One in four of us in the UK suffer with some sort of mental health problem, and anxiety is one of the most common. We look at the symptoms, and how to manage them naturally.
Symptoms of anxiety are as physical as they are psychological. Effects on the mind can range from feeling tense, unable to relax, or excessively worried, to ruminating on past experiences or fearing things that might happen in the future.
Those effects on the mind can become so powerful that they lead to physical symptoms: sweating or feeling restless, unable to concentrate, difficulty sleeping at night, feeling dizzy or experiencing an increased heart rate and shortness of breath, through to panic attacks.
Anti-anxiety medication can be very beneficial for tackling the symptoms of anxiety. But whether or not you decide medication is the right path for you, making some lifestyle changes to address the symptoms – and the root cause – naturally will help you on your way to better mental health.
Talking therapies offer one of the most effective ways to not only tackle the symptoms of anxiety, but also learn about the root cause and triggers that make you feel more anxious.
But even if working with a therapist or psychologist isn’t a viable option, it’s still possible to talk to an impartial third party, who will listen without judgement, via charity helplines such as Samaritans or Mind UK.
Beyond that, confiding regularly in someone you trust and telling them what it is that makes you feel anxious can help you to get some reassurance, or counter irrational thought patterns with a different, more rational perspective.
Meditation is about encouraging the mind to be still and calm, which can be invaluable for people suffering with anxiety. While the idea of sitting quietly can seem very daunting if your mind tends to run away and make you anxious, learning how to control your thoughts can be a powerful tool to deal with anxiety.
There are many types of meditation techniques, such as breathing and visualisation exercises that can help with symptoms of anxiety. But meditation requires practice, and you’ll see the most benefits by committing some time to it everyday. If you can’t get to a meditation session, try a mobile app like Headspace or Calm, which contain a library of timed meditation practices with different lengths, themes or techniques, to help you wherever you are or whenever you need it.
Exercise isn’t a miracle cure for mental health problems, but any activity that gets those endorphins flowing is likely to help boost your mood and ease anxiety symptoms. It doesn’t have to be an Iron Man-level workout to be beneficial, either: exercise that is as enjoyable as it is good for you is much easier to get into your regular routine, and less likely to feel like another chore to worry about.
Yoga is a great place to start; it’s low intensity, and the focus on deep, regular breathing can help you learn to control your thoughts and stay calm when that feeling of panic sets in – not to mention that it’s great for strength and flexibility as well.
Getting outdoors for a walk – whether it’s around a city, a park or deep into the countryside – can be another good to way to burn off energy without the stress of a hardcore workout. Try to go with someone for company or listen to a podcast or audiobook, so you’re not using this time to ruminate on your racing thoughts and end up feeling more anxious.
If something a little more intense is what you find most helpful to combat symptoms, consider investing in some personal training sessions. Working with a professional will keep you focussed and make sure your workouts are safe and effective.
Making some conscious choices about your diet can help with symptoms of anxiety, especially if your diet is high in things that can make your symptoms worse. Caffeine, for example, increases heart rate and can disrupt sleep patterns, so try to limit your intake to one cup a day in the morning or cut it out altogether.
Alcohol can also be problematic for anxiety sufferers. Alcohol changes the level of serotonin in the brain, therefore can make you feel more anxious, particularly after the effects of the alcohol wear off. Hangovers can also exacerbate anxiety symptoms, such as dizziness and nausea.
When it comes to diet, it’s a case of choosing healthy, fresh ingredients rich in vitamins and essential nutrients like protein and slow-release carbohydrates. According to some specialists, it’s not so much what you eat, as when you eat: skipping meals, for example, will lower your blood sugar, leaving you feeling jittery and possibly dizzy, and making anxiety symptoms worse.
Practicing self care to deal with anxiety is not as simple as taking time to pamper yourself. However some time in the spa might help with some of the symptoms you experience.
Like other low impact forms of exercise, swimming is a great activity for reducing stress, boosting endorphins and burning energy, which can help with things like sleep. Plus, a spa pool is the perfect calm environment for a swim that’s not only healthy, but relaxing as well.
A complementary therapy that’s rooted in the philosophy that all of our bodies’ systems and organs can be mapped in a network of pressure points in the feet. Massaging the pressure points, the theory says, will help ease problems in the corresponding part of the body. But whether it has real impact on anxiety or not, a relaxing foot massage is no bad thing.
Many essential oils are believed to have a calming effect on the mind or aid sleep and relaxation. So you might find an aromatherapy massage with the right essential oil is the perfect treat to help some of your anxiety symptoms.