We all know how debilitating anxiety can be. When sombody suffers from intense anxiety it can cause breathing to become difficult, your heart races and your body starts to shake.
Anxiety can hold us back and stop us living the life we want. Worse still, if you live your life in a state of constant anxiety, over time this can have a major impact on your health.
Studies have shown that anxiety can be a factor (at least in part) in many illnesses, including gut illnesses such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and Crohn’s disease.
The gut contains over 100 million neurons and is sometimes referred to as the second brain. It has its own way of processing emotions and when people are under high levels of stress, they will often feel tension around the gut area. Sometimes when this feeling has become constant for a long period of time, they may even stop noticing it, but it’s still affecting the body’s ability to work efficiently.
Imagine having the part of your body that processes your food being constantly restricted, tight and knotted up. Think about what that could do to your physical health even after just a few days. Yet some people have been carrying this intense feeling in the stomach for many years and yet haven’t given any thought to why they have the health problems they do.
So what can you do to change your anxiety and help improve your health?
The first thing of course is to consult a doctor or better still, get several doctor’s viewpoints on your condition.
Next, take a look at your life stresses. What do you experience on a daily basis that cause you to feel stressed and how many of those factors can you simply stop doing and remove from your life?
Now look at the factors you cannot just remove and look at how you can change the meaning you are giving these events.
- Does this stress I’m creating serve me?
- What meaning do I give it?
- What could I do differently to lessen this?
You can also minimise the emotion you link to these events through self-soothing techniques. One of my favourite ways of doing this is EFT or Tapping, as described in last month’s article on overcoming fear of flying.
Next examine your eating habits. Keep a food diary and do a little research into foods that help reduce your anxiety and increase them in your diet. Then look at foods that exacerbate your anxiety and remove or reduce them, (caffeine is a great example). It might be worth talking with a nutritionist for help on this too.
Look at your exercise routine, or think about starting one if your life is quite sedentary. Moving your body can remove tension and can relieve stress.
Running is a great form of exercise and something that is accessible to most people. When somebody is stressed, their primitive brain response is active and they are working on the survival mode. This means the flight, fight or freeze response comes into play. Running provides you with a way to release the chemical build up from the flight response and it’s also brilliant for clearing the mind and providing space to think.
It’s also worth creating a daily practise to relax. Taking time each day to become aware of yourself and your emotions can have a large impact on reducing your anxiety too.
Activities like Yoga or Tia Chi, or practising mindfulness or meditation processes are really popular for calming and centring the mind and while modern life can lead to stress, we also live in an age of apps and devices that can help with mediation and mindfulness too. Your practise could be as simple as taking the time to take deep breaths whenever you have a spare moment or focusing on what you’re grateful for each day.
One of my other favourite processes for quick relaxation combines both of these ideas, which comes from research from the Institute of Heart Math.
Simply cross your hands and place them over your heart, then breathe in for the count of 5 and out for the count of 5 slowly and evenly, imagining the oxygen filling up your heart as you breathe. Repeat this for a few minutes focusing on three things you are grateful for, three things that make you happy and three things that makes you feel relaxed.
It’s common for people suffering from stomach problems to have a lot of unexpressed emotions such as guilt or anger.
One of my go to processes with clients for releasing these emotions is Time Line Therapy, which looks at how the mind stores emotions, and this can help a client let go of emotions from events in their past that are causing them stress.
For this process, I’d recommend consulting an experienced practitioner who is trained to facilitate and guide you through this.
If you are suffering from anxiety based illnesses, try some of my suggestions above, take back some control and notice what improvements you can make to your life.
Until next time, happy health.