4 Things I Do To Help My Anxiety

I’ve never hidden the fact that I suffer with anxiety, and I think it’s super important to share what I’m going through with friends, family and followers, not only to get the support I need during the low periods, but also to celebrate the little wins that come with the territory. My anxiety rears it’s head in various ways, from middle of the night panics, or tears on Oxford Street when the constant over-stimulation becomes too much, to creating very-realistic-although-has-never-happened scenarios in my head, to sitting alone in my flat assuming that everyone I know is angry at me for some unknown reason.

I will also never keep it a secret that I have sought out counselling for my anxiety. My best friend has always reminded me of this… You break a bone and you go to hospital, get an X-ray, pain killers etc. So when my brain decides to attack itself, or my sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive and I spend days in the adrenaline fuelled ‘fight or flight’ against my own body, seeing a therapist and getting treatment should be an obvious option. It’s a stigma that needs to be addressed and removed from society.

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(Photo credit – Emma Pharaoh)

Through the therapy, I was very lucky to get 10 sessions on the NHS, I’ve been learning some techniques and skills to help, and thought I’d share some of my favourites with you. I cannot stress enough, this is what works for me PERSONALLY, and might not for everyone. I share only because something I mention might strike a chord with you, and if my writing can help just one person make one small change, then I’m happy!

1. Write It Down

If I’m having intrusive thoughts that I can’t switch off, I have found that writing them all out helps to calm my mind. I might start writing in floods of tears, but as I get it all out onto paper, I feel a physical relief. I may never look at what I’ve written ever again, or if I do, it’s with a fresh perspective and the worries I had at the time of writing are either less intense than I remember, or more manageable.

During therapy, I became conscious of writing becoming a bit of a negative outlet, no matter how beneficial it feels at the time, so other way I use writing is as a daily positivity tracker. At the end of every day, good or bad, I write down three positive things that happened in the day. That way, even if it’s been a highly anxious day, I go to sleep with positive thoughts in my mind.

2. Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are very much ‘wellness buzz words’ at the moment, and it’s taken me a while to dive into the wealth of apps that are available for this purpose. The main ones I’ve come across are Calm, Buddhify and Headspace. I began my meditation journey with Headspace which has 10 free introductory sessions. Aside from these, there are lots of single guided meditations for specific purposes such as Sleep, Exam Stress, Sporting Competition and more.

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A more recent discovery is Buddhify, who have kindly gifted me a complimentary subscription. This guided meditation app has so many options for all kinds of practise, from specific emotional states, to meditation for travel and sleep. I’m just getting to grips with it but really enjoying it so far. Head to my instagram to hear more about it.

3. Exercise

As someone who’s been through low periods, I know that sometimes the very last thing you want to do is go to the gym or to an exercise class. I’m not about to tell you that ‘exercise is going to help all your problems, so suck it up and go to the gym’, but if you’re feeling up to it, then exercise can help greatly. I noticed in the time after my knee surgery, that the point at which I felt better in my head was when I was allowed to start gentle exercise again. For me, it makes a huge difference. Exercise increases the production of serotonin, the happy hormone, in the brain, and can lift your mood in an instant. There are explanations for this based on neuroscience of course which I could write an entire post on itself. Take away the science for a moment, with exercise, be it gym, running or yoga, there is an element of distraction playing a part here too, which leads me on to my next point.

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(Photo credit – Elle Linton

4. Find Some Distraction

Taking my mind to a non-anxious state is not easy, but I’ve discovered some things that work well for distracting my mind and letting me get on with every day life. The first is podcasts. Listening to podcast on my daily commute sometimes needs to be a necessity if I’m feeling overwhelmed. The type of podcast varies depending on the extent of my anxiety. Mostly I’m listening to something informative, or knowledge based, but if I’m really needing distraction and cheering up, then my go-to choice is comedy, and more specifically ‘My Dad Wrote A Porno’. If you’ve not heard of it (Mum, if you’re reading this, it’s not as bizarre as it sounds) and fancy a laugh out loud tube journey, then tune into Jamie, Alice and James as they narrate Jamie’s father’s hilarious attempt at erotic literature.

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(Photo credit – Elle Linton

Other means of distraction for me are baking, taking an exercise class, or working. It may sound strange but give me a food diary to analyse, an exercise program to plan, or something similar and I’ll happily delve in and distract my brain. Whats often more of a problem with these distractions is actually starting them. When anxiety is high, the urge to hibernate with Netflix is strong (and actually doing this is OK too, without a doubt). I find that once I get past that initial ‘OK Tash, get off the sofa now’ phase, these distraction methods can turn around my whole day.

Whilst these 4 points are things that help me, remember that everyone is different, and anxiety appears in different ways for each individual. I hope that reading what helps me might give you some pointers for when you’re in a low mood, or maybe they can be suggestions for someone you know. You never know what might hit the nail on the head!

Top Tips for Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness are particular buzz words in the wellness industry at the moment. In fact, it’s not just limited to health and yoga folk, but it’s seeping into the corporate world too, with companies finding that employees are more productive when they have a calmer, more mindful approach to work.

Mindfulness is not something that I’ve really delved into a lot, finding it hard to switch off the constant chatter in my mind. I’ve found that yoga has helped greatly, but taking a calm mental state from an hour on the mat, to everyday life is no mean feat! There are various apps available now to aid meditation, giving hints and tips and also guided meditations, though I’ve never tried one, I know people who have found success using them.

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When meditation cushion company Basaho asked if I’d like to try one of their meditation cushions, I thought it a great way to encourage me to try a little more mindfulness. That, coupled with some very peaceful meditative moments on my recent yoga retreat, have given me a bit more guidance into finding a meditation practice that works.

Here are a few of my top tips for starting a meditation practice (bear in mind, I am far from an expert):

1. Get comfy. Whether you intend to spend 5 minutes or 25 minutes in stillness, having to fidget because your knees or hips hurt is only going to break your concentration. Few people have the hip or knee mobility to sit in ‘lotus’ position to meditate, so forget about that before you even begin! Lifting your seat with a meditation cushion, like mine from Basaho, or even a pile of books, allows your knees to relax at an angle lower than your hips, much more comfortable for your joints. The wedge shape I use not only allows my hips and knees to stay in a safe alignment, but also prevents me from slouching and curving my spine.

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Poor posture with no support.

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Good posture with a Basaho cushion.

2. Don’t try to empty your mind. The typical view of a meditation is that of completely emptying your mind of all thoughts. Near impossible I say! Instead find something to focus on, such as sound. My favourite way to meditate is to music, either gentle piano music – Ludvico Einaudi is my favourite – or electronic sound such as Marconi Union, supposedly the most relaxing music ever. Every time my mind wanders I bring it back to the music, the beat or even an individual instrument.

Another way to incorporate sound into your meditation is to sit in silence, but observe each sound that you hear. It could be a dog barking, a car passing your window or the hum of electronics. Again, it’s simply about focusing on something other than the internal chatter of your mind.

3. Remember, your mind WILL wander. Thinking that you’ve failed at meditation every time your mind has a little wander is a sure-fire way to end up more stressed than when you began. Accept the thoughts that enter your mind, acknowledge them but let them pass. My mind constantly creates stories and scenarios that can be really hard to control, so that is always the focus of my mediations, to allow the thoughts in, but instead of dwelling on them, allowing them to pass through as I refocus on my music.

Another favourite way to help my mind to calm down is to watch the ocean, a lake or river. I could stare out to sea forever, and have been known in the past to get in a car during particularly stressful times, and drive out of London until I find a coast.

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4. Meditation or mindfulness doesn’t mean sitting doing nothing. There are so many ways to be mindful now, the newest craze being adult colouring. Here, the focus point is the precision of colouring in the lines resulting in not only taking your mind away from that internal chatter, but also encouraging creativity. You can find adult colouring books everywhere now, from forest scenes to mandalas and even tattoo designs.

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Thank you Basaho for encouraging me to continue to find a meditation practice that works for me. With a wide range of cushions and designs, you can find one that suits the way you sit, your flexibility and your living room colour scheme! The best news is…the cat loves it too!

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Do you have your own approach to mindfulness and meditation?

Basaho kindly gifted me a meditation cushion in return for this post. All words my own, please see Disclaimer for more information.