Holistic Approach to Anxiety: Get Back The Reins of Life In Your Hands

By Sejal Shah

Feeling depressed and lonely with anxiety? There’re many ways to manage anxiety beyond medications. Find out a holistic approach to anxiety relief.

Your heart is beating fast, your breathing is shallow and rapid, your body is restless and fidgety, your mind is imagining the worst. You're anxious, worried, freaked out and you wish you could just relax…now! Whether you have a so-called anxiety disorder or are just freaking out, taking medication is only one of many treatment options. The good news is that there are many safe alternatives for relieving anxiety, from mind-body techniques to spirituality to healthy eating to calming teas. Some of these start working right away, while others may take some more time to lessen anxiety. But all are worth considering.

Recent studies suggest that about half of the people who suffer from anxiety and depression use some kind of holistic therapy to help with their symptoms. A holistic approach focuses on treating your whole being — body-mind-spirit — to help you feel better. Let us understand the holistic therapy options available and see how you can get benefit out of these. 

Self-awareness is the key

Before we go any further, please take some time to understand what is anxiety, what are the symptoms of anxiety, how it affects you, and take a self-reflection test here. This will help you identify the triggers and improve your self-awareness. This is a very important step for managing anxiety and stress. 

Some anxiety is normal. It is part and parcel of our hectic lifestyles. Anxiety is not always bad, in fact, it makes you aware of the danger, helps you to stay organized, and be prepared against risks. But when anxiety becomes a daily struggle and turns into a mental health disorder it is time to address the problem before it gets worse. If not checked at the right time, anxiety may greatly impact the overall quality of your life. Take charge, discuss with your health care provider and try some of the safe holistic options below:

1. Stretch, exercise, and stay active

Regular exercise is good for your physical as well as emotional and mental health. According to a Harvard study, moving your body decreases muscle tension and tightness in the body. As your body relaxes, you feel better and less anxious. Engaging in exercise diverts you from the very thing you are anxious about. Here are some yoga poses that can help you calm down. You can also try yoga therapy for anxiety relief.

Relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation and guided SAHC are also a great way to relax your tense body. Lie down in a comfortable position and slowly start contracting and relaxing each muscle group, beginning with the toes and working up to the shoulders, jaw, and face. You can experience the magic of guided SAHC on a Sri Sri Yoga Deep Dive Retreat.

2. Yoga of hand gestures: Try yoga mudra

Practice these hand gestures or yoga mudras regularly to find anxiety relief at your fingertips. Gyan Mudra, Kalesvara Mudra, Uttarabodhi Mudra, Apan Vayu Mudra, and Agni Shakti Mudra are the top 5 yoga mudras that can help, learn from this video.

3. Quit alcohol and smoking 

Drinking a glass of alcohol when your nerves are shot may numb your feelings of anxiety for the time being. But it is a proven quick fix, not a solution. Once the effect of alcohol is over, anxiety returns with a vengeance. 

Smokers often reach for a cigarette during anxious and stressful times. But just like drinking alcohol, reaching for a cigarette when you are stressed is a quick fix that may worsen anxiety over time. Nicotine reaches your brain in about 10 seconds and creates an immediate sense of relaxation through the release of the chemical dopamine. But, over time smoking encourages your brain to switch off its production of dopamine, which in turn prompts you to smoke more. And you get very badly trapped into the vicious cycle. Research also suggests nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke alter pathways in the brain linked to anxiety. 

Rather than relying on quick fixes which in many cases make the situation worse, there are alternatives which actually address the root of the problem. You will save yourself from getting trapped in the vicious cycle and being alcohol-dependent or a chain-smoker.

4. Ditch caffeine

According to Everyday Health, caffeine's jittery effects on your body are similar to those of a frightening event. That's because caffeine stimulates your “fight or flight” response, and research has shown that this can make anxiety worse and can even trigger an anxiety attack.

Other research suggests that while caffeine can increase alertness, attention, and cognitive function, overdoing it can increase anxiety, particularly in people with panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. 

5. Get enough sleep

Insomnia is a common symptom of anxiety. And deep sleep may help reduce anxiety. According to Medical News Today,  a new study strengthens and quantifies this causal relation and shows that a sleepless night can raise anxiety by up to 30%.

These sleep hygiene habits could be very helpful:

  • Limit the use of blue-light devices in the last hour before bed, such as cell phones and computers

  • Avoid any caffeinated drinks after 3 or 4 pm

  • Keep your bed neat and clean

  • Follow your body’s circadian rhythm

  • Allow some fresh air to circulate in your room

  • Wear comfortable pajamas like cotton that are breathable

  • Write a gratitude journal or say your prayers before bed

6. Eat healthily 

According to Harvard, working toward a well-balanced diet with adequate fruits, vegetables, whole grains proteins, and healthy fats, and drinking 8-10 glasses of water every day remains a good recommendation for those who struggle with anxiety. Avoiding processed foods and foods high in sugar means the body experiences fewer highs and lows of blood sugar, which helps to further reduce feelings of anxiety. Very simply put, a sugar rush can mimic a panic attack. According to recent research, herbal tea like Chamomile tea is also very helpful. 

7. Get spiritual

Here are some spiritual ways you can manage your anxiety:

  • Sing, dance, and celebrate. The very intention to celebrate will pull you away from anxiety to a more harmonious state

  • Pray, have faith and surrender to the higher power, and know that there is a supreme power who loves you and accepts you totally. This will bring a total sense of security

  • Journal your thoughts to observe negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones

  • Remind yourself of the big picture and the impermanence of everything

  • Readiness to face the worst will leave you with stability in the mind

  • Get rooted in the reality that you are not just this body, or mind, or emotions. The more we can be rooted in this reality and we become witness to the actions, the thoughts, and emotions, the less we get affected by them.

8. Practice deep breathing

You may have noticed that whenever you are anxious, you do shallow, fast breathing. This may in turn lead to a fast heart rate, dizziness or lightheadedness, or even a panic attack. Deep breathing exercises that include the deliberate process of taking slow, even, deep breaths can help restore normal breathing patterns and reduce anxiety. Watch these videos and learn Straw breathing, Ujjayi (or Ocean) breathing. They can come in very handy when you are panicked.

9. Meditate regularly

The practice of meditation helps lessen chaotic thoughts from your mind and replace them with a sense of calm and mindfulness of the present moment. Meditation is known for relieving stress and anxiety. Research from John Hopkins suggests 30 minutes of daily meditation may alleviate some anxiety symptoms and act as an antidepressant.

Research on the SKY Breath Meditation backs its practice for anxiety. Professor Ronnie Newman, a Harvard-trained, award-winning researcher explains in this video, how SKY significantly helps with anxiety. 

SKY Breath Meditation (aka Sudarshan Kriya) is one of the most powerful and effective tools available for overcoming chronic anxiety. Over 60 independent studies on four continents have been published in peer-reviewed journals, demonstrating a comprehensive range of benefits.

How to learn SKY Breath Meditation?

The Art of Living Foundation offers online as well as in-person courses where you can learn SKY from a well-trained and experienced instructor.

Join our free online intro session—Beyond Breath, and try a breathing exercise and guided meditation and see how it calms your mind. You will also get an opportunity to interact with the instructor to have all your questions answered about SKY Breath Meditation. 

Bottom line

If you’re feeling anxious, be open to trying the above ideas, they may help calm you down. Remember, these natural alternatives may help ease anxiety but seek professional help and get proper guidance. Higher levels of anxiety may require therapy or prescription medication. Talk to your health care provider about your concerns. Yet at any point in time, know and believe that anxiety relief is possible and in many easy ways than you thought of. Wish you the best!

Sejal Shah, E-RYT 500 Sri Sri Yoga Teacher, YACEP, C-IAYT, Meditation Teacher, SKY Instructor, NYU Post Graduate Medical School approved Yoga-CME retreat facilitator, Mind-Body Wellness Writer, Homeopath. She can be followed on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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