To be honest, sometimes it’s easier to have a panic attack because getting calm takes too much work. It’s so easy to cast my problems onto things that I declare triggering. From receiving an email from my boss to being in a crowded room, my anxiety becomes rooted in something tangible. It let takes less effort reflecting my anxiety onto the outside world than having to ask my Self, “why does this moment make me feel this way?”
I have been living with anxiety since I was a child, it’s embedded in my DNA. Over the years I have done many things to ease my reactions to everyday life. I even gave my Self an eating disorder in high school because I felt like I needed to have control over something. During high school and college, I struggled with “addictions” to working out, dieting, and binge eating. I was always craving control in my physical realm because emotionally I felt disconnected from my Self.
In 2019, the conversion around mental health became more public on social media. There was a rise in articles about anxiety and how to ease it, and trust me, I read all of them. From research articles from Harvard Medical to Q&A’s on Goop, nothing felt truly aware of what it was like to struggle with the everyday. So I decided to take dedicate 2019 to learning as much as I can about anxiety and different wellbeing tools. And I am ready to share my journey with you!
What Is Anxiety?
The medical definition of anxiety is “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.” Anxiety is rooted in our ancestral nature to always be aware of a threat in order to survive. Sheryl Paul, the author of The Wisdom of Anxiety, has a wonderful way of describing this state of being, “Anxiety causes you to travel out of your heart and into the safe chambers of our mind.” She also says, “Anxiety is the soul’s way of communicating that something is awry, out of balance, or needs attention…anxiety is both the wound in the messenger.”
Daily Rituals for Working With Anxiety
Note: anxiety will never go away, it’s a part of the human experience. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to work with it, taking it out of the driver’s seat, and placing it in the passengers, so that you can navigate life together.
This is an active form of meditation that takes you out of your mind and into your body through breath. I started practicing breathwork after finding mediation not as effective for my physical symptoms of anxiety: gas, cramps, clenched of muscles and raised heartbeat. Breathwork became a tool that I could excess before, during, and after an episode. I came across one of my favorite practices when listening to the MindBodyGreen podcast with featured guest, certified breathwork teacher Gwen Dittmar. During the interview she talked about a simple breathing technique that could be done anywhere and anytime, I was intrigued, it was called the 4-7-8.
- Inhale through the nose for 4 counts.
- Hold for 7 counts.
- Exhale through the nose for 8 counts.
I love doing this cycle first thing in the morning, during your shower, before a meeting, and throughout the day. It’s something you can do around others and they won’t even know you are doing it! I have noticed a difference when I do the 4-7-8 breath, my body becomes grounded and I am able to ease the tension in my stomach and chest. Breathwork is growing in popularity and more techniques are becoming mainstream. With my interest heightened, I signed up for a breathwork class at Chill Meditation in Chicago. I am excited to dive deeper to this world of breath, gaining new insights on how I can utilize the power within me to heal.
Now, you may have read this title and wanted to skip it but trust me, this is the one you need to try! The first time I came across the rituals of cold showers was in Invincible Living by Guru Jagat. I found it interesting but I wasn’t ready to try it. But then I watched Goop Lab on Netflix (ep.3 Cold Comfort) and ignited a need to get colder. The episode focused on the Dutch Iceman, Wif Hof, who created a method centered around cold therapy and intense breathing. He taught that vulnerability is a strength and that “we are the alchemists of our own bodies.” In many ways the cold is teaching your body and mind to embrace what is uncomfortable, to discover you are capable of using your breath to create your own sense of calm.
After watching the show I did tons of research surrounding the benefits of cold showers and I came across an honest video by Nathaniel Drew. He did a mini-doc on what it’s like to take cold showers for 30 days and he gave the best advice: start off with lukewarm water and every 30 seconds slowly turn to cold.
“Proper exposure to the cold starts a cascade of health benefits, including reduced inflammation that facilitates a fortified immune system, balanced hormone levels, improved sleep quality, and the production of endorphins— the feel-good chemicals in the brain that naturally elevate your mood.”
My first day taking the cold shower was very hard, I only lasted less than a minute before I was wrapped in a towel. So I decided to refocus and make it more into a morning ritual than a challenge. I bought a mint eucalyptus body wash to only use during my cold showers and created a calming playlist.
After waking up, I did light stretching and breathwork and made my way into my shower, visualizing a waterfall as I stepped into the lukewarm water. It didn’t tale long for my skin to adjust, with my eyes cold, I slowly decreased the temperature, soaking it in with every deep breath. With the smell of my body washing and the sound of Viking drums in the background, two minutes passed and I wrapped up again in my towel. It’s been over a month and I now take my cold shower for 5-6 minutes every morning.
It takes time to get used to the comforting coldness, you feel awakened, calm, and grounded into your body. In many ways, it’s like winter, there’s a beauty to the chill.