Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Depression: the Importance of Self Care
If you have every had a panic attack, you know that afterwards you feel exhausted. The same is true for chronic anxiety and stress. If we do not take enough time to rest and take care of ourselves, the downward cycle continues.
Self care is fundamental for reducing anxiety, panic attacks, stress and depression.
The Stress Response
When we feel anxious or have a panic attack, this activates our body’s stress response. The stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response, is our survival mechanism. It is activated in situations of (perceived) threat and produces a set of physical symptoms, like an accelerated heart rate, altered breathing pattern and tension.
Our Thoughts can Trigger the Stress Response
The thoughts in our mind can trigger the stress response in the same way an actual threat does. This means that, when we think about a threatening situation, for example the loss of a job or the death of a loved-one, the stress response is activated in our body, mind and emotions.
Chronic Stress Wears us Out
If many of our thoughts are threat-centered, we experience chronic stress. This stress wears us out and takes a toll on our body and mind.
After a long day of work, or an intense work-out, we need sufficient rest to recover. The same is true for panic attacks and periods of chronic anxiety.
How to Support Ourselves through Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Depression
When we are exhausted from having too much stress, anxiety or frequent panic attacks, it helps to be kind to ourselves. We can create circumstances and behaviors that are supportive and that replenish our energies.
Many techniques to soothe anxiety, panic attacks and feelings of depression are very simple. These are a couple of practical tips that can bring relieve.
Always Make Sure Your Feet are Warm
Maybe this sounds like a trivial thing, but really, it is one of the simplest things you can do to instantly feel better. There were times I felt very depressed, and all it took to comfort me, was a hot water bottle underneath my feet, some thick woolen socks or a blanket.
If we constrict our breath, emotions tend to get stuck. Whenever you think of it, slowly inhale to your belly, and exhale with a sigh through your mouth. This breathing pattern allows emotions to move through. For more instructions on how to use the breath to alleviate anxiety and panic attacks, read this article.
Create a Steady Sleep-Wake Cycle
Paying attention to our circadian rhythm is fundamental to reducing anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Having an irregular sleep-wake rhythm can be linked to feelings of anxiety, panic attacks and depression. So, try to go to bed around the same time every evening, and wake up around the same time every morning.
Take a Walk
Anxiety can make us feel ungrounded, as if we have lost contact with our legs and feet. Walking stimulates our feet, blood circulation and breathing pattern, and helps us to reconnect to our body. It makes us feel more grounded, more stable, and it helps our mind to calm down.
We usually associate the word comfort food with unhealthy options like pizza, ice cream or chocolate. However, after eating these products we do not always feel so good! Luckily, there are many healthy ways of comforting ourselves through food as well.
First of all, try to eat your meals at regular times. Rhythm works soothing. This way, our body is prepared for the food and digestion is optimal.
Some healthy food options that have a soothing effect: warm oats with raisins, banana, cinnamon and seeds; wholegrain rice with coconut oil and freshly stir-fried vegetables; a cup of warm (vegetable) milk; a cup of chamomile tea.
Some of the key words for comforting foods are: warm, naturally sweet (not sugary sweet) and satisfying.
Eliminate Stressful Stimuli
Everything we watch, listen to, breathe, eat or drink has an effect on us. Try to figure out which things, activities or people drain your energy.
For example, I stopped watching the news because it made me feel depressed. I stopped watching certain series or movies because they made me feel empty afterwards. I also stopped drinking alcohol, because the toxic effect drained my energy.
A good indicator for the effect of something, is to ask yourself: How do I feel after doing/watching/drinking this? If the answer is ‘bad’ or ‘tired’ or ’empty’, than maybe eliminate this particular thing or behavior from your daily activities.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Consciously practice relaxation. The more often you practice relaxing, the more it will be wired into your system. Try some of the exercises I post on this blog, or go to a gentle hatha yoga class (restorative yoga or yoga nidra are also good options), tai chi class or receive a massage from somebody you feel comfortable with.