I had a panic attack in a yoga class a few weeks ago. Nearing the end of Shavasana, my anxiety took over in the last place you would imagine, as it is a yoga pose where you are supposed to be in a state of meditation. It took a while before I could fully calm down, but armed with the breathing and meditation techniques, I learned during my yoga teacher training, I managed to eventually calm my anxiety.
I don’t know what triggered my panic attack, perhaps the poses triggered an emotional release. At that point I was eating right, doing yoga, and practicing meditation on a regular basis, but it wasn’t enough to relieve my stress and anxiety. So, I decided to pull myself together, and start a regular meditation practice again, paired with breathing exercises throughout the day, while making pleasure a priority. This year, I am trying to challenge my neurotic and anxious behaviour, while aiming to move to a more hedonistic lifestyle that includes meditation and is free of panic attacks.
I’ve experimented with a few ways to reduce stress, and to tame the anxious dragon within me, but these are the ones I have found to work the best. When I neglect one of them, it becomes harder to control my anxiety. It does take some discipline, but in a month’s time, I have already felt a tremendous improvement. This makes me excited to know where I will be in a year’s time if I continue, and keep finding more ways to relax, focus on my breathing, and stay present in the moment.
If like me, you would also like to start lowering your anxiety, here are my top 6 tips:
Exercise for Stress and Anxiety
When we get anxious, it means that the fight or flight response in your body was triggered. This causes a rise in cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and can have detrimental effects on your body if levels are chronically elevated. The fight or flight response exists to help protect us when in danger. In the past that meant possibly being eaten by a lion, but nowadays, we have stressors that don’t actually affect our survival. We have invented new reasons to stress, and the body cannot tell the difference.
Working out regularly will help reduce anxiety by providing some relief, and breathing properly is essential. Stretching regularly or doing yoga also helps by helping muscles to relax, thereby releasing physical tension.
Deep Breathing and Meditation for Anxiety and Stress
Meditation gives you the tools to block out thoughts that contribute to anxiety, and also helps you to reflect on what might be the root cause of your anxiety. Simple breathing exercises (or Pranyama) can greatly help reduce anxiety as well. Just 5 to 10 minutes of deep breathing and meditation should be enough to help calm your sympathetic nervous system. Consider trying a restorative yoga class as well.
Follow an Anti-Anxiety Diet
- Remove foods that can contribute such as caffeine, sugar, processed carbohydrates, processed foods and gluten (for some).
- Eat foods rich in magnesium, as it can help lower cortisol levels. These foods include leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes.
- Tryptophan rich foods, such as chicken, turkey, yogurt, cheese and eggs are great for lowering anxiety as tryptophan helps the body to produce serotonin. Get enough exercise and sunlight exposure as both help tryptophan reach your brain.
- Heal your gut. A lot of anxiety starts in the gut. When you have a poor microbiome and an imbalance between good and bad bacteria, anxiety can surface. For a healthy gut start by incorporating probiotic rich foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt or kombucha in your diet. Also ensure that you eat a lot of fibre-rich foods, as they help feed the good bacteria, allowing them to grow. Consider collagen supplementation or add gelatin to your diet. It helps repair a damaged gut lining.
Increase Human Growth Hormone Levels
Human Growth Hormone or HGH is not only an anti-ageing hormone that aids in muscle building, but suppresses cortisol production as well. You can increase HGH levels naturally by ensuring that you get enough sleep, through intermittent fasting and by doing aerobic workouts while fasting. Exercise produces lactic acid, which helps produce HGH.
Create a Self-Care Routine
I know that everyone is talking about the importance of self-care nowadays, but it really is important. Taking care of yourself by doing things that help you relax and that you enjoy, like yoga, will help you balance out stress with pleasure and put you in a better position to cope with the daily stresses of life. It can be anything from doing workouts that make you feel great, taking a warm bath, reading a book, or eating your favourite healthy dessert. If you want balance, you have to put yourself first.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep can help you feel more positive. It also helps the body produce human growth hormone, and gives your neurons time to shut down and repair. Doing breathing exercises, or practicing yoga and meditation before bed can help you relax and sleep.