Tuesday, 17 February 2015

inner calm

I mentioned in a few previous posts about suffering with anxiety, and in the spirit of honesty, I'm going to come clean and admit that actually, it was a bit more than that. For the past ten years or so, I've been on medication for anxiety, depression and OCD; various life events have meant that my dose has gone up and down several times, but now I'm in a relatively positive place, and I've decided to attempt to (*breathes into a paper bag*) go medication free. Anyone who has been on anti-depressents and SSRI drugs will know that it's a slow process, and you have to basically wean yourself off of them over time - it's difficult, but I've just got to the point where I don't want to pump my body full of chemicals anymore. My earth-loving, slightly hippy nature and a cocktail of manufactured drugs just don't seem to mix - but more than that, I honestly don't think I need them anymore. We might not be wealthy, but I'm rich in a lot of other ways, and that should be more than enough, right?

So, todays post is dedicated to all of the natural ways I know of to try and combat anxiety; those nail-biting, spine-tingling, scalp-prickling, heart-racing, sweaty-palmed, self-doubt-filled, shallow-breathed moments that we all know and hate. Screw you, anxiety, the herbs are coming for you!

(Images: Left - an illustration by the very talented Jongmee. Right - The Free People blog)

1. Herbal Tea
I've never been a great fan of herbal tea until recently; peppermint always tasted a bit odd, and I thought chamomile smelt a bit like cooked grass. I'd had tonnes of raspberry leaf when I was pregnant and overdue with both kiddos (not that it worked!), and I used to drink quite a bit of apple and ginger when I suffered from bad IBS, but that's about it. Over the last few weeks though, I've dabbled in green tea with honey and lemon for my shocking immune system, and green tea with jasmine for inner calm. I've also bought a few Pukka teas, and I am a SERIOUS convert; my favourite so far is the Womankind, which is designed to help us gals 'balance and bloom', and I really did notice I felt a lot calmer once I'd had a cup - it does have chamomile in it, but doesn't have that grassy-tang!

2. Breathing
There are loads of breathing exercises you can do, and I've pinned a few tutorials for these on my  'Inner Calm' Pinterest board, but until now I've always gone with the 'in-through-the-nose-out-through-the-mouth' method. It doesn't require too much thinking, and I count backwards from one hundred at the same time which seems to work - I think that as long as the emphasis is on regular, controlled breathing, the job's a goodun.

3. A Hot Water Bottle
I honestly think hot water bottles are one of the best things ever invented (although it has to be said, I'm pretty glad they're made of rubber now, and not ceramic or stone!); they can get rid of back pain and achey limbs, they can warm you up in seconds, and they're just pretty fab. I always find them comforting, and if I find myself starting to feel anxious, they just seem to help me feel a bit more reassured - I'm not claiming they'll work for everyone (or actually anyone else at all!), but it always makes me feel a it better.

4. Rescue Remedy
I should have shares in Rescue Remedy. I've used it for years and years, and whether it's psychological or it really works, I have no idea - but it does the trick for me. There are a few different types, but I find the original one in the cheery yellow bottle is the best - a few sprays on the tongue, and I just feel instantly calmer. Aaahhhh.

5. A Warm, Scented Bath
Obviously you can't just be jumping into the bath in the middle of the day (unless you work from home / have a day off / have no children), but I find regular sessions with candles, a good book and some essential oils or herbal bath soaks help when it's been a particularly bad day or week. There are loads of really good, earth-friendly, skin-kind products out there; anything with lavender in it from Lush is always a winner, and I'm dying to try the Neal's Yard foaming bath. I also saw last week that Napiers (the lovely folk who healed my cracked winter hands) do a Chamomile Honey Heart bath fizz, so that's next on the list.
The great thing about bath soaks is that they're really easy to make yourself using all-natural ingredients. A quick search on Pinterest will reveal loads and loads and LOADS of recipes, or you could pop over to Seeds and Stitches where Hannah recently posted a couple of great looking tutorials.

6. Lavender, Lavender, Lavender
If you suffer from anxiety and you don't have lavender in your life, get to the shops, pronto. A few drops of essential oil on your pillow to aid sleep, some on a hanky to inhale for an instant shot of calm, dried lavender in bags to create heat pads for the neck and back, a few drops of oil in the bath.... oh, the possibilities!

7. Sleep and Rest
Sleep deprivation is a known anxiety-driver, so it's really important to make sure you're getting enough rest. Obviously if you work long hours, or you've got small children this isn't always possible; we've all been in the situation where you have to finish 'one last report', or the toddler has woken on the hour every hour throughout the night, but the key is to make sure you give yourself time to catch up. If you can't nap during the day (and let's face it, how many of us can realistically manage that?!), make sure you go to bed early at least once a week instead, and dedicate one evening to completely switching off - no work, no internet, no smartphones.... just you and something you love doing.

8. Relaxing Music
I've been a Radio 4 fan for years now; Womans Hour, Any Questions and, err, The Archers are all favourites, but recently I've found myself hovering on Radio 3 more and more. When my anxiety peaked back in January, I spent a few evenings knitting or just lying on the sofa listening to classical music; I couldn't have told you what it was, and I don't know my Bach from my Beethoven, but something about it was incredibly soothing and just seemed to make me feel better.

9. Chocolate
I'm pretty sure there aren't many of us that need encouragement in this area, but it turns out that chocolate is actually one of the best things to include in your diet if you're suffering from anxiety and depression. One of its key ingredients (especially in dark chocolate) is seratonin, which is also contained in most anxiety medications - so it's basically like natures antidepressant. Pass the Wispas!

10. Exercise
So, this is actually one thing I've never tried myself (my idea of exercise is walking to the kitchen to get the biscuits), but all the research points to exercise being amazing at banishing anxious feelings. Things like yoga, pilates, meditation and running are all reported to help clear the mind and channel your inner energy, and it does make sense if you think about it. I've had a yoga mat stuffed behind he sofa for years, and I bought some proper running clothes and shoes last year, but the thing is, I've been a bit too busy with tip number 9 to find the time to get them out.....

If you're looking for tips on beating anxiety or depression without medication, I've started a new Pinterest board which has loads of yoga tips, positive affirmations and breathing exercises. Lovely stuff!

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13 comments

  1. As someone who has experienced those sweaty palm, shallow breath moments, I think your tips are ace. I am always amazed at the power of simply breathing.

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  2. Good luck with weaning yourself of the pharmaceutical drugs. I have another natural addition to add to your list. Try singing. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, sing around the house, in the park... and don't worry if your voice or repertoire is not 'splendid'. I've never been very good at breathing exercises because my brain won't switch but singing (or playing any instrument for that matter) gets you to the same place. It forces you to lift the diaphragm and breathe deeply, and releases happy hormones. And don't worry if you sound awful for the first 5-10 minutes. As with any exercise, the membranes and muscles (here vocal chord and lungs) need to warm up. Good luck!

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  3. This post couldn't have come at a better time for me, thanks so much for posting. I've recently hit a really low point after about 10 years of suffering with anxiety and depression in silence and trying my best to hide it. I've been to the doctor and am on a waiting list for therapy. These tips will really help me when I'm feeling lost and need help. Thank you. I hope you weaning yourself off the drugs goes well and your inner earth-loving spirit will pull you through. P.s, I'm a new reader to your blog, and Iove it.

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  4. Good tips. I second singing too. I recently joined an a capella group and it is really helping me to find balance. I've also heard that eliminating sugar helps but I don't know if that's actually true. I have had depression in the past (and been on medication too) and I've tried to manage it for the past few years by taking a very strategic approach when I feel like I'm having wobbles: writing down feelings, taking time to be alone, sleeping and writing manageable to-do lists. I really want to take up exercise but I lack the discipline, man. Maybe I need to blog about it! All the best in journeying off the meds. Keep listening to yourself. xxx

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  5. Good ideas and wonderfully honest of you x. I am a huge fan of walking and noticing the little things around me. I think it might be a meditation thing without knowing it. But it keeps me grounded, that and drinking lots of water, geranium oil, giggling, rose bud tea and visiting the library. super best wishes. Elinor x

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  6. These are great tips, I used to suffer from extreme panic attacks in my mid twenties and wouldn't leave the house without rescue remedy. Excessive is definitely a good serotonin booster too! Glad you're feeling good enough to wean yourself off x

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  7. oh i love pukka teas... they are the only ones I've really liked of herbal teas! These are great tips, i've struggled for years with depresion and anxiety.. been medication free for 3 years now :)

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  8. I love this post. I am all about embracing - and sharing - things that help us feel calm and in control of our lives and feelings. I've been battling some stuff myself recently, and I have a post brewing in my head that's a bit similar to this. Exercise is one thing I've noticed makes a real difference, which sucks because I'm a very lazy person. Good luck with coming off the meds! :)

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  9. Really brave of you to share and I think more people battle with anxiety and stress than we realise. I used to teach yoga and it has always really helped me ...along with breathing ;) So glad you are doing better Xx

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  10. Regarding method #10 you might enjoy - A Philosophy of Walking - by Frederic Gross. It's not difficult though the translation isn't great (Gross is French). But nonetheless illuminating as it uses artists and writers as examples. Of course you may have read it already. Good Luck

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  11. If you like bachs flower remedies, then why not get more specific than the rescue remedy. I use aspen for unknown fears (you know, when you feel there is just something wrong but you have no idea what it is, or just when you feel jittery and uneasy) also mimulus for known fears, so going to the dentist, having to see someone who worries you etc. I often take both together. I gave mimulus to my cat too when going to the vets, certainly seemed to help him. I also have quite a few others which I use from time to time. I don't use the rescue remedy much as it doesn't aim at my specific areas of need. For instance I don't get panic attacks.
    Jane

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  12. Rescue remedy is amazing. I went through a phase in my early 20's of having such bad panic attacks and it always helped :) x

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  13. Perhaps a bit late to the comments party here, but just wanted to echo the other comments. Your post really chimed with me and it is so brave of you to put it out there. Even though we all know that mental health issues ought to be de-stigmatised, it's still hard to speak about personal experiences. It's also refreshing to read such an honest post. Well done - I'm sure many others will feel inspired to open up and take positive steps! x

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