Crisis has hit us hard these past few weeks. We have suffered a mercury in retrograde, an eclipse, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, a full moon, back to school, and (this morning) an earthquake! Couple that with the constant bombardment of political turmoil, divisive rhetoric, and 24 hour news cycles and you have a perfect formula for anxiety and insomnia. For the past two years I have been actively building a toolbox full of techniques to help me through crisis level anxiety. You may be thinking, “wait, don’t you do yoga..like a lot?” Even though I do way more yoga than the average person, I am by no means buddha. In reality I have more issues than time life magazine, and so I am sharing my very own tool box of tricks that maybe you can find some relief if you need it. A disclaimer: put your toolbox together BEFORE crisis hits. Practice your techniques often and they will not fail you when its “go-time”.
My toolbox consists of external and internal tools. External tools are excellent essentials to carry with you on trips, on flights, or anywhere you go that may cause you anxiety. If you have trouble sleeping, keep your external tools on a nightstand and readily available.
- A bottle of lavender oil. Lavender saves my buttasana in many situations. I ALWAYS carry lavender. My brain has built an association, lavender=relax. The effect of this scent is immediate and calming. Look for a high quality lavender oil. I recommend Young Living. Their oils are therapeutic grade and although they cost a little more, they are well worth it. The world of essential oils can be exciting, but overwhelming. If lavender does not sit well with you, I recommend vetiver for its grounding and anti-panic attack effect. If positivity is something that is missing from your life I recommend ylang-ylang (took me forever to learn to say it). Ylang Ylang soothes fear and promotes optimism. The last oil I would highly recommend adding to your external toolbox is bergamot. It is a citrus and is sun-reactive so don’t use it at the beach. It works very well to reduce anxiety and some people find it even more effective for inducing sleep. Don’t go overboard, start with one or two and keep them with you. You can purchase Young Living on Amazon now! Click here for a link to lavender.
- A lavender eye pillow. This has gotten me through traumatic flights, helped me to nap, and kept me calm in more situations than I can count. By blocking out light and providing gentle pressure to the eye and sinus area, an eye pillow can help you tune out the world and focus inward. Filling an eye pillow with lavender is just brilliance! By engaging touch and smell, the eye pillow can help ground you and pull you out of the insomnia or panic tailspin in your mind.
- Music soothes the savage beast. Sometimes that beast is raging in your mind. I have a playlist with three hours of calming music dowloaded to my phone. I am providing a link to the list but if you want to make your own try to look for instrumental music with a calming feel. If you run a search for “meditation music” or “spa music” you will be directed to thousands of choices. **The last four or five on this playlist are my favorites**
- The Headspace Meditation App. Meditation is a practice that takes time to cultivate. Waiting until you are in crisis is not the optimal time to start, but if you only turn your app on when you are in crisis and it works, then go for it. On the app there is a sleep exercise that I use for everything. The headspace app helped me bridge the gap between the external tool box and the internal one. If you have another app that you like better, then use it. Whenever I hear Andy's (the narrator’s) voice, I instantly feel more at ease. This is a testament to practice and frequency. My brain now associates his voice with a sense of well being. Click here to go to the Headspace website
- Noise cancelling over the ear headphones. They do not have to be expensive, but meditation, and listening to music, are greatly enhanced with comfortable over the earheadphones. They also cancel out the noise of screaming children and loud talkers on planes. If you are a light sleeper, the combination of the eye pillow, lavender oil, and soft music/guided meditation through headphones is an excellent anxiety busting combo.
The internal toolbox is one I filled with exercises from the Headspace app. Unlike the external tools, my internal life lines are with me wherever I go. These tools take the most patience and practice but, in time, will yield you the longest lasting results.
- The body scan. Closing your eyes wherever you are and mentally scan the body from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes. Try and focus only on each muscle group as you mentally pass over it. This helps remind you that you are in the present moment and that you are aware of your body in space.
- Counting your breaths to ten. Focus on every inhale and exhale until ten. When you get to ten start over. If you get distracted start over. Try five or six cycles of this and focus your entire being on counting your breaths.
- Count backwards from 1000. This little gem is PRICELESS. If you lose count, go back to the top. With a little practice I am usually calm or asleep by 970. In severe moments I have gotten to 860. I have never reached zero, because this exercise is BOSS. In moments of panic I even will count backwards in Spanish. The extra concentration takes the edge of the anxiety.
So there you have it! My tool box. Along the way, I have taken things out of my tool box as well. Here are some of the things I had to remove because I needed to make room for more effective tools.
- Social media and emails are not your friends in times of crisis or if you have insomnia. Do not pick up your phone unless you are turning on your relaxation playlist. The light from your phone is super bright and may wake you up even more. It sends the wrong signals to your brain and stirs up emotions and expectations. STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA and DON’T CHECK EMAIL! (Also in here I would like to say stay off online shopping;)
- Do not drink alcohol…like, at all if possible. That glass of wine (or two or three) at dinner is disturbing your sleep and making you anxious. If at all possible stay away from alcohol and other substances to induce a sense of artificial tranquility. Your brain needs time to form healthier habits and pathways. This was a tough one for me to learn. There is a difference between calming yourself and numbing yourself. Once you learn the difference you’ll see how you were contributing to your own anxiety levels with this common habit.
- Falling asleep outside of your bedroom or with the television on. If it is near bed time, go to bed. Changing locations is a sure way to interrupt your sleep cycle and set yourself up for an episode of insomnia The light and noise from the TV will disturb you at some point in the night, especially when that comedy you started at 9PM turns into a horror movie at 3AM.
Are you surprised that I did not mention yoga or exercise? While I believe that a healthy diet and consistent exercise routine play a huge role in managing stress and anxiety, in times of crisis or insomnia it is not always practical to go into a handstand, take a run, or eat a salad. Keep those healthy lifestyle choices for daily self care, but cultivate and use your crisis toolbox for when you need it.