18th February 2019
Written by Kim Gamble
I didn’t realise I suffered from Anxiety until it manifested as panic attacks. They took me completely by surprise and initially I didn’t know what was happening. What followed was a complete breakdown. I was in a state of constant high alert. I couldn’t sleep, thoughts kept looping around and around. Initially I thought I was losing my mind. I was afraid to sleep because I thought I would wake up and be lost. My body was so alert, yet I was unable to do anything. It is the most uncomfortable and scary thing I have ever experienced, and I had no control over it.
There are so many people that have anxiety, have experienced it in some form or know someone who is either suffering or has suffered. The severity and the symptoms change from person to person. Some people have symptoms like I expressed, some experience very subtle underlying symptoms. Some people have an acute occurrence that may be triggered by an incident or an accumulation of things that come to a head following an incident, while others suffer chronic symptoms and will learn to live with it and manage as best as they can or turn to treatment. It can range from a debilitating illness that effects our day to day lives and our ability to function effectively or it can be something that sits there and raises its head at certain times.
Symptoms are also varied but the commons complaints seem to include restlessness or feeling on edge, persistent worry, negative thinking, self-criticism and self-doubt, difficulty focusing, sleep disturbance, muscle tension, fatigue and irritability. Some people live with one or more of these symptoms on an ongoing basis. At other times these (and other) symptoms occur together and may settle after a day or two or persist for longer. It can feel like the mind is in free fall, the body becomes rigid and contracted and adrenaline is continually being released. The after effect can also be quite exhausting and may take some time to recover. It is possible that other issues occur following intense anxiety such as pain from muscle tension, headaches, digestion issues to name a few. It can take time to uncoil the body, resettle the mind and release the effects of the body being over stimulated, which at times can feel quite toxic.
Consensus among health practitioners and researchers now seem to indicate that the cause of an anxiety condition is contributed to several factors. These include personality factors, life experiences, genetics, physical health, environment and social factors. Another thought from a Yoga Therapy perspective is that anxiety stems from the emotion of fear. It is also contributed to a disconnection from self, nature and for some spirituality. From my own experience and understanding I think it can be a combination of all these factors. While the theory of a chemical imbalance was popular at one point in the medical profession and may still be a cause, it appears it is now being looked at from a more holistic approach. Some people seek conventional medicine interventions and pharmaceuticals to help either short term or ongoing while other people seek alternative, holistic methods either in conjunction with or instead of conventional medicine. As individuals we need to find what works for us and seek professional help when needed. Talking about and sharing your experience can be helpful however because of the very nature of anxiety this is sometimes difficult to do.
If the cause of anxiety may have many contributing factors, then it makes sense that treatment should include exploring each of these factors to determine which are causing or contributing to the condition. Most holistic forms of treatment consider treatment of the whole person individually considering all aspects of your life past and present and examine if how you live is having a positive or negative impact on your health and well-being. Some things may be easy to recognise, understand and work on while others may be deep-seated, complex and/or difficult to address.
So why is it so wide spread to the point of becoming a common condition? What has happening to us, our environment and lifestyles that may be contributing to this and what can we do about it? As mentioned above many factors may be contributing therefore, we need to consider these factors holistically. Our lifestyles are busy with expectations from work, society and ourselves to achieve more and be better. Technology has enabled us to be constantly engaged and connected to stimuli and outside influences, and we are less inclined to switch of, disconnect and spend time connecting to ourselves and how we are feeling. Our environment has become damaged and our food less wholesome and nutritious.
While each person is different, as may be the reason behind their anxiety there are some general factors that may contribute to anxiety, and some changes we can implement to reduce the symptoms and help understand ourselves better. A lot of things you can implement yourself therefore encouraging self-empowerment, others you might need help from professionals in the relevant fields. However, it may not always be possible to change your circumstances now but just having an awareness that something is contributing to your anxiety can be a start.
Here are some suggestions:
Yoga – A daily yoga practice designed to address your individual circumstances. A practice doesn’t have to be long and doesn’t always have to be about physical postures. Breathing, Meditation and relaxation practices can be very calming. A Yoga Therapist would be able to help you design a practice to suit your needs and circumstances. Not all Yoga practices may necessarily be suitable to help anxiety.
Nature – connect with nature. Walk on the beach, through bushland, or just sit, observe and appreciate the beauty and power of nature.
Diet – Reducing sugar, stimulants, preservatives and packaged food, and include fresh locally grown vegetables and fruit. Cook from scratch rather then buy out and eat wholefood rather than processed. There are many areas of expertise such as Nutritionist, Naturopath or Ayurvedic Doctor that you can consult if you are not sure what changes to make.
Lifestyle – It would be great if we could all do a job that we loved in a great environment. Even if this is not possible right now, try to have a balance in your working life so you have time for rest and leisure. Engage in activities that you enjoy. Socialise and have relationships that are positive and healthy. Disconnect from technology or limit use daily. Read, watch or talk about things that are not disturbing to you. Slow down, you do not have to be doing something all the time.
Self-care - Try to develop a daily routine that keeps you balanced. Take some time out every day to do something just for you such as your yoga practice. Take a bath. Go for massages or do daily oiling as per Ayurvedic recommendations. Read a book or another activity that relaxes you. Go to bed at a regular time and get plenty of rest according to your constitution. Drink lots of water and try to limit toxins and chemicals both internally and externally. Have realistic and healthy expectations of yourself and what you can do. If you have a busy life and other people to care for making sure you are okay first will help you manage the rest of your responsibilities in a healthy way.
Self-enquiry – Learn to sit quietly, explore, reflect and discover yourself. Connect to your inner self. Understand your personality and characteristics. Understand what makes you feel anxious, why, what are your fears. Practice self-love and acceptance of who you are right now. Let judgements of yourself and others go and realise no-one is perfect, we just try every day to be the best version of ourselves that we can but also forgive ourselves when we need to. Other people’s perceptions and expectations of us are not our problem and say more about that person then ourselves. Believe in yourself and do not feel you need approval from others. Again, a good yoga practice, a good teacher, mentor or another professional may help you with this if you do not know how to go about it.
These are things you can work on daily to help with anxiety but also health and well-being in general.
There is a quote I saw on a social media post (ZenMindBodyLife) recently, ‘Some days I am a goddess, some days I am a wild child and some days I am a fragile mess. Most days I am a bit of all three. But every day I am here trying’