If you suffer from depression and anxiety, then you know that an anxiety attack — or your regular everyday anxiety symptoms — can make you feel like you’re not in control of yourself.
One of the simplest ways to beat anxiety is through self care activities, but it’s one of the steps that most people want to skip. This is because when you feel worried or stressed out, it’s much harder to think reasonably and come up with a self care plan to help avoid symptoms of anxiety in the future.
Self-care is important for many reasons, but what is self care, really?
Self care is defined as, “…activities can help you cope with stress and improve overall well-being.”
Remember the old, “I wish I had a dollar for every time …” saying?
Here’s one of mine: I wish I had a dollar for every time someone was feeling freaked out with anxiety and looking for a magic bullet or heavy drug to help them calm while neglecting their best resource — to simply practice self care tips for themselves and their body.
I believe people fall into this trap of neglect for a couple of reasons. I have done it myself. When you are in a state of hyper-arousal caused by stress, the simple, basic steps to true relief feel trivial and insignificant.
The protective parts of our personality look for the “big guns” to feel better. Also, when you are panicky or irritable and anxious, you may feel angry with yourself and your body and you imagine you’re unworthy of good self-care.
“Why would I even want to take better care of myself? It hasn’t worked so far.” It is so easy to fall into this dangerous cycle that leads to more worry.
Thoughts: I am stressed and anxious. Help! How can I get away from this feeling?
Typical behavior: Stay super busy. Think about everything you have to do even if you don’t do it. Stay up late trying to either get things done or procrastinating. Skip meals because you’re too busy. Focus on everything that is bothering you.
Thoughts: I have way too much and I will never get done. I am tired and deserve a break.
Typical behavior: Reach for something that offers immediate “relief” like alcohol or drugs, video games, online shopping, bingeing Netflix, junk food, or other distractions.
Thoughts: I feel shame. I hate my body, myself. I waste so much time. I feel even more stressed and anxious.
And the cycle continues.
Without clarity and leadership on the inside, everything on the outside of your life falls apart.
Do you have to be perfect? No! But when you’re worried and stressed, you need to secure your body’s foundation by looking at what gives the body its integrity and sense of safety.
The body requires adequate sleep, good nutrition, movement, and fresh air. In times of stress and anxiety when you lack self-confidence, addressing basic physical needs is more — not less — important.
Small improvements in personal care are the first step to overcome anxious living.
At the first signs of stress or panic, breathe and notice your body. This is not the same as gulping in air just to move on to the next thing. Send your awareness into your body with your breath. Close your eyes if it helps.
Here are 4 simple and effective self care tips that will help you control anxiety, depression, and become happier and more confident in yourself:
1. Get adequate rest
It’s important that your stressed body is allowed to lie down in the dark for about eight hours (give or take an hour) to rest and repair. If you believe your body does not consistently need this time, this may be a fundamental source of anxiety you’re missing.
You are human like everyone else. Avoid making excuses for why you cannot get this rest. Imagine a dead plant making excuses for why it never needs water.
Once you have determined your sleep hours, mark them in your calendar or create phone or sticky note reminders. Dedicate this time to your sleep and onlyyour sleep.
For example, “I will be in bed between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.” (or what you need depending on your work schedule).
Some times of day are frankly better for sleep, but if your work does not allow this, for now, concentrate on just making sure you get eight.
2. Eat good, healthy food
Make sure that you’re providing your body healthy food in moderate quantities adjusted for comfort over your waking hours. Remember, this process is for calming worry by establishing a trusting relationship between you and your biological body.
This is not a time to start a new diet or fast. You don’t want to add stress. Again, just like you did with sleep, schedule your foods to follow a three or four meal schedule, adding in water and light snack breaks to keep your body comfortable (not overly hungry or full).
Remove foods and drinks that contain a lot of chemicals your body doesn’t naturally recognize. Add foods that are simple, delicious, and soothing. Avoid caffeine and sugar, but don’t worry about being a purist now. The most important thing is to show your body that it can trust you to feed it in a healthy way.
Notice what foods are easily available to you at home or work. Do you have some healthy vegetables, fruits, proteins, and enough water? Are your snacks filling, natural, and actual food rather than a mass of processed chemicals?
Make a plan to get a few healthy options to eat for at least the next twenty-four hours. Consider what makes you feel healthy and tastes delicious. If you are lost about healthy options, there are plenty of online resources to help you.
3. Exercise every day
Consider your day; are you mostly mobile or sedentary? Relax, this is not a time to start running marathons.
However, you do need to notice how often your body gets to enjoy movement and if these movements are varied. You may have a very active schedule that keeps you running all day but never affords the time to stretch or rest.
You may be seated in a car or office all day and need to move more overall. Check in with your body. What would feel just a bit better?
Look at the small physical shifts your body needs in the next twenty-four hours. These may include but are not limited to:
- Taking short walk breaks to stretch your legs
- Moving your spine with gentle side bends, twists, arches, and forward folds
- Resting with your back on the floor and your legs up the wall
- Dancing to your favorite song.
What is your body missing, and what feels right when you pay attention? Add an attainable amount of these changes in small increments to your waking hours. Set an alarm and make them happen.
Trust yourself, breathe, and just move gently.
4. Spend some time outside every day
How much time do you spend outside? Notice when you will be outside and where you will be. Some days my “outside” time is only in the car. While the view may be lovely, it really doesn’t cut it for calming my stress.
If this is true for you, look at how, if, and when you are spending time outside.
Perhaps you work outside all day. If so, notice if you’re present to the air and any nature around you. If you live mostly indoors, set aside any small moments to be outside with awareness.
Even if you feel silly, being outside is good for your stressed nervous system. Notice that tree in your office lawn; touch it and see if there is anything living in or around it.
Get your feet in the grass; feel the warmth or cool of the Earth. Breathe the air and imagine being in the clouds. Walking to your car in the city? Find any evidence of life and take it in.
There are a million ways to connect with nature. Nature reminds you that you’re held and nourished. Nature offers perspective and beauty. Don’t short yourself of this essential secret.
No matter what creates stress in your daily living, these basics will help you.
Each day you can repeat your twenty-four-hour plan. You can return to it when you lose your way. With time, these forgotten natural secrets will feel natural again.
Your body will regain trust in you, and as your mind perceives this trust, you will feel more confident and capable in all you do and naturally feel less anxiety.