Why Mental Health Matters Most (& How I Manage Anxiety)
The weighted topic of mental health is something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long time. The focus is always on eating real food and sweating at least a few times a week, but what about what goes on in our minds?
Of course these things are so important, and together make up the bigger picture of wellness as a whole. But, in our society (even in the wellness world!), there is this immense pressure to put up a facade that you’ve really got your shit together. But guess what guys? NO ONE HAS THEIR SHIT TOGETHER! Sorry to burst your bubble. We all have different struggles at different points in life, some heavier than others. But we have GOT to stop assuming that the picture perfect life we see when we scroll through little squares on Instagram is all that’s going on.
It’s not. Some people like to share hard things, and others don’t. Some people are going through intense waves of depression where medication helps them find balance, and others are experiencing a little anxiety here or there. But we all have our own version of chaos.
Do you know how you can be there for someone, even if you don’t know them? Be kind. Be kind to every single person you meet. Because the thing is, depression and anxiety don’t discriminate. They don’t care where you live, who you are, what you do. Sometimes they are minor background noise and sometimes they swallow you up. And if you’re reading this and find yourself in the “severely anxious and depressed” category, first of all-you are so loved. And second- know that you are absolutely not alone. Even when social media makes you feel like maybe no one else knows darkness. It’s okay to embrace the low moments, and slowly gather up your toolbox to dig your way out. It’s okay that sometimes you feel on top of the world, and other times you find yourself crying in bed for reasons you don’t understand. And most importantly, in a world where perfection is encouraged, remember that it’s OKAY to talk about these things. I actually think every single person should see a therapist at some point in their life. Seeking help for navigating the choppy waters of mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and should be as normal as going for a run or ordering a smoothie at Whole Foods.
I’m obviously no medical specialist by any means, BUT I have learned a few things along the way that can help manage the chaos that our minds create. I tend to experience anxiety, and through trial and error I have found some tools that make it a little more manageable!
*Please note that I am not suggesting that these things are a “cure” or should be in place of seeking professional guidance. They are tools that, when combined with other means of healing, can have a positive impact on your mental state.
How I manage anxiety:
- Get Outside
There’s a reason my entire brand is built upon the word “wild.” I believe so strongly that nature heals. Getting out in nature, breathing in fresh air, looking up at the limitless sky, the pure stillness, seeing the beauty that surrounds you (even in a city!)- it’s our biggest reminder that there is something that exists that is bigger than us. An energy of abundance that is available to us at all times, reminding us that we are never alone. Try to get outside in anyway at least 20 minutes every single day. Sit outside your front door if you have to. And take longer adventures when you can.
It takes a bit to build up a meditation practice, but I can honestly say that this is one of the BIGGEST game changers for managing anxiety for me. The point of meditation isn’t to make our thoughts go away, that’s not possible. It’s to see them as they come, and become the observer instead of letting them take us over. Meditation comes in all shapes and sizes, and isn’t just for hippie yoga gurus. A good starting point for meditation is to focus on your breath. Simply sit for a few minutes, set a timer, close your eyes, breathe in and out slowly and fully, and count your breaths. You can read more about meditating here.
It sounds so simple and obvious, but we don’t breathe enough. I mean fullyyyyy breathe. Slowing down the breathing and taking full, deep belly breaths, physically calms down the nervous system. It activates our parasympathetic system (rest and digest), which slows the heart rate and lowers cortisol. In moments of high anxiety, start breathing slowly to find a sense of calm. This is the first thing I do when I feel it start to creep in. Aim to make the breathes long and even.
- Positive Affirmations
Never underestimate the power of repeating positive affirmations! Another thing that may feel silly at first, but once you repeat something enough, you eventually start to believe it. The words following “I am” are very very powerful. Some of my favorites for moments of anxiety are “I am trusting the Universe” (or God, or Spirit, or whatever you want to call it!), “I am safe and protected”, “The Universe has my back”, “I am calm”.
- Watching a funny show/listening to music
Sometimes in moments of panic and worry, we just need a light hearted distraction to bring us back down. Make time to watch something that will just make you laugh, like a stupid youtube video or your favorite show. Friends or Modern Family are my go-to’s! Also, music. MUSIC HEALS. This may not be for everyone, but if you tend to have a creative mind, you’ll find that music is therapy. Sometimes if I’m feeling worried or anxious, I’ll play some music and just dance it out. Or just sit and listen and feel it all, through certain songs and beats.
- CBD Oil/Dr. Bach’s formulas
I recently experimented with CBD oil (non THC) and it was a game changer. It truly helps my monkey mind calm down. I saw the biggest difference in sleep. I sometimes have trouble with restlessness in the middle of the night, and taking a couple drops of CBD oil before bed helps me to sleep through the night without waking up, during times of unease. CBD deserves it’s own blog post, but for now, this article goes into some detail about what CBD is.
I also really love Dr. Bach’s Remedies. I can do a whole post on these later as well, but they are holistic formulas made from wild flowers and plants designed to help us cope with emotional issues. The remedies range from fear of flying to feeling hopeless, to lack of confidence, and so many more.
I recently took some when I was feeling particularly low, and I believe they really helped me feel a bit lighter.
- Consuming less caffeine
I know, why would I suggest such a thing? It depends on your level of anxiety, but caffeine can greatly affect your cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Everyone has a different level of caffeine sensitivity. This requires tuning in to how coffee and tea make you feel, to see what level your particular body can handle. I happen to be veryyyy caffeine sensitive, and can not have any type of caffeine past around 10 or 11 am or else it will interfere with my sleep! Half a cup of coffee sends my anxiety levels through the roof. This was never an issue, because I’ve always been a tea drinker, until I recently discovered the magic that is Costa Rican coffee and now I’m screwed. Working on it! Experiment with swapping your coffee for decaf or tea, or having one less cup a day and see how it makes you feel. It may be a rough adjustment at first, but power through! The only way to know if it is impacting your anxiety and mental state negatively is to go without it and notice the changes you experience.
Journaling is highly underrated. We have this option to fully let our thoughts and feelings out, without anyone seeing or hearing it, if we don’t want them to. It’s amazing! Why don’t we do this more often?! Grab a piece of paper, and start writing. Try not to hold anything back, and just let it all flow. You may feel pretty silly at first, but just like meditating, once you keep practicing it’ll start to feel more natural. You may be surprised at how light and relieved you feel after writing out exactly what’s in your head. It’s literally free therapy!
- Move your body
Exercise of any kind has been proven to lower levels of anxiety and help with feelings of depression. Sweating daily produces endorphins, the happy hormone! For some people this means yoga, and for others it’s going for a powerful run. Find a type of movement that just makes you feel good.
- Have a support system
This is huge for me. Being able to call or text my best friends or mom whenever I need to is something I will never ever take for granted. Even if they have no advice to offer, it feels really good to just have someone listen to you. Maybe you just need to cry to them for a minute, or send a text in all caps lock with lots of cuss words followed by the crying emoji. In moments of anxiety, or anxious phases of life, this is one of my greatest tools.
- Eat more whole foods
This is pretty obvious, but try to eat more plants! Being deficient in any type of nutrient can actually bring about anxiety and effects the way our brain copes with stress/worry/fear. Eating a lot of processed foods and sugar can also raise cortisol and anxiety levels.
- Pet a puppy
Okay, so maybe this won’t help calm down everyonneeee. But you guys, puppies are powerful. Actually, connecting with any animal can provide a great sense of ease and relief! I also just talk to Kobuk sometimes when I’m feeling anxious because I am certain he understands. Find a dog, and start snuggling!
- Essential oils
I am obsessed with essential oils. There are certain smells that can directly affect the parasympathetic nervous system, and physically calm us down. Lavender is the biggest one, but there are many! Frankincense is really powerful for directly helping with anxiety. I use Doterra, and a couple of my favorite blends are Balance and Peace. I like to rub them on my hands and breathe it in during meditation, right before bed, or just at anxious points throughout the day. Invest in an essential oil diffuser, like this one. You can find some fairly inexpensive ones, and have one at your house or work. This way, you’re breathing in calm all day long!!
The best thing we can do as a community is normalize mental health, and the issues that surround it. It starts with talking about it, checking in on your friends, and being the listening ear that someone needs. And don’t forget, a little kindness & smiling at a stranger can go a long way!
I want you to feel like this is a safe space to reach out if you feel like you need to be heard. I care immensely about this topic and providing tools that you may need to get through a tricky time. Please know that I am always just an email away! Gina@runningwildwellness.com
You are awesome!