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!
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!
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.
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!
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!