I was sitting in my car surrounded by other cars. The traffic jam on the highway seemed endless. I felt trapped. My hands started sweating. I could hardly breathe. How much longer would this take? I dreaded the idea to drive for another four hours. I could sense my heart rate increasing. Luckily, I saw an exit sign that allowed me to leave the highway. I phoned my partner and told him that I couldn’t come. We had planned to spend the weekend in the town where his parents lived. I turned my car around and drove home. I knew that my anxiety had gotten out of control and that I had to take care of it.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural part of our human experience. It shows up if our autonomic nervous system responds to cues of danger in our internal or external environment. Usually, the anxiety eases if the cue of danger has gone. In many cases, anxiety doesn't affect our lives negatively and doesn’t need special attention.
However, anxiety may take over and start to control our lives. Overall, anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues. In my case of anxiety, it had started small and quite unconscious - I avoided flying to visit my friends. Over time, it expanded to driving in a car (which I used to love). The more anxious I felt, the more I avoided the situations that made me anxious. While avoidance often appears like a useful coping mechanism, it may be the start of a vicious cycle where our lives get smaller and smaller. If anxiety limits your life, it may be useful to take action to break free from the vicious cycle. What are situations that make you anxious? How do they impact your life?
Systemic oppression may contribute to anxiety
As for other mental health issues, anxiety can be interconnected with experiences of systemic racism and/or oppression. Just to give you some examples: Racial profiling and microaggressions increase stress for BIPOC people and may result in heightened anxiety. People who belong to the LGBTQ2S+ community may experience anxiety due to prejudices and discrimination. Individuals who are targeted by them often need to deal with the negative impact on their mental health even if the dynamics of oppression are not ok.
4 Strategies to navigate anxiety
If you experience anxiety, here are some tools that might be helpful. Please note that each individual is different. If these tools don’t work for you, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. It just means that it is not the correct tool for you at this moment.
Interrupting the worry loop
Worries are the cognitive side of anxiety, i.e. we repetitively think about problems again and again. If worries are taking over, the following tool can be useful to contain them.
Step 1: Spend dedicated time during the day to allow yourself to worry. For example, spend 10 minutes every day and write down everything you worry about.
Step 2: Put your worries into an envelope.
Step 3: Distract yourself by doing something different. For some people, it’s helpful to go for a walk, and some people listen to music or start to dance.
Adjusting the diet
Anxiety affects our bodies and increases the level of stress. If we are in a fight and flight response, our digestive system slows down or doesn’t work at all. Therefore, it is essential that we reduce additional stress in our bodies as much as possible. Processed foods, unnatural chemicals, and toxins as well as dehydration add to the stress within our bodies. Drinking enough water and increasing the level of unprocessed, natural, and whole foods in our diet can be helpful to decrease the level of stress in our bodies.
Yoga to manage anxiety
Yoga can support us in managing stress and emotions. Additionally, research shows that yoga is beneficial to reduce anxiety and depression. There are many different forms of yoga available so that you can choose which one you prefer. Personally, I love Ashtanga Yoga which is a very dynamic form of Yoga and it helped me greatly in my healing journey. However, there are many other yoga forms such as Yin Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, or Kundalini Yoga.
Visualization to create more inner safety
Visualizations can be powerful to calm down our minds and nervous system. There are many different visualizations out there so I’d invite you to experiment with them. Visualizing is easy for some people and more difficult for others. If you don’t like visualizing, you can just go through them by “thinking” as if you tell yourself a story. The following visualization allows you to create an inner place where you feel safe. It can help you to reduce anxiety and create a sense of inner safety. As with many other practices, the effect improves the more regularly we practice them.
I hope that some of these strategies are helpful to you. Which one do you want to experiment with?
If you are interested in working with me, please check out my services.
Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash
Shohani, M., Badfar, G., Nasirkandy, M. P., Kaikhavani, S., Rahmati, S., Modmeli, Y., Soleymani, A., & Azami, M. (2018). The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women. International journal of preventive medicine, 9, 21. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_242_16
Khenti, A. (2012) The Canadian war on drugs: Structural violence and unequal treatment of Black Canadians. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25, 190-195
CTRI Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc. (2015). Anxiety - Practical Intervention Strategies [Professional Development Workshop]