5 More Life Hacks to Transcend Anxiety and Depression
A continuation from the last 2 weeks of blogs. Start here if you’ve just joined this series.
What are your methods for lifting the grey fog? And if you’ve used any of these practices, let me know what you have found effective or your own modifications. Thanks to all of my clients who have been experimenters in their own life laboratories for creating courageous change.
May you be happy and may you be free. May all beings have peace. Enjoy the last 5 recommendations!
Showers, baths, the swimming pool, ocean, a float tank, immersion in water supports stilling the mind. When we’re anxious the amygdala in the centre of our brain is like a car alarm that’s been erroneously triggered, and the body is responding like a call to immediate action with shallow breaths and rapid heartbeat. Interrupting this cycle for seconds, minutes or hours provides a reset. Even brief experiences of peace give us some literal breathing room and retrain the body-mind in new patterns. Are you a swim lengths at the pool type or a scented candle and bath type, or both? Try immersion to wash those anxious feelings away.
Invest your imagination in your version of a power shield. Take a moment to breathe an imaginary shield around you, your own ultra-tech bubble to ward off the arrows and slings of daily life. Others imagine a guardian angel that enfolds them in her downy soft wings. You might wear a special pendant over your heart when you’re feeling vulnerable in the world, one that you can hold to confer strength and clarity whenever needed. Or wear a scarf that embraces your neck and covers your heart in colours that lift your spirit. I have a counsellor friend with a rainbow assortment of scarves she wears to remind herself to leave the hurt in the room; at the end of the day she takes off her scarf as she comes in the door of her home. Her colleagues feel uplifted by her colourful presence and I’m sure her clients do too.
13. Sigh and Shrug
A sigh is a long audible outbreath. Try it now with a long noisy exhalation and a shrug of the shoulders. If you’re on your own, exaggerate the sound and the shoulder movements. Create a symphony of sighs in the car or the bathroom, and practice silent sneaky sighs in company. The long, slow outbreaths act as circuit breakers, rebalancing carbon dioxide and oxygen in our system, exhaling toxins and grief, returning chaos to stillness. A simple and profound reset.
Anxiety and panic are an inner alarm going off. From an evolutionary standpoint our alarm system signals a safety breach, a call to action or to surrender, whichever course will help us survive. Like your fire alarm that mistakes burnt toast or shower steam for a real crisis, our inner systems can malfunction or be over-sensitive. But let’s have compassion for our inner alarm system for working too hard, and do a little extra to secure our safety. Mother yourself with warm socks and hot soup. Dress warmly and wear sensible shoes, so you’re in self-care mode and signalling that you are nurtured. Attend to your safety where and how you can; do you live in a home or neighbourhood where you mostly feel safe, do you take excessive risks? Can you change any of this in the short or longer term? Question whether you have lived so long with fear that you no longer recognise risk. Many of us grew up with a sense of danger pervading our lives in domestic violence or traumatic circumstances, and we unconsciously make choices that repeat our early and familiar emotional landscape. This is a bigger life evaluation, and it can help to look at this with a trusted mentor or counsellor. Meantime, stay safe and warm.
A daily practice of meditation, learning to return your mind to the here and now, repeatedly learning to detach from thoughts for seconds and then minutes is the gold standard for changing the brain from worried to wise. Meditation is a learned skill and there are courses online or in your community. It’s less about the method and more about the daily practice. I prefer first thing before I’ve left my bed, sitting up on a pile of pillows with a shawl over my shoulders, before I’ve had a chance to become distracted or make excuses. Others find a special easy chair with a cup of tea and prayers is their meditation of choice, or a meditation break at work in lieu of coffee with their headphones plugged into a meditation app is easier than amidst the demands of home. Meditation is a like a muscle, when we practice our focus improves and within a week our overall stress reactivity is reduced.
Some Useful Resources
- How calming breaths change our crisis responses (Stephen Porges polyvagal nerve theory made simple) https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/neuro-behavioral-betterment/201802/thinking-and-breathing-calm-the-bodys-emergency-response
- Mindfulness based Stress Reduction MBRS: the research supporting the meditation for health program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/mindfulness-based-stress-reduction
- Fun Facts about Sighing https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/feb/08/a-sighs-not-just-a-sigh-its-a-fundamental-life-sustaining-reflex
- A Helpful resource about risk taking, trauma and youth, that applies to adults too https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/kidsfamilies/youth/Documents/youth-health-resource-kit/youth-health-resource-kit-sect-3-chap-3.pdf