Being anxious, stressed, and depressed takes us away from the present moment. Our minds become lost in a hasty whirlwind of troubles, doubts, and insecurities. The lizard brain (as Seth Godin calls it) takes over, and we feel helpless.
Anxiety manifests itself in many ways. Many times it’s in our heads. Often though, it’s physically built up in our bodies (requiring manual extraction).
After years of research, I have discovered excellent strategies that lower anxiety, stress, and depression without drugs. Drugs only mask the problem, and never asses the root cause. In no particular order, here they are:
Change Your Environment.
Before we treat the symptoms of stress, let’s look at the causes: If your job stresses you out, or your relationships with people are toxic on a consistent basis, you soul is telling you to pay attention because something isn’t working out. Neurosis, as Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung has described, occurs due to a failure to adapt to the current demands of life. Some people may say that it’s “impossible” to change what they’re doing, of which I empathize with your difficult situation. It is tough. However, cynical thinking isn’t going to get you anywhere. Unless you have a severe physical disability that hospitalizes you, you are capable of making positive change in your life–if you care enough.
Examine Your Locus of Control.
Are you constantly attributing your emotional state to external factors or blaming others? Do you take credibility for your faults or brush them off? In Charles Duhigg’s book “Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity “ a study suggests people who have internal locuses of control, i.e. those that believe events in their life are caused by factors they can control–are significantly less depressed, happier, and more productive.
Meditation and Mindful Awareness.
With practice and effort, you can change your neural networks and become more buoyant in life and less reactive. Bringing attention to the physical sensations and thought processes in your body is absolutely imperative for understanding yourself and how you are feeling. Our minds store dense tension and are distracted by excessive technology use. Taking just 10 minutes to meditate a day can help drastically. (Headspace is a free app you can download which teaches you how to mediate. Highly recommend it). Alan Watt’s has an excellent perspective on the dangers of excessive thinking:
Excerpt from a Psychology Today article states: “Exercise not only increases blood flow to the brain, it releases endorphins, the body’s very own natural antidepressant. It also releases other neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which lift mood.” Running just 10 minutes a day, and throwing in a few push ups, sit ups, and weights can significantly boost your mood. Walking in nature is also extremely good for lowering stress.
Stretching & Yoga:
I’ve found stress tends builds up in my body, especially the chest and neck regions. If you consider the weight the body carries around , this accumulates years worth of tension in the muscles and joints. At first you may resist stretching all the way because it may feel overwhelming. Do it anyway. That feeling is your body releasing immense tension. Afterwards you will feel incredibly relaxed and lighter. YouTube fitness trainer Eliot Hulse has demonstrated a –hands down– excellent exercise called the “Bow” that opens up your entire respiratory airways:
Soak Up Some Sun.
The sun has magical effects on the soul. Nobody says they’re stressed out laying on the beach, do they?! The sun’s warmth and energy nurtures the soul, produces vitamin D, and lowers cortisol, the stress hormone. In all seriousness, I can’t emphasize how important it is to get outside and bask in the sun whenever possible. To learn more about lowering cortisol (stress), Dr. Eric Berg explains in this video:
Herbal teas have been shown to act as effective nootropics and aid with mood regulation. Kava root is excellent for anxiety. A Cochrane systematic review concluded it was likely to be more effective than placebo at treating short-term anxiety. St John’s Wort has been shown to raise serotonin and act as an antidepressant for many users. L-Theanine helps promote alpha brainwaves (a more trance like state) associated with calmness, creativity, and lucidity. From the subreddit “Nootropics” here is a list of many other natural cognitive enhancers.
Hydrotherapy and Heat Therapy:
From Psychology Today: “Applying water of different temperatures to our skin can change our physiology and mood. When humans take a cold swim…it is usually very invigorating…it also reflexively bathes the brain and vital organs in fresh blood. This movement will bring nutrition, oxygen and also help gently detoxify the area.” Hydrotherapy is incredibly helpful. I’ve found by swimming in a cold river or taking a cold shower I felt immediately relaxed and no longer stressed. As for heat therapy, if you can find a sauna nearby your home, I recommend giving it a try.
Massages release tension in the muscles and are ultra relaxing. If you can afford them, I would regularly get them once a month.
Eat for Nutrition, and Only When You Are Hungry:
Minimize unnecessary sugars and carbohydrates. Drink more water. You will build your willpower the more you resist unhealthy foods and feel more in control of yourself. Intermittent fasting (eating only when you are hungry) lowers cortisol and increases growth hormone (which is anti-aging). Eating dark green leaves and vegetables like kale are excellent for the mind. I feel absolutely amazing when I eat solely for nutrition. Here is a list of some foods that are wonderful for your mental health.
Get enough rest.
7-9 hours. Rest has a significant effect on our chemical balances, mood, and energy. It helps us think clearly and rationally. Prioritize this as #1 before anything else on this list.
Talk to Someone Positive.
At the end of the day, the quality of our relationships with people matter. Talk to someone you can open up to and exchange perspectives. Set aside time and do this regularly.
Listen to Music:
Certain songs can connect with the emotional state we are in and be quite a cathartic outlet. Music can elevate mood, boost dopamine and oxytocin (a hormone associated with trust, intimacy and comfort). It can even elevate neuroplasticity by aiding the listener’s brain in finding alternate pathways to memories, emotions, and even physical systems such as speech. I recommend reading this excellent article to learn more about the effects of sound on the brain’s health.
Actively Improve & Invest in Yourself:
Only you can change you. I discuss the importance of belief in my previous article, The Beauty of Neuroplasticity. So go forth, and be the change you want to see.