Accredited exercise physiologist and therapeutic yoga practitioner, Jennifer Smallridge, unpacks the many ways we may be winding our nervous system up.
October is Mental Health Awareness Month, but for those amongst us living with a mental health condition, it’s a reality that gets faced every day. Anyone who has experienced the throes of anxiety would know that treatment is as individual as you are - and of course professional help needs to be sought after.
However, there are some situations that anxiety just thrives in. Read on to find out if you could be accidentally winding your nervous system up. (This also serves as a lovely checklist if you’re helping someone in distress.)
1. When was the last time you took a deep breath?
A really, really deep breath. The kind where you let your stomach stick out, your ribs expand to the side, and then you let the air out with a ‘wooshhh’ sound. This simple action stimulates the vagus nerve, which moves your body out of ‘fight or flight’ and into ‘rest and relax’. Added benefit - when you give your attention to your breath, you can’t engage with tempting, niggling thoughts - you can truly only focus on one thing at once.
2. When was the last time you went outside?
Being in the outdoors can act as a ‘circuit breaker’ - which is basically anything that moves you out of an anxious loop. Going outside ticks a few boxes at once, including fresh air, distraction, and exposure to nature. This can be as easy as stepping outside at work for a couple of moments, walking to a nearby cafe, or taking a quick stroll around the block. Change your scenery, and change your thoughts, even if it’s just momentary.
3. When was the last time you spoke to someone?
Anxiety is a terribly isolating feeling. When left alone with our own thoughts, it can also turn into feelings of loneliness and despair (especially if you mindlessly scroll through social media to numb your pain - which is basically everyone else’s highlight reel). True social connection is an excellent antidote to anxiety, and this can be achieved by holding the door for a stranger, striking up a conversation with a sales assistant, or a long overdue phone call with a loved one.
4. When was the last time you felt a sense of accomplishment?
If you feel overwhelmed, it can be easy to look at your to-do list and go into avoidance mode. People suffering from anxiety often feel ‘paralysed’, but avoiding things that are important can often lead to more worry in the long term. You don’t need to sit down and tackle all of your errands at once, but it can be super empowering to pick one small, achievable item and complete it to gain some momentum. Physically ticking items off lists releases a hit of dopamine in the brain, which can help with feelings of achievement, and give you back some control over the situation. Perhaps the only thing you need to ‘do’ right now is to take a bath and relax; so write it down and tick it off!
5. When was the last time you had something to eat?
No seriously, when? Is it possible that your blood sugar is low? Having low blood sugar and anxiety have many symptoms in common, including a racing heart beat, nausea, shakiness, and a general inability to think clearly - let alone positively. This isn’t a licence to rip into the lolly jar, but instead consider some fresh fruit or a nourishing snack to allow your body to function at its best. Add plenty of water to make sure that your brain is being looked after!
If you’ve completed this checklist and still feel a little uneasy, grab a pen and paper and write down every single thing that you’re worried about. Then, do yourself a massive favour and rip up the piece of paper once you’ve finished, and go back to step 1 of this post if required.
And most importantly, if there’s someone in your life who would also benefit from reading this - share the love! You never know who might be feeling the same.
For more information in regard to anxiety and related mental health disorders, please contact BeyondBlue.