I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. As I have gotten older, I have had the opportunity and privilege to deal with it through therapy and lots of self growth. I have been on cocktail of medicines which helped me through some of my darkest times.
A few years ago, I made the decision that I didn’t want to rely daily on medication. Also because my medication made me numb and changed who I was. I was able to wean myself off medication using more natural tools.
DISCLAIMER: For people who need/choose to stay on medication – there is no shame in that! Each of us are on our own journey. I only hope that these natural tools can help anyone who needs them. Please consult your doctor if you wish to wean off of your medication.
Don’t forget to breathe
Breathing exercises are one of the few ways I have learned to mitigate anxiety and panic when it is at its worst. They also help to improve sleep and reduce general stress. Dr Axe has listed a number of different exercises which could work for you.
Look after your sleep
After years of being a night owl, I now know that I need at least 7 hours of sleep or it will be detrimental to my mental health. But I have learned that it’s not just the amount of sleep that’s important, it’s the quality! Limiting technology and doing something calming (and non stimulative) for about an hour before we go to sleep can help prepare our bodies for bed.
Not my strongest point and a tool I often forget to use. Exercising without a doubt improves mental health, general happiness and health. For me, pairing exercise with nature is a sure way to help me move negative energy out of my body, release tension and free my mind.
I have yet to achieve daily meditator status, but on the days I do meditate, I am noticeably calmer and it is easier to deal with whatever comes my way. I can only imagine the cumulative effects if done daily over a long period of time. Mindfulness also doesn’t just mean meditation. It can include a range of practices such as mindful walking or listening. Mindful.org is one of my favourite online resources for improving mindfulness.
Limit sugar, caffeine and refined carbohydrates
Eliminating refined carbohydrates and sugar as well as caffeine, has proven to be one of the most effective ways of reducing my anxiety (and generally improving my hormonal system). Newer research is proving the connection between our gut health and our brain health, linking many mental and neurodegenerative diseases to poor diet. Dr Georgia Ede, a nutritional expert at Harvard University explores the pitfalls of modern diets and what we should consider in our diets to achieve better physical and mental health.
Try essential oils
Smells can improve our mood and research has been done into utilising essential oils for this purpose. I find essential oils ground me and relax me. I use lavender and peppermint freely because they are both easy to get locally and less expensive than some oils. I especially rely on lavender to assist my sleep by putting a few drops on my pillow and rubbing it on my temples. There are a number of other essential oils that can assist with anxiety including rose, bergamot, ylang ylang, chamomile and frankincense.
I believe that tea soothes the soul. Taking time to breathe, smell and drink your tea can be a very calming process. Teas themselves also have the ability to calm our minds or be used as a complimentary therapy for an underlying condition. There are many different teas and finding the right on for you may take a little time. I grow chocolate mint in my garden which I dry into tea leaves. Some other teas that have been said to have an anti-anxiety effect are chamomile, valerian, lavender, turmeric, passion flower and lemon balm.
CBD oil (from the non psychoactive compound in marijuana) has become increasingly popular for treatment of anxiety. I use CBD oil daily and have noticed a marked difference in my sleep quality, general anxiety and number of panic attacks.
Tinctures or tissue salts
For the days when the panic still runs strong, I rely on tinctures or tissue salts such as Rescue Remedy and Kali Phos. These homeopathic remedies help calm acute stress. I have found these to help in taking the edge off on days where I really need a little extra help.
Therapy is a privilege and incredibly inaccessible to most people. I have been fortunate enough to attend therapy and I do believe we all need to talk about what we’re going through. Don’t suffer alone. Some family and friends may not understand, in which case reaching out to a free counselling hotline may be a good bet. Counselling Hub, based in Cape Town is now also offering counselling sessions for R50 per session. Hopefully more accessible options like this are only on the increase.