, Energy Psychology and supplements. I’ve tried them ALL, and then some.
PS - don’t you find it weird that ‘alternative’ is applied to the field and practice of Nutrition? We all eat, and we all know that eating a whole-food based diet improves our health outcomes, so alternative to what exactly? Oh, all those over-priced, mass-produced, man-made goodies! And Naturopathy is the same. Why is an approach that supports clean living and reduces toxic load considered alternative? Alternative to what? Polluting ourselves and loading up on more man-made ‘goodness’ - oh yeah, mainstream, that’s right. Cue cynicism. I digress, sorry.
I have finally arrived at a place where I am happy, stable, able to cope with incredibly stressful circumstances and still find joy (sounds like winning to me!) so, in the interests of sharing the benefit of my trial and error approach, here are may favourite, tried and tested hacks for dealing with anxiety.
Yes, I am a dōTERRA Wellness Advocate and you can get lost in the rabbit hole of what that means or not. My whole life I’ve been interested in essential oils and plants as the source of life and sustainable medical solutions. After all, plants are the origin of all biology and chemistry. Nature was the first medicine cabinet and it was only technology, industrialisation and the opportunity to make a profit that drove us into laboratories to start replicating what we found in our plants.. We thought we created products that derived the same benefits, at a fraction of the cost. Not so. We now know that synthetic medications require more work for the body to process, they interrupt natural systems and pathways and force chemical reactions rather than engaging in a partnership at the cellular level. This approach sends the body out of balance and does nothing to support it returning. Homeostasis - it’s a natural state that every living biological being is striving for, every moment, including you.
Essential oils (pure, unadulterated ones that is) do exactly the opposite of synthetic medication. They work at the cellular level, are made of the same biological stuff that we are so they are easily metabolised, and they are recognised by human cells (check out this research for more info). So, using them does not create any extra load for my body and they actively work to return it to balance - the natural state. My favourite oils for supporting anxiety are:
Copaiba: 2 drops under the tongue (combined with 1 drop Frankincense), or apply diluted to neck and shoulders to relief tension.
Frankincense: one drop under the tongue, or pressed to the roof of the mouth (in the soft palette) for a few seconds.
Balance Grounding Blend: apply to soles of feet, spine, back of neck and wrists daily, morning and night.
Litsea or Melissa: diffuse or apply in a roller to pulse points to promote uplifting feelings
AND any of the following: Manuka (being upheld, use when you feel wobbly and like you have no support), Clary Sage (clarity and vision, when you feel like you need to see the truth and cut through the noise), Hawaiian Sandalwood (very grounding and calming, spiritually connecting), Patchouli (physicality, coming back to the body and out of the anxious mind), Wild Orange (uplifting, happy, joyous, expansive), Bergamot (self-acceptance, calming, soothing) and Neroli (calming, confidence boosting).
There are two ways I use oils to manage anxiety. First, consistently. Every day I use oils to continuously support my central nervous system to remain balanced, relieve tension, relax and ground myself (stop being so ‘up in my head’ and get back to earth). Morning and night, sometimes reapplied during the day. I am always choosing oils that help me to be calm, clear and open.
During intense circumstances (like right now where my husband and I are separating) and my anxiety skyrockets - I keep them on hand and inhale directly from the bottle, or with a drop in my hand. Take this example. When we first decided to end our marriage I was experiencing constant constriction in my throat and mild palpitations that escalated whenever I thought about my future on my own. At one point I as walking to work, I almost passed out because it came on so quickly and I couldn't get enough air in to relax and breathe. What did I do? I sat down on the nearest seat, pulled out my Neroli and applied it everywhere taking the deepest, slowest breaths I could manage until I felt it ease (about five big breaths). Then I pulled out the Copaiba and placed two drops under my tongue. A few more minutes of breathing and the constriction relaxed completely. I could get up and keep going.
There’s an important point to remember here. We are going to experience anxiety in life. It’s appropriate to have large-scale, emotional responses to big, adverse life events. How we support ourselves through those situations is important. I no longer criticise myself for my emotional responses. There is nothing wrong with having a panic attack at the thought of my family falling apart and being a solo woman / parent. Being prepared is my focus. Knowing what works for me and making sure I am equipped with tools is me being responsible for myself and managing my anxiety. I’m old enough. I know enough. It’s my job to look after me. Essential oils are portable (keep them in your handbag), accessible (I don’t need to see a doctor or get a prescription), cheap (cheaper by the dose than medication) and effective (biologically, aromatically and energetically).
grab your favourite calming oil and make a roller to have in your hand bag all the time. Also keep a bottle of the pure essential oil so you can diffuse on the go, or take internally (if appropriate) whenever you need it.
2. Aromatic Anchoring
The act of consciously pairing a specific aroma with an emotion to create a new emotional memory and rewire your neural pathways to have desired responses. Sound a bit complicated? It’s not. Just like your whole body responds when someone walks past wearing the same scent as the love of your life, or you are flooded with love at the smell of the fabric softener you used to wash your baby’s clothes in (before you had essential oils!), or racked with fear at the harsh chemicals that strip your senses when you enter a hospital. Our scented memories are some of the most powerful and they elicit whole of body responses when triggered. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get in front of that response? Get ahead of the game and hijack our automatic, very efficient and effective systems, directing them to give us a desired outcome?
Yeah, sounds good. That’s aromatic anchoring. It’s the process of taking control of your sensory processing, and making it work FOR you.
There’s a couple of ways you can go about this. First, you can recall positive times in your life where you felt happy, confident and in control and can choose any prevalent aromas from that time (perhaps your favourite perfume, a meal you used to cook, a certain place you went like a coffee-house or shop) and bring it back into your life. Go there again, make the meal again. Notice how when you smell those familiar smells your olfactory system kicks into gear and sends a message to your limbic system searching for records of events that match that particular aroma. Once the record is found it triggers the release of just the right combination of neuro-chemicals to create the same feelings you used to feel in response to that smell. Before you know it, you’re deep in the experience of those emotions.
make yourself an essential oil roller that reminds you of happy, positive and calm experiences and carry it with you at all times. inhale whenever you need to be transported to your happy place!
OR, you can select a new aroma and create a new emotional memory and pathway to elicit a desired emotional response. It works really well with EFT, and it goes a little bit like this……
Emotional Freedom Technique
EFT or tapping as it’s also known, is a brief intervention that calms the body’s response to distressing experiences, memories or beliefs. EFT works by sending calming signals to the brain while tapping on acupressure points AND exposing yourself to the event that is causing us distress. This process reduces the emotional charge associated with the event and allows us to think clearly, make better decisions and be more empowered, eg., less anxious. EFT is an amazing tool on it’s own but it becomes even more effective when paired with a specific aroma to create new, positive emotional memories. Aromatic Anchoring amplifies the effect by engaging the body’s sense of smell in the process. It’s like adding protein powder to your green smoothie. What you had before was good, now it’s better. Check out this research in the Journal of Evidence-based Integrative Medicine for more info.
‘To thine own self be true’. So much of our anxiety manifests because we are living out of balance wiht our true self. Making decisions that don’t line up with who we are drives us into a shit storm. We end up grinding against ourselves and the resulting friction is anxiety.
Understanding my dosha has enabled me to understand who I am more clearly, why I do the things I do, need the things I need, want what I want. I know why I respond the way I respond, why I seek what I seek. I know what angers me and what makes me anxious and more importantly I know WHY. Understanding why is incredibly helpful when working out what to DO to make it better and shift patterns of behaviour. I know that when I’m anxious, my Vata is out of balance. And because I understand the dosha’s and the nature of emotional anatomy, I know what I need to do to remedy the imbalance. Note that I am not looking for ways to remedy ME. I am not the problem. The problem is that my Vata is out of balance, once it’s back in balance, I won’t feel so anxious. So I do things that stimulate Kapha and Pitta energy to balance out the Vata. For Kapha that means getting back into my body, grounding myself, slowing down, being present. In practical terms that looks like yoga, getting out in nature, eating more earth bound foods and using grounding essential oils. For Pitta energy it means taking stock of my life around me, breaking it down into its fundamental blocks and building it back up again. I take stock and write lists so I can be efficient and focused. I can cross things off which gives me clarity and a sense of achievement and I can see clearly where I can make changes to do better.
The actual activities are not rocket science, but the understanding behind it is. Perspective, how we view what we are doing, the energy and emotion we bring to our experience plays a critical role in how successful we are and in the outcomes we create. If you come from a place of understanding your Self, you shift your inner dialogue to be far less critical (and in time, actually positive!). You are kinder to your Self, more gentle and more accepting of your Self. Life becomes easier because you stop viewing yourself as a problem to fix but rather a complex, unique and completely necessary and valued human. You are in this life to express your truth. Do it.
Have I saved the best for last? Hmmm, it’s a big call. What does desire mapping bring to my life and how does it contribute to reducing my anxiety? Short answer - CLARITY. For me, anxiety is driven by not knowing. Whenever I don’t know the outcome of something, or I am uncertain, that’s when anxiety creeps up. The process of desire mapping (the enquiry, exercises, reflections, distilling) is designed to bring clarity to what lies beneath, to give a voice to your your deepest desires and to connect the thoughts and feelings with the doing. Through desire mapping I can draw guidance everyday from a deeply internal place - even if I’m not feeling it. I can find that clarity in the midst of major upheaval and deep darkness. How? Because I’ve done the hard work in going through the process. The process delivered me my Core Desired Feelings which are unmistakable in their truth. Whenever I have a decision to make or a path to choose, I draw on my Core Desired Feelings and I measure up the options against them. Will choosing X support me to feel aligned, nourished, healed, intuitive, abundant? It becomes very simple. Yes or No. And for someone whose anxiety stems from the grey area, that kind of clarity is a godsend. A clear line of sight between what I am doing in my everyday, and how I am feeling allows me to take responsibility for my choices, and to choose differently. Et viola! Living a life I choose - that is way outside the boundaries of what I had ever expected my life to be!
And there you have it. My top 5 can’t live without, tried and tested anxiety hacks. Five years ago I was in hell and never imagined I would be where I am today - medication free, empowered, running a business and choosing a new family dynamic that works for me instead of sticking with convention because I was too afraid of what everyone else would think. Life is not always easy. Curve balls come at us all the time. Controlling anxiety means that sometimes you’re gonna catch ‘em!
Anxiety is a major epidemic and if you’re struggling with it, then reach out to wherever you feel most comfortable whether that is your GP, naturopath, friend, sibling or someone like me. Most importantly, don’t suffer in silence. You’re not alone (remember 1 in 3 women!) and there are plenty of treatment options available xx