Thursday, March 06, 2014

10 ways to ease anxiety

I was born a worrier - I've spent most of my life slightly concerned about what's coming next. I realised my worry was more than a quirk when I started to experience physical side-affects in my late teens - racing heart, dry mouth, stressed muscles. However, it wasn't until I started practising yoga (at the age of 21) that I realised how deep and all-consuming anxiety actually was/is. In class I was encouraged to stop. So I stopped. I was encouraged to be here now. So I ceased thinking of everything outside and allowed myself to come inward and be still. And listen. And just like that I came into my body; aware of its tension and resistance. Aware of my racing thoughts and nervous tendencies. It was a practise that forever changed the way I view and deal with my anxiety.  

Like any illness, anxiety comes in many forms and is experienced to different extents. It's prevalent in our society, more specifically in our motherhood collective. I don't write this as an expert or as a medical professional, nor as someone who has experienced clinical anxiety. But I have found that over the years there are a few things I do that can ease the severity of it; things I've learnt from personal experience and shared with my yoga students, friends and now you.

1. Stop ignoring it - it won't go away by itself. I tried to ignore my anxiety for a while there, pushed it down, turned the other way. Trouble is that kind of behaviour just makes it worse. When you admit that you're feeling anxious you're taking responsibility for it - the load lightens a little.

2. Don't be ashamed - ever. Anxiety is never a fault. Be gentle on yourself. 

3. Talk about it. A problem shared is a problem halved. Talk to your partner, talk your family members or your friends. If you feel like you need to speak to a neutral party or require professional help, go to your GP and request a referral to a counsellor or a psychologist. It's quite empowering to speak to someone that brings no judgement (none whatsoever) to the conversation. 

4. Identify the causes of your anxiety. What triggers it? What makes you feel overwhelmed? Write a list - sometimes it's not so daunting when it's on paper. And then? What can you change to ease the stress? What can you shift so you can be comfortable? These are all good questions but remember, the answers won't come immediately and you can't fix everything at once. Baby steps, baby steps. 

5. Prioritise sleep. When you're anxious your nervous system is in overdrive...and your nervous system is aggravated when you're tired. However, anxiety can prevent you from getting a good, restful sleep. Yes, it can quickly become a vicious circle. The best thing you can do to ensure beneficial sleep is to establish a bedtime routine, complete with no technology an hour before bed, a bath, chamomile tea, lights off by 10pm. Once you're lying down mentally travel around your body and contract and then release any areas that are tense. Let out a few sighs for good measure. 

6. Connect with your breath. If you catch yourself in a stressful moment you'll probably be breathing short, shallow breaths - definitely not conducive to calm. When you connect with your breath you're encouraging mindfulness...and when you're mindful of your thoughts you'll find that you can catch them before they spiral into overwhelm. Practise by mentally repeating "let" as you inhale and "go" as you exhale.

7. Shift the way you think. Positive thinking it not a cliche - it's a useful tool for mental wellbeing. So too is recognising that you might be feeling sad, angry, frustrated, jealous - and knowing that it's ok. We can't always be happy and joyous! Being aware of how you're feeling is quite enlightening, as is practising gratitude. We live in a world of wanting; it's really easy to dismiss what we already have.  Look around you, look at what you have, be grateful for it - say it aloud!

8. Go outside and walk. Walk on your street, walk on the sand, walk beside trees. There is a lot to be said for getting into nature and getting distracted by the sky (and getting away from the often confronting and anxiety-inducing online world).

9. Be mindful of what you eat. Sugar and caffeine are known to exacerbate anxiety so steer clear of them if you can. But did you know that there are foods that help quell worry - like chicken soup (for the soul), foods high in healthy, natural fat (avocados, olive oil, coconut oil), plenty of water and nettle tea (love it!). Eat slowly with awareness - enjoy the opportunity to slow, chew and digest. When life is overwhelming and the witching hour is imminent drink a glass of water, look out the window and breathe (it's little practices like this that can really make a difference to your day).

10. Simplify. Gosh I harp on about it but simplifying my life has been the biggest step in easing my anxiety. I started with the physical clutter in my home and then moved on to things like bills (I rang every company we deal with and organised a regular payment plan so I was never hit with a big bill). Then I started writing down a list whenever I wanted to buy something (I'd return to the list a week later and realise the wanting was quite fleeting). I simplified my work life by keeping a clear list and working on it daily - a little bit at a time, slowly but surely it all gets done. By simplifying I've been sensible - recognising my limits, understanding my priorities, reminding myself of what really matters.

For immediate help visit beyond blue or call them on 1300 22 4636

For pre and post-natal depression and anxiety visit PANDA

If you're looking for an easy-to-use meditation (that doesn't require any prior experience) I highly recommend Smiling Mind - for you and your children.

If you have anything you want to add to this list, please do! I look forward to reading your comments.


  1. Jodi, from someone who is currently battling with PND and anxiety i thank you so much for writing this post. It couldn't have come at a better time for me.
    There are many things i have taken from your blog: I have started doing yoga daily and I am in the midst of simplifying/decluttering our home. I have also just picked up Buddhism for Mothers and i cannot put it down.
    I have sadly left my photography business, as it was the main cause for my anxiety. Lately, yoga has been my biggest saviour and i am so thankful and actually proud of myself for continuing with it everyday.
    The next thing on my list is a bedtime routine. Yours sounds so lovely and calming.
    Amy x

  2. This is a really good list.
    I want to add - read Dr Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap :)

  3. I know it may sound strange to say Jodi, but I really love when you do a longer post. And while I don't suffer from anxiety, I do know people who do and have learned much more from Anna since she began her beautiful blog Colour Me Anna - - she writes with complete honesty about her illness and even when reading the darker posts she has written, at some point I end up laughing out loud and/or crying with laughter. She is completely brilliant and embraces the truth about anxiety to share with others who also suffer, in the hope of easing the burden they carry with this illness x

    1. Just read a few of Anna's post - she's brilliant! And colourful! Thanks for the introduction x

  4. Obrigada!!! Tantas vezes penso sobre isto e não dei ainda o passo necessário. Vou dar hoje, por tua causa :-)

  5. Thank you for this, Jodi! I am relatively new to dealing with anxiety (depression has been shadowing me for years, though), and your words are very hopeful and healing.

  6. oh my goodness Jodi, I remember that time during high school. How very long ago that seems now! Apathy prevented me from anxiety during adolescence (perhaps a different manifestation) but nothing could prepare me for the anxiety that comes from wanting to be the worlds most amazing mother.


  7. Great practical advice Jodi - it astounds me how anything to do with the mind is made out to be so complicated when in fact a lot of stresses & anxieties can be narrowed down and minimised. Hope I remember that later today when I'm freaking out about one thing or another! x Philo

  8. Nice post Jodi- I'd like to add that it's not well known that in Australia you can apply through a GP for subsidised or free counselling with your choice of psychologist, so knowing that might help someone who might otherwise not seek help due to finances.

  9. We are new to Smiling Mind, but it's fabulous and so easy. Roman who is 6 and I have been using it before bedtime to help calm him down. He suffers terrible anxiety related to school which manifests into nightmares. Now he gets anxious before bed because he's worried about having nightmares.... It's a vicious cycle. But I'm glad to be helping him learn some techniques now while he's still young. We are also taking him out if school for the time being to see if it makes a difference.

  10. Thank you for this wonderful post Jodi! Like you, I often find myself worrying or becoming anxious during high stress of busy times with the family…I like your tips, they are very practical and manageable, and most of them I would implement straight away! I often get feelings of being overwhelmed, and since moving into our home, our new mantra is a simplified life! We de-cluttered and placed a value of what we decided to keep, and are grateful for what we have. I also like to do deep breathing exercises to and love your idea of actively contacting and releasing parts of your body. Wonderful - oh and I've just started yoga, so here's hoping to even more increased mindfulness ;-) xx

  11. Such helpful tips. I suffer from similar issues and it gets tough when my body clock is out of order and spiral in to a bad phase of late to bed, insomnia, terrible mornings and long exhausting days. I work so hard for children bedtime routine but you are right often we don't put ourselves to sleep. I'm glad you shared this post.

  12. As a mum of an anxiety sufferer, I know how consuming it can be. I recommend 'The opposite of worry' by Lawrence Cohen for parents. It's wonderful. x

  13. I love the Maureen Garth meditation cd's for kids (and grown up's really). We have Sunshine and Moonbeam...there is also Starbright and Earthlight or something similar. ABC stores stock them I believe. x

  14. I honestly can't recommend The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman strongly enough. For those of us with anxious children, it provides a literal framework on activities and methods to help your child start to navigate their thinking in a more positive light. Don't let the title put you off either - it's not rah-rah-I'm-a-positive-snowflake Californian rubbish. It's about genuine deep change about encouraging your child to see the world in a way that supports a balanced view of the world.

    The other fantastic book is 'The Opposite of Worry' by Lawrence Cohen (he of the Playful Parenting fame). Again he is encouraging us as parents to embrace the multiplicity of benefits of play to encourage our increasingly anxious children to embrace the joy of the world.

    If anyone out there has anxious children, please please please do yourselves a favour and look these up. As someone who has held a long time interest in neuroscience and psychology, they are the best examples of introducing change for anxious / negative / depressed children I have come across. In fact if possible it would be great if you could amend your post to include these books just in case some parents don't read through the comments. It's such an important issue amongst our children. Stopping these thought patterns early is integral to long term change.

  15. I love your post. I am a worrier and I suffer from anxiety. I discovered Smiling Mind a few weeks ago and I am loving it.

  16. As someone who deals with anxiety myself - I so needed this. Thank you xx

  17. Such a great list. Talking about anxieties is the best! I am an anxiety suffer :(

  18. I suffer from anxiety and this was really inspirational! Thank you xxx


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