Anxiety- what a buzz word. It is currently the number one mental health issue in North America and it is estimated that a third of the American adult population experiences anxiety related issues. While those statistics are incredibly sad, they don’t shock me. The topic of anxiety is everywhere- in my conversations with friends, on social media, literature at the doctor’s office, and even in my personal life. The problem with anxiety is the solution itself. Very few people are equipped to help themselves overcome anxiety, and these negative emotions and limiting decisions ultimately prevent people from becoming the best versions of themselves. And even worse, they can make doing life really complicated and isolating.
In my attempts to build better habits and free myself of negative emotion without the help of pharmaceuticals, I have delved into my own research- learning from experts in the field. I’m not here to say that pharmaceuticals don’t work or that they are not effective because that is not true. However, my goal for 2019 is to overcome my own health issues naturally, so this decision is completely personal.
Over the past few months, I have studied a couple of “true health gurus” (I coined that term don’t quote me!!) that have seriously empowered me to find it within myself to cope in difficult times and build the strength to stop anxiety in its tracks. Often times this information is not as readily available as I think it should be, but in writing this blog, I hope to put it out there for more people to learn. I have personally tried and tested these particular techniques and hope they can be of use to you guys.
Health Guru # 1- Ashley James (Master practitioner and trainer in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), timeline therapy, hypnosis, and coaching)
Ashley works with lots of people on anxiety and has helped many free themselves of anxiety through her various programs. She also is the host of my absolute favorite podcast “Learn true health” which has literally changed my entire life.
Ashley’s take on anxiety
According to Ashley, anxiety isn’t like any other emotion for a couple of reasons.
1. Anxiety is not a negative emotion- all other emotions are good and bad. Anxiety is actually a message from our unconscious brain to focus on what we want.
2. We cannot experience anxiety in the past. Right here and now, you could think of something really sad that happened to you in the past, and you could start to cry. Or you could think about an experience that made you really happy, and you could start to feel those emotions of joy all over again. But with anxiety, you can’t experience it in the past, because it’s over.
So what is the significance of these observations?
Well, we like to give everything meaning as humans. It was more advantageous for us to walk into the woods thinking “wow there are bears everywhere” than thinking “there are no bears here”. Thinking about the worst case scenarios and being pessimistic, that’s kind of how humans survived as a species. In this way, anxiety isn’t a negative emotion at all…it has served to protect us.
The problem is that our bodies can’t tell the difference between what is imagined and what is real. This has been proven time and time again. For example, I’m sure you’ve heard of basketball players imagining shooting the ball through the hoop. Studies show that those who imagine shooting the ball over and over again make just as much improvement as those who do it physically. So…practice makes perfect, but imaginary practice makes perfect too because your body can’t tell the difference.
When we are focusing on what we don’t want, over and over, we are triggering stress responses time and time again, and stopping the enigmatic processes of the body from performing healing acts. If we are constantly telling ourselves that “the bear is chasing us”, then we are constantly in a state of stress, and this is a huge contributing factor to ending up with ulcers, immune issues, and even cancer.
So how can we free ourselves of anxiety?
**I love Ashley’s techniques because they are super simple and actionable.
1. HAKALAU (this is my favorite technique presented on this blog)
Ancient “Huna”, which is a technique that has been practiced for thousands of years (comes from Hawaii, but originally from Polynesia), now is recognized and seen to have a strong basis in neurology. Hakalau, which is becoming aware of your peripheral vision, comes from the ancient Huna practice.
Most people have tunnel vision. So if you’re watching TV, you might not see someone standing next to you waving their arms, because you have shut down that part of your perception. It is because anxiety is by nature, complete tunnel vision, that Hakalau is so effective.
This technique works like this: Take your arms and hold them out beside your head, sort of like being on a cross, so your arms are straight out from your shoulders. Bring them in just a little bit, bringing your arms and fingers in a bit as well, like you are trying to point your fingers at yourself, and then wiggle them a bit. Make sure your nose is pointing forward and that you are staring straight ahead. Try and see your fingers wiggle while you are staring straight ahead. You can keep your arms moving closer and closer to the center, or midline, until you can see your fingers wiggle. So what you’re doing is bringing your awareness to your periphery. Once you get the hang of it, you don’t need to put your arms out. If you do this every day, it becomes a strategy.
Why does this technique work?
You can’t hold onto negative emotions and be totally in your peripheral vision. Hakalau allows you a break state, where you can step away and become the observer. When I first tried this, I could literally feel the pent up emotions spread thin and evenly around me and just ultimately dissipate. Once you are in tunnel vision, something about bringing your energy into the periphery makes you feel that energy just soften.
2. ANXIETY FREEDOM RELEASE TECHNIQUE
Instead of focusing on what you don’t want to happen (My boss is going to fire me, I’m going to have no money at the end of the month, etc.) focus on what you do want. When you shift your focus onto what you do want, it sends a message to your brain that you are safe and good.
This technique works like this: Ask yourself, on a scale of 1-10, when you think about an event that is coming up in your future, how much anxiety do you feel right now?
Close your eyes. Imagine that your whole life is in front of you, your past is behind you and your future is in front of you like a big highway. Float above the timeline of your life, and float 15 minutes past the successful completion of the event for which you have anxiety around. It’s important that you imagine not only the successful completion of this task, but think about what you will be doing after the successful completion (like watching tv on the couch, cooking dinner with your roommate, something mundane).
Why does this technique work?
As we mentioned earlier, the mind cannot tell the difference between what is imagined and what is real. When you imagine a successful completion of a task, you have told your body that “we no longer have a threat because we have turned off the stress response”. When the stress response goes dormant, we go back into parasympathetic response (rest and digest) because we have just imagined the best case scenario- the successful completion of the task.
Health Guru #2 – The Renegade Pharmacist or Niraj Naik (musician, holistic health expert and entrepreneur)
Niraj was previously a traditional pharmacist in the UK who left his career when he was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. He broke free from his illness without medication with a mission to help others heal their bodies holistically. This story is pretty inspiring and incredible and I highly recommend you read more about Niraj's story.
Niraj’s take on anxiety
Breath is the one thing that runs on autopilot, but we also have conscious control over. We have learned from yogis that we can actually tap into our physiology and neurology, at will, and consciously. The yogis realized that breath is our connection to our nervous system, and we can control the energy flow of the body. Breath is a rhythm, inhale and exhale, and the rhythm of our breath is the primary rhythm of the entire body. It is the mirror of the state of our health. All other rhythms (Circadian, Infradian, Ultradian) are subservient to the rhythm of breath and every single biological function in our body is dependent on rhythm.
When you have an erratic breathing pattern, it is a mirror of an erratic nervous system. So by changing the rhythm of our breath, we can actually harmonize the function within us. Niraj’s personal experience and work reflects that this strategy has the effect of drugs but without the side effects. It’s actually the breathing techniques that he learned during his peak of chronic illness that played a major role in suppressing his symptoms.
It might be good to give a little bit of a biology refresher in order to contextualize this technique.
So let’s start with the: why does this technique work?
The autonomic nervous system is a network of nerves that regulate the unconscious body functions so that we are able to have the experience of life on this planet without having to worry about all of the things our body has to do to live another moment (ex: heartbeat, immune system, breathing, digesting). Two of the main parts of the nervous system are the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.
Parasympathetic nervous system- controls the body when it’s at rest (rest and digest mode). This allows us to go into that healing state.
Sympathetic nervous system- controls our fight or flight response (the action side- it creates energy).
The problem these days (and I’m sure a lot of us can relate to this) is that our lifestyles can train our body to create stress all of the time. Instead of just getting stressed when we are running late, our body is creating stress (behind the scenes) automatically in our day to day lives. Many people live in a constant state of stress.
So what’s the solution?
1. STIMULATE YOUR PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
This technique is pretty simple and extremely effective.
When we breathe in, we stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight). When we breathe out, we stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest). So simply, if you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, you start to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. If you breathe rhythmically, it will harmonize every single function in your body and create a state of coherence (which is a state of emotional well being).
So it looks like – breathe in 1, 2, 3- breathe out 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (or however long you can breathe out for). Try it for a few minutes in a moment of anxiety or even when you’re having trouble sleeping. This technique has been SO effective for me in both scenarios and really empowering to know that I have this tool in my toolkit.
**Niraj has lots of other techniques, and this is by no means the only one that he speaks about. However, I’m purely writing about techniques that I have personally tried over time and that have been effective for me. I do however encourage you to investigate my “true health gurus” further as they have a lot more wisdom to share.
I’m currently reading “The healing power of essential oils” by Dr. Eric Zielinksi, who recovered from several chronic diseases in his early 20s. He is on a mission to share the evidence-based approach to natural living that helped him regain control of his health with the world. I’ll be sharing my findings from the book soon with you guys but it might take some time to finish the book and try the techniques myself. I’m confident there will be not only some great anxiety diminishing tips, but much more. Stay tuned 🙂
I encourage you guys to give at least one of these techniques a try. Like I said, I personally have been trying them out myself over the past few months, and they have been incredibly effective for me. If you have any success with these techniques or have any other recommendations along the same lines, I would love to hear your feedback. Please comment it below or send me a message!