During this time of great fear and agitation in the world, perhaps it should not surprise us that the experience of anxiety has become more and more widespread – including among precious youth. The pain of anxiety, in any of its forms, can be excruciating. So, it’s understandable that there are many ways people attempt to control and manage the pain.
Additionally, there are other creative ways to start to get at the roots of this emotional pain by paying careful attention to their underlying contributors, along with gentle approaches to work skillfully with the pain as it comes up. We have found that exploring the variety of known contributors to this kind of emotional pain has also helped us find deeper healing, especially as we’ve made adjustments based on that knowledge.
Below, we summarize some of what we’ve learned about this:
1. Nutrition improvement for anxiety. There is new evidence that changes to diet alone (independent of anything else) can make a measurable difference for some facing anxiety as well – similar to depression (Check out this 2013 review article or these recommended anti-anxiety foods on the Harvard Health Blog). Additionally, a variety of different peer-reviewed articles have now confirmed the value of targeted nutritional supplementation for individuals and adults facing both anxiety.
2. Physical activity for anxiety. Studies of physical activity and anxiety have also been promising (see here for a 2013 review). There were those among us who were so intrigued that they decided to pilot a 10 week exercise intervention program which proved successful for anxiety struggles. Based on that, and along side what already works for you, we now include a certified trainer as a resource for those wishing to explore this 10 week approach.
3. Mindfulness for anxiety. Those who learn to practice mindfulness can find support in finding greater calm and peace – which is why many people have found classes like Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and groups like Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy so helpful (google these groups and classes in your area – and you’ll find one! If you can’t check out Palouse Mindfulness for an online class version there are also a ton of great mindfulness books, apps, and free practices available). Several years ago, there were those among us who organized a randomized-controlled trial of youth struggling with depression, anxiety and attention problems – with statistical confirmation that those taking the mindfulness class had reduced anxiety and depression (and improved attention) compared with the control group.
If you’d like a gentle way to get up to speed with how to work with anxiety and other painful emotions mindfully, Mindweather 101 is online course developed by mindfulness teachers with mental health expertise includes 7+ hours of guidance from 32 different mindfulness teachers, clinical researchers and therapists (see bios here) exploring a gentle, and creative approach to intense, painful emotions and dark, disturbing thoughts (click here to access a full written transcript; although the full class is available at Mindweather.org, direct links to the videos are available here as individual class segments; check out an analysis of sustainable healing themes in the class here). We’d especially encourage these lessons for those facing anxiety, from Part 3’s emphasis on “Working with Difficult Thoughts”
- Lesson 12 One way of thinking about thinking (Part I, Part II)
- Lesson 13 Re-thinking thinking (Part I) (Part II; Part III)
4. Comprehensive Therapeutic lifestyle change (TLC). Although these separate interventions for anxiety are promising enough, the real excitement happens when you bring them all together in a comprehensive shift. First applied successfully to people facing cardiovascular problems and diabetes, a comprehensive “therapeutic lifestyle change” (TLC) intervention for depression has been pioneered in America by Dr. Neil Nedley in Oklahoma and Dr. Stephen Illardi at Kansas State and Dr. Neil Nedley. The results of that intervention are hugely encouraging – and can make a difference for those facing anxiety too. If this approach appeals to you we encourage you to check out whether there is an in-person workshop available in your area.
Since it’s not always possible to get to an in-person location, this same lifestyle approach has been developed into an online platform called Lift as well (with android and Iphone apps as well). We’d encourage you to investigate this option and check out the online training to help you get moving in the right direction. You can also check out these final two lessons in Mindweather as a way to learn more about therapeutic lifestyle change as applied to anxiety:
- Exploring the full range of contributors to mental/emotional distress (Part I, Part II)
- Considering the full range of options (Part I, Part II, Part III)
We’ve also include among our resources several powerful books that provide practical guidance in how exactly different lifestyle adjustments (including, but going beyond mindfulness) can make a difference in deepening recovery from anxiety.
5. 12-steps for anxiety. While all this may sound great, we’ve heard from many for whom making any changes can feel overwhelming. How can someone who feels so fearful (sometimes even being around anyone being hard) even consider any of this?
For people who feel absolutely stuck and even “powerless” we recommend they check out Emotions Anonymous – a 12-step support group applied to anyone struggling with emotional distress. There are those among us who have personally experienced the surprising power of this approach in moments where we felt crippled by anxiety and overwhelm of our own, to the point we didn’t feel an ability to move forward.
6. Healing deeper pains that may be contributing. Over the last decade, there has been a flowering of fresh, innovative approaches to support people in finding deeper healing from the past abuse and trauma that very often influences our present emotional/mental state. Along with help for the grief of losing a loved one, or other experiences of loss), and including various levels of anxiety that often accompany these experiences, these resources provide valuable tool for recovering emotional stability. From tailored trauma-oriented therapy to various kinds of body-work focused on similar healing, we’d encourage you to reach out and explore some of these approaches as applied to your own situation. Because the effects of serious trauma almost always go beyond mental/emotional experience to the body itself (The Body Keeps the Score), it can be especially encouraging to consider the cutting-edge science of epigenetics and the exciting research on the brain’s ability to change, known as neuroplasticity – both fascinating discoveries that you may wish to investigate to inform your plans for deeper healing.
If you have questions about any of these options, or would like to make a connection with others working with similar challenges, please consider joining one of our Council Meetings. There are both monthly and weekly options and you are always welcome to participate! (If you would like to join our Community Council Meeting please click here.)