It’s common knowledge that anxiety is more prevalent today than ever before. In fact, one study notes that one-third of all US adults will be affected by an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
We live in a world of constantly streaming information and answers at our fingertips. Life’s worries follow us wherever we go, making it increasingly difficult to practice mindfulness and self-care. In this article, we examine holistic remedies to help combat anxious thoughts.
As humans, we are meant to be moving every day—preferably outside, under natural light, connected with nature. The piezoelectric fascia, or connective tissue, is a webbing that supports our muscles, organs, and various other structures throughout the body. Through movement, we actually stimulate electron flow in this fascia, subsequently creating energy that helps release stagnant energy, tension, and stress.
This doesn’t mean you need to push your body intensely every day but rather make it a priority to get in some form of movement, even if it’s only a short walk through your neighborhood. The more we stay stagnant, the tighter our muscles become and the more anxiety we are likely to feel. One study even found that, on average, those who exercised regularly reported a twenty percent reduction in anxiety versus those who did not partake in physical movement.
the vagus nerve
The vagus nerve is one of the longest and most important nerves in the body, connecting our brain to important organs like the heart, lungs, and gut. This nerve helps aid digestion, lower heart rate, manage fear, modulate the stress response, decrease inflammation, and much more.
Our vagal tone determines the activity and strength of the nerve, which is a key component to the parasympathetic nervous system. A high vagal tone indicates an efficient stress response, whereas a low vagal tone suggests that the vagus nerve is less active and the nervous system is dysregulated, which can cause heightened anxiety, stress, and depression.
A considerable component to improving your resilience against anxiety is by improving your vagal tone. A few ways to maintain this nerve can be through deep belly breathing exercises, vocalizations (humming, singing, or chanting), and eating mindfully—slowing down and chewing your food thoroughly, consuming meals under natural light if possible.
These types of practices can help move the nervous system from a sympathetic state, which is associated with the fight-or-flight response, to a peaceful parasympathetic state.
In modern society, a significant portion of the population experiences dysregulation of cortisol, often stemming from disrupted circadian rhythms. Many now find themselves staying up late, engrossed in their digital devices, and not getting enough sun exposure throughout the day.
Prolonged exposure to excessive stress and elevated cortisol levels are both strongly associated with the development of anxiety and restlessness. Those with high cortisol levels may exhibit such signs as difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, delayed hunger (sometimes into the afternoon), and trouble falling asleep at night.
From a biological perspective, we can use the sun to help balance our cortisol levels. When you wake up in the morning—before reaching for your phone—open a window to expose your eyes and skin to natural light. Additionally, aim to have breakfast within the first hour of waking. Upon waking, our bodies typically experience a surge in cortisol. Skipping breakfast or immediately exposing yourself to blue light can prolong this cortisol surge, forcing your body to rely on it.
Studies have found that spending time outside is ten times more effective than indoor activities for encouraging neurogenesis in the brain (the process of developing new nerve cells) and shifting away from anxious patterns. Visiting a new park, lake, or forest can be a great way to achieve this. When we explore with a sense of joy and playfulness, it can be highly beneficial in fostering new neural pathways and gradually replacing anxious ones.
Pay attention to the way you breathe. Often, shallow breathing is an inherent safety mechanism that the body purposely enacts to release tension and lower anxiety (similar to breathing into a paper bag to calm down). Prolonged shallow breathing, however, can cause distress to our bodies as it constantly suppresses anxiety and tension.
Practicing breathwork and focusing on deep breathing help activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which aids in returning the body to a relaxed state. Breathwork can be practiced daily and is often considered another form of meditation.
It is important to note that, while these practices can help alleviate anxiety symptoms, none can inherently prevent them. Since we are human, it is impossible to completely block out all worry, stress, and anxiety: it is simply a part of life. Disorders arise, however, when anxiety becomes the main driver in our life, inhibiting us from living our fullest.
Though the information in this article may feel a bit overwhelming, a helpful way to incorporate these practices into your routine is by using the two-percent rule: Ask yourself, “How can I become two percent better today?” Then, use one of the aforementioned practices to fill that space.