A “holistic” approach to treatment of emotional health means incorporating the whole person into a coping plan. This means that taking a well-rounded approach will address aspects of lifestyle and touch on mind, body, and spirit. Taking this sort of an integrated approach acknowledges that our emotional issues do not exist in a “vacuum” and treating the whole person can lead to more lasting and substantial healing.
Many times, it is our thoughts which can trigger or contribute to feelings of stress or anxiety. Knowing this, techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy work to identify the unhelpful thought patterns that are associated with one’s personal experience of anxiety. Our thoughts can play a major role in our experience of any situation; and anxiety is no different. What our perceptions, attitude, and mind set are can make our experience of anxiety better or worse. Many times, in anxiety people experience irrational thoughts, due to activation of our “fear” center. Using techniques and interventions that are thought-based are hugely effective for taking the thoughts away from irrational reactions into more reality based, grounded thinking. Our thoughts are habits just like anything else and unhelpful, negative thoughts or distortions can contribute to the anxiety experience.
Practice self-soothing techniques such as using positive affirmations, I statements, encouraging phrases and thoughts to “replace” automatic negative thoughts associated with anxiety. For example:
- “It’s going to be okay”
- “I’m safe right now”
- “I’m feeling anxious right now, but I know I’ll feel better soon”
- “I’m going to get through this”
There are various ways in which paying attention to our physical health will help in anxiety. For many individuals, general anxiety is a physiological reaction to a psychological stressor. Anxiety comes from chronic or over-activation of our stress response or “fight or flight”. This reaction in our brain and central nervous system serves a purpose of alerting us to danger. However, when it is over-activated we are left experiencing anxiety more often and more easily. Knowing that there is such a strong connection between mind and body with anxiety, it makes sense that taking care of our physical health will have a positive impact on our ability to manage anxiety symptoms. Technically speaking, the body cannot be both stressed and relaxed at the same time, these are two different physical states.
- Exercise : increases endorphins, can be a relaxing, increase self-confidence and reduce anxiety symptoms. Go for a walk or a light jog, or combine exercise with a fun activity you enjoy such as a team sport or a class.
- Nutrition: can impact the body’s experience of anxiety. Limit triggering substances such as alcohol, sugar, and caffeine. Focus on consuming nutrients such as magnesium which can relax the muscles, and staying hydrated which is good for blood pressure and mental clarity.
- Aromatherapy: lavender is commonly used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation. Look for diffusers, pillow sprays or other ways to incorporate soothing scents into everyday life.
- Physical Relaxation: take a deep breath. Try a circular breath: in through the nose and out through the mouth. This type of breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body’s system responsible for calming down. Try each in-breath/out-breath for a count of at least 4.
This aspect of self can be referred to as “connection”. What I like to include under this third and important aspect of self is connection to self, connection to others, and connection to a higher power, what some may call spirituality. The benefits of connection cannot be overstated for emotional health. Often social isolation can be a result of anxiety and this becomes a downward spiral. Social relationships, support, and connection to others can be important in management of anxiety so that you have feedback and support. Connection to self can be found through mindfulness, engaging in any activity that you enjoy or find to be a healthy and helpful shift of focus from your anxious thoughts, as well as through self-expression. Connection to a higher power and spiritual beliefs are hugely beneficial for many individuals when it comes to coping with anxiety. Use of prayer, mantra, and concept of a higher power can provide shift of focus, support, and hope.
- Connect with self:
- Sit in nature and use your 5 sense for mindfulness: be present in the moment and notice what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel
- Spend time in self-expression through writing/journaling, painting, or with music
- Connect with others:
- Volunteer or find a group to become a part of, whether it is a support group, a hobby group, or anything else
- Call someone! Reach out for support, even if you don’t feel like it
- Connect with a higher power:
- Try a church service, meditation meeting, or even a 12-step meeting to spend time in a spiritual setting
- Spend time in prayer or meditation anywhere you like
Tackling the Problem from Many Angles…
When taking an integrated approach to management of anxiety, the whole person is the focus of intervention. A combination approach is the best approach for total healing. Counseling and therapy will aid in the help of emotional distress when it comes to the “mind”. We don’t want to stop there, however, when there is much more that can help support the recovery process! By looking at physical relaxation and health, and social and spiritual connection, we are working at tackling the problem from many angles, and are most likely to find the blend of coping skills that will work for each unique individual. I hope that this post has engaged you in anew way to look at approaching anxiety and empowered you to take steps to try different strategies for managing it.