“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” — Charles Spurgeon
Two weekends ago, we took the kids camping for the first time. We went with three other families, and a couple of the other mothers were completely anxiety-stricken about the trip: Would the kids sleep? Would our cellphones work if something went wrong? What if we can’t figure out how to set up our tents? How do you work a camp stove?
We were only going for one night, mind you, and we were car camping — we weren’t going to be lacking for much (save non-porta-potty toilets). These well-meaning ladies knew there was nothing really to worry about. Yet they couldn’t shake their pervasive sense of dread. There were lots of late-night emails leading up to the trip. Sleeping pills were involved.
(Disclaimer: I get anxiety about lots of things — dirty bombs, making cold calls, lice, cooking meat enough to kill bacteria. I in no way mean to belittle the experience of anxiety. I know it can be very serious and debilitating. This post is about your everyday variety of anxiety.)
Anxiety and excitement are two sides of the same coin. Or, put another way, anxiety is excitement that you are willing yourself not to feel. And sadly, a lot of us feel more comfortable with gut-churning anxiety than giddiness-inducing excitement, because if you’re excited about something, it could be taken away. And then you’d feel duped and disappointed. At least with anxiety you get to say if you’re unhappy or not.
The problem is that anxiety sucks. Mentally rehearsing everything that could go wrong over and over again is not a fun way to spend your time. Tensing your muscles and your jaw in anticipation of disaster is exhausting and uncomfortable. Breathing shallowly keeps you feeling like there’s not quite enough oxygen in the air to support you. And perhaps worst of all, anxiety moves in and makes itself at home, quickly becoming a go-to reaction to anything out of the ordinary.
There are some good things about anxiety. Primarily, it’s an indication that you’re moving outside your comfort zone. And that, as this brilliant infographic that has made the rounds on Facebook illustrates, is where the magic happens.
Anxiety also means that whatever risk you’re taking is a worthy one — it means it’s time to wake up and bring your best.
But to most people it means, “Holy heck, where’s the Valium?” (Or chips. Or peanut M&Ms. Or wine. Or weed. Or whatever.) Here then are a couple of natural remedies you can try in lieu of some of these usual suspects. I’m not suggesting that all you have to do is press a magic spot on your chest and all your anxiety will magically disappear. But I am saying that doing something constructive when you feel your anxiety levels rising acknowledges the feeling (which always helps an emotion eventually move on ) and gives your body some of the things it needs to combat to the physiological reactions anxiety produces — namely, more oxygen, a shift away from the thoughts that are producing anxiety in the first place, and a little help from the relaxation response.
Here are a couple things to try:
- Sea of tranquility acupressure point. Find the tender divot in your breastbone (pretty much directly in between your boobs at nipple height) and spend 2-3 minutes pressing it with a fingertip or two, breathing naturally.
- Extended exhale breathing. Sitting somewhere quiet, inhale for 3 and exhale for 6. Aim for at least 2 minutes, gradually raising those counts (inhale for 4, exhale for 8 ) if you can do it without producing more anxiety for yourself.
- Any kind of physical activity. A walk, run, bike ride, weeding session, tennis game, rock-climb — anything that isn’t in itself anxiety-producing — no running through traffic allowed!
Got anything to add to this list? I’d love to hear about it! (Leave a comment below.)
As for our camping trip, save for some missed sleep, it went off without a hitch. On the afternoon of the second day, you could see in everyone’s body language that they were feeling more at ease. We all also had a little swagger that only comes from rising to a challenge (in this case, parenting without the conveniences of TV, toys, and night lights). We even agreed to go on another trip later in the summer — this time for two nights, and in a campground where you have to walk about three football fields to get to your site. And when I asked Lil what she liked the least about camping, she said, “When we had to go home.”