How to reduce anxiety naturally
Updated: Apr 9
Anxiety is at its root a sense of fear – a completely normal, natural response of our bodies to keep us safe, the problem is when it becomes more chronic, and impacts our lives negatively, the good news is that there are many things you can do to help reduce your anxiety naturally.
What is anxiety?
Understanding anxiety from the Traditional Chinese and East Asian Model of Medicine. (TCEAM)
It always helps me to understand the whys of things so before we dive into the hows let’s explore the whys..
Our nervous system is hard wired to keep us alive. Over our evolution as humans ,we have developed a an emotional system that acts as a signal to say whether we are safe. The ‘nicer’ feelings (empathy, love, happiness) help us to connect to others to create a bond that helps to keep us safe, anger helps us know that life isn’t as we expect it and fear is there to keep us safe. I believe that sometimes we get stuck in an inner conflict between our primal, ‘lizard’ brain and our more evolved frontal cortex/human consciousness, with these two parts of ourselves at odds. The good news is that recently they have discovered the brain is highly adaptive – that we can retrain it and it will create new pathways in response to changed behaviour, habits and thoughts, it is called neuroplasticity - so an old dog can learn new tricks!
Have you seen the film Inside Out – its fab wee kids film that describes the purpose of emotions so well.. and fear is very much about helping us not die! There is safety in the known, even if its actually wrong, that fear part of us believes that anything new is to be feared, because it doesn’t know if its safe or not.
We are not taught in our current modern society how to deal with emotions, we are discouraged from expressing them, from reacting to them, but rather we are taught to distract ourselves, sooth ourselves, avoid expressing the feelings or to bury them deep down.
The TCEAM model of emotional health conversely argues that we should express our emotions (appropriately) when we feel them and that allows us to process them and move on with life without holding on to that feeling.
Feel your feelings
In the workshop below I use the example of a toddler, having an absolute raging screaming fit in the shops because they didn’t get XYZ toy or whatever it was they wanted – yet look at them 10-15 minutes later and it's like it never happened, they are back to their normal selves. The belief is that we need no more than 7 minutes to express said feeling, to feel and release it. I appreciate that as adults we can't realistically have a tantrum in the shops as a toddler does, but we can acknowledge what we feel, express it with a frustrated grunt, sigh, take a moment to breathe deeply and then THINK about why we are feeling that way – emotions are trying to tell us something, we need to learn to listen.
Chronic anxiety is a maladaptive behaviour and thought pattern: with heightened fear and worry.
Our bodies and brains can get locked into unhealthy patterns, usually in response to life events and our ability to cope and express those feelings. No two people are the same, we haven’t had the same upbringing, the same experiences, education, friendships, relationships etc, all these things influence us and affect our ability to ‘cope’ with life – that’s why some folks seem to cope with ease while others find the ‘same’ experience very traumatic.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders in the western model of medicine is subdivided into a few categories: from Generalised anxiety disorder, Panic Disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobia related disorders
They all contain some of the signs and symptoms listed below
How you can reduce your anxiety naturally
The good news is that we can relearn, we can change and take back control of both our physical and mental health. Good health in TCEAM is that interaction between all aspects of our life – how we rest, what we consume both in terms of food and fluids, but the air we breathe, the tv/books/podcasts we consume, what movement we do, how we protect ourselves from the external environment.
For some, medication is a possible answer, from SSRIs (although please note there is no evidence to suggest that there is a change in brain chemistry), to beta blockers to sleeping pills to hormone replacement therapy. Whilst these can help mask the symptoms they don’t help to treat the root, and we learned, during my psychology degree, that SSRI’s in particular are only helpful to lift a person enough to then seek other forms of treatment, e.g. a talking therapy.
Talking therapies are a wonderful way to explore what has happened in your past and help you process current thoughts and feelings as well as learning tools to cope e.g. CBT, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy – it is important to find someone you can trust and feel safe with.
How to naturally reduce anxiety instantly.
Workshop to help you reduce anxiety naturally.
Breathe work to reduce anxiety naturally
The breath can be used as a communication with your body – so many of us breathe very shallowly, especially when feeling anxious, which our body interprets as unsafe.. so to tell it your safe take deep breathes, make the out breathe the same length as the in breathe.
There are many breathing techniques out there, from simply counting your breathe (a wonderful mindfulness technique), a yoga technique where you cover one nostril and inhale then swap nostril to exhale..
My favourite is the box breathe
Seperate your breathe into the 4 component parts the in breathe, the space between the in and out, the out breathe and the space/pause/hold between the in and out breathe..
Take the time to count to 4 (or whatever number suits you!) while you breathe in, then hold that breathe for the same count, then exhale for the same number and finally hold again for the same number..
And repeat this 4 part breathe for up to 5 minutes.
Mindset tools to help reduce anxiety naturally
Separate yourself from the thoughts: YOU are NOT your thoughts, reframing to create some space between you and the thoughts: rather than I AM anxious – I am having an anxious thought/moment… or perhaps you can reframe as excited rather than anxious
Will it matter?
Will it matter in 5 years: Quite a simple question to ask yourself – whatever it is that you are anxious about, struggling to make a decision, struggling with going out? public toilets etc.. whatever it is.. will the action required actually matter in 5 years? More often than not I find NO is the answer – say you take a job… hate it?? Get a new one!, had to use a public toilet to empty your bowels – will you see those folks again – and even if you do.. does anyone really care that someone else needs used the toilet for its intended purpose..
This is a great mindfulness tool, where you focus on your immediate surrounds and create the list as detailed below. This helps to interrupt the primal, lizard brain response that is creating the feelings of panic, or anxiety, and helps to calm us.
Your aim is to list 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can hear and 1 thing you can taste (not that I am recommending you starting tasting things that are perhaps not the most sanitary or indeed edible!)
This is similar to will it matter in 5 years – but this time asking yourself ‘so what’, consider the worst case scenarios and what that would mean to your life.
For example, you have IBS and need to use the toilet to empty your bowels but your not at home. This gives you choices, you can try hold it and possibly having an accident, which then means travelling home with soiled clothing.. so what – you can get home and shower, clean/bin the clothes, perhaps you have to use public transport to get home? Some random strangers might smell you… .. OR you need to use a public toilet and might well stink it out – SO WHAT? Again some random stranger smells you, but will you ever see them again?
Turning the table - what if it was your friend?
Asking yourself how YOU would feel about a friend doing whatever that thing is – e.g. your friend has to use your toilet, how would you feel? Would you never speak to your friend again? Would they be unwelcome in your home? Would you end your friendship?? (only you can answer that, but I know for me, it wouldn't matter to me in the slightest - id rather they used my toilet than run home or be physically uncomfortable or have an accident!)
A wonderful way to release trapped feelings: video link here!
Coaching: find someone who specialises in whatever it is that your anxious about and they can help you learn a huge variety of techniques and tools to let go of your current thoughts/limiting beliefs to help free you from your anxiety.
Acupressure to help relieve anxiety naturally
My favourite points: all discussed in detail in the workbook and video describing how to find them and how they can help you.
Heart 7: helps to calm the mind, release trapped emotions and generally sooths us.
Stomach 36: fantastically nourishing point that also grounds us.
Gall Bladder 15: helps you see that other options are out there.
Yin Tang: between the eyebrows, helps to calm us and see other options, its also helpful for hormone balancing.
Using food to reduce anxiety naturally
First thing to say is that ensuring biodiversity in the gut microme will help your mental (and physical) health. Recent research shows that up to 80% of your serotonin (happy hormone) is made in the gut. Thanks to anti-biotics and our farming practices we have successfully killed off much of that diversity. Supplements are a great way to go but you can also eat foods that will help
Fermented foods to improve biodiversity
Live yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, sourdough bread, dhokla, Idli and Dosa, some pickles (not those pickled in vinegar with sugar salt and spices), tempeh, natto, SOME cheese: e.g. gouda, mozzarella, cheddar and cottage cheese (but do check the food label to for ‘live and active cultures’).
Foods that help to calm the Shen and reduce anxiety naturally.
Whole wheat, brown rice and oats, all mushrooms, cucumber, celery, lettuce, mulberries and lemons, cow and goat milk (warm before bed), ghee, oyster shell, jujube seeds, dill, basil, herbs that can be brewed as tea: chamomile, catnip, skullcap, Valerian, Arnica flower, gingko, Melissa, rosemary, skullcap tea, sage, St. Johns wart, rose, oat, ginseng, jasmine, blueberry, basil (herbs can be brewed as teas or added to meals to help absorb their benefits in an easy way.
Anxiety is a natural feeling created in our bodies to keep us safe and something we all feel at some time, but it becomes a problem when it starts to interfere with our day to day life, creating avoidance of certain things, eg. socialising, or procrastination and affects our health with palpitations, shallow breathing, poor digestion, insomnia. The good news is that we can naturally reduce our anxiety with a variety of tools, I'd recommend getting comfortable with at least 2/3 of the options I've mentioned above, and then build from there.
Also know that you can seek extra help, we offer a variety of treatments that might suit you: massage, acupuncture or cupping and are all useful to help reduce anxiety naturally, but of course speak to your GP, or seek out professional help from a talking therapist or coach if you feel you need some extra support.