I´m standing in front of an audience. I´ve been asked to give a lecture about nutrition. I´m so nervous. This is the first time I´m giving a lecture about it. I´m so passionate about the subject and love helping people, but I was not prepared for this huge anxiety. I´m so hot, sweaty and shaky. I try to take a deep breath, the chest is tight. It´s time to start. I see the people in front of me, looking at me, waiting for me to begin. The first, maybe five seconds, I black out. Can´t remember anything at all. It feels like 2 hours passing by, but it´s only 5 seconds or so. But I get back to reality, calm down and start the lecture. The lecture goes well, they loved it. I was too anxious to enjoy it 100%. My anxiety took over.
A couple of days later, I crash. Physically and mentally. The pressure becomes too much, the anxiety too intense. I feel totally exhausted. It took some months for the doctors to figure out that I was struggling with anxiety. But today I´m grateful that this happened. This was the beginning of finding my way back, figuring things out, growing as a person and not running away from the anxiety feeling.
Since this happened I´ve been working with my anxiety. Finding my strategies and tools that work for me. Just like I did with my endometriosis.
Today I want to reach out to you, all of you, who try to cope with your anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety or panic attacks. Having an illness can lead to anxiety. You struggle with a painful illness, dealing with doctors, work, family and friends who maybe find it hard to understand your illness. Maybe you isolate yourself because of this and build up social anxiety. Not knowing how you will feel tomorrow, what is going to happen, can also make you anxious. So this is why I share my story and hopefully some of the following tools can help you too, if you are dealing with some sort of anxiety.
Here are my 5 tools that have worked for me:
1. Yoga and meditation
Yoga has been so important to me to cope with my anxiety and stress. Yoga calms you down and lowers stress. You also become more mindful and can observe your thoughts and emotions. When you are anxious you only want to escape, but in yoga you learn to observe. Yoga also helps you to change your patterns and not to be absorbed by your feelings.
Try this meditation, it´s great for anxiety: http://www.endoyoga.com/blog/a-meditation-if-you-are-stressed-like-crazy
Here are some yoga poses to reduce stress: http://www.endoyoga.com/blog/3-yoga-poses-that-reduces-stress
2. Breathing exercises
To breathe long and deeply can be a great help if you are anxious. In the psychiatric health care in Sweden it is included in the Cognitive Behavior Therapy the use of different breathing exercises. When we are anxious we tend to breathe very shallow. This often leads to tension in the muscles and pain. Not getting enough oxygen can give you headache, which is very common in anxiety disorders.
Here is how you breathe long and deeply.
Here is a great breathing exercise for anxiety.
3. CBT and ACT
When you have anxiety problems, you often have a problem with negative thought patterns. You think that you know what people think about you or that bad things are going to happen to you. Yoga can help you a little bit with this as you practice regularly over time, but I find the best way to deal with this is to go to therapy, either Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT).
CBT is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps patients to understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors. You learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior. You also learn how to expose yourself to the things that give you anxiety.
ACT is to accept what is out of your personal control, while committing to action that will improve your quality of life. You learn how to deal with painful thoughts and emotions so they have a lesser impact on you. You also learn what is important to you and has value so you can change your life into the life you want to live. The problem with having anxiety is that you it´s so easy not to live your life fully, you avoid things that are too painful for you and miss out life. Mindfulness is a tool in this therapy. A great book about this is Happiness Trap.
Going to therapy is one of the best things I´ve done. In my case it was a mix of CBT and ACT. It was a lot of anxiety exposure and homework. Actually I taught the group how to breathe properly, so that was kind of fun.
If you have social anxiety I can recommend to take a look at Calm Living Blueprints website, There is great information and also podcasts you can listen to.
I know that you can get anxiety from other health conditions like anemia, hormonal imblances and menopause etc, so it is not certain that it always is “in your head”, just want to point that out.
4. Balance your VATA
In the ayurvedic tradition anxiety can be an imbalance in your dosha VATA (one of the three personality types in Ayurveda). Vata has a tendency to be energetic, creative and flexible if they are balanced. If they get imbalanced they can feel anxious and overwhelmed. It is so important for Vatas that they have good routines during the day (which they don´t like, they want to be more free) and they need to finish things that they started, doing one thing at a time. They also need to avoid stress since that can make them forget their routines like having regular meals, taking breaks during the day and going to bed at a regular time.
It is a lot I can say about Vata, what they need, but this is what I find the most important for me to stay about how to balance it:
You can read more about ayurveda and doshas on Deepak Chopras website.
Ayurveda is always present in my life. I try to follow the “rules” for vata, but it´s not always easy as Vatas tend to be absorbed in their work and creativity and forget about time.
5. Connect with nature
Connecting with nature can have a calming effect. So if you are anxious it can be a good idea to take the time and be in nature. Listening to the birds and feeling the wind touching your skin. What is very calming is to have you bare feet in contact with the ground, so if you can, try to walk or sit with your bare feet on the ground as much as possible. For me this has a very calming effect. You can check out David Wolfes video, where he talks about earthing.
So maybe you are wondering if I have held more lectures? Yes I have, and last time it was a huge difference in anxiety intensity, it was way less. It was also a big problem for me to shoot my yoga videos when I started, it´s kind of the same feeling as standing in front of an audience, but now after I´ve done that a lot it´s no problem anymore. Teaching yoga is ok though, I have done it since 2008, so I have already exposed myself to that a lot, so I have no problems with that.
I use all 5 steps above as much as I can. Sometimes I slip (especially nr 4), but most of the time I stick to them. My biggest lesson here is not to run away or avoid things in life. The more you expose yourself to things the more you get used to it and the anxiety disappears. And it´s not only about making anxiety go away, it´s also about being in that feeling, not to be afraid to observe how you feel. So all of you who have anxiety, there is hope and there is help.
Do you have anxiety problems? How do you cope with it? What has helped you? What is the most difficult? Please share!
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Helen Kåselöv is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist and the founder of Healing from within with yoga & food (former Yoga for Endometriosis & Pelvic pain). Helen has a history of severe endometriosis and is today helping women with endometriosis, PCOS, uterine fibroids and other pelvic pain online, with yoga, nutrition and other lifestyle changes. Using yoga both as a tool in different kinds of healing programs, pain management, yoga has become the foundation in her work. “Yoga can help you in so many ways: Physically, mentally, spiritually and as a personal development tool.”