Practical Tools to Manage Anxiety

Contributed by Kim Roberts, MA

Is it any wonder that anxiety and panic disorders are on the rise? Technology almost dictates that we live in a “need it yesterday” mindset, interrupted by instant messaging, late for our next appointment, struggling to clear out cluttered inboxes, figure out how to send our files, and generally keep up with a world speeding forward on information overload. Add to this the frequent travel required of most expats, international communication and keeping up with family and events on the other side of the planet, and you’ve got a recipe for stress.

That’s why it is more important than ever for expats to learn to relax! By learning to rest and quiet the mind, you have choices about how and where to focus your awareness.

Trying to keep up with life in 2 (or more) different cultures and time-zones can be overwhelming. You can shift your mindset to recognize the larger perspective in the grand scheme of things, and learn to ally with the spaciousness of the present moment instead of getting caught up in the stream of busyness. When I notice my stress levels heading into the red zone, I have a few tricks to help bring me back to earth–my tools to manage anxiety and stress. Try them yourself:

1. Breathe

Your breath is with you always, no matter what country you find yourself in. Make a habit of checking in with it. Notice your breath when you are on the computer, in the middle of an intercultural misunderstanding, or at the departure gate. Get to know what it is that stresses you out, and then bring mindfulness-and conscious breathing– to that activity.

2. Check your environment

This may sound obvious, but is your new environment contributing to overwhelm? When I lived in Hong Kong a few years ago, I was breathing in so much pollution that it was a challenge to get enough oxygen to my brain. I had trouble sleeping because of the constants buzz of neon and the all-day-long interaction with technology. Eventually I had to admit that the environment was causing me more stress than I could handle. I shifted my career path and moved to an island in Vietnam.

3. Settle the mind and learn to dis-identify with thoughts

From a yogic perspective, anxiety is a disturbance of the “winds,” the subtle energy channels in the body. Think of a jar filled with sediment when it is shaken: the sediment swirls around clouding the water. A calm and grounded state of mind is characterized by clarity. The practice of sitting meditation is the most direct way to achieve this settled state of mind. When you ally with the spaciousness of the mind instead of the contents of the mind (thoughts) you automatically shift your perspective. Enter your email on my website for a free audio-guided introduction to sitting meditation.

4. Nourish

No matter how many times I’ve done it, when I’m about to fly overseas, I get a bit anxious. I keep a supply of calming herbs for stressful situations. Kava kava, valerian, chamomile tea, passionflower, lavender, hops, and lemon balm are all great aids to inducing calm. It’s not a permanent fix, but it helps in the short term.

Don’t underestimate the power of eating well and getting enough sleep. Eliminate or reduce all stimulants (coffee, tea, chocolate, garlic, excess sugar, alcohol) from lunchtime onward and notice the effects.

Nourishment also comes in the form of supportive relationships – not always easy when living outside your mother country. Set regular Skype appointments with close friends from home, initiate expat social groups or consider talking to an expat counselor if you need more intensive emotional support. Suffering alone increases the stressfulness of anxiety. Sharing your feelings with others can lift a huge burden, and also help you recognize that you are not alone – everyone struggles with issues from time to time.

Even if you already practice yoga or meditation, working with a therapist helps address issues from a practical perspective so that you can let them go. Practitioners often believe mindfulness will sort out their emotional issues, but in fact the opposite is often the case. Deep practice may stir up old issues, and unless there is a container for these unruly emotions, it can be tempting to “let go” of old issues before they are resolved, which creates a muddy stew in the mind. Anxiety can be a sign there is something trying to come to the surface to be worked with.

5. Organize and schedule in down time

It’s so easy to get caught up in the communications technology that is available these days so that we never actually take a break from being “on.” Especially when most of your people are in other time zones, it can feel like the computer takes the place of social support.

Not everything has to happen NOW. Batch tasks and do them together so that you’re not running all over the place, scattered, unfocused, wasting your energy. Set parameters on certain activities so they don’t consume you.

I try to go offline completely at least one full day a week, and limit computer use to certain times, and NEVER before breakfast! That’s just my own thing; mornings are sacred to me. By limiting computer use until after my practice helps me check in with my inspiration to start the day.

Try scheduling monthly or even weekly mini holidays to refresh and get back to your original nature. Spend the afternoon at your favorite park– or go on an Artist Date, as described by Julia Cameron. Or, try this novel idea: go and actually visit your friends in person!

6. Rest

When the going gets rough, the tough take viparita karani. This is my all-time favorite yoga posture, and my quick-fix remedy for just about everything from jet-lag to overwhelm, from exhaustion to anxiety. It’s the best way I know how to relax quickly and deeply. Follow it with child’s pose for a nurturing restart to your afternoon or evening.

Viparita Karani – the quickest way I know to relax

Child’s Pose

Panic and anxiety are not purely mental events–they are physiological events, so they can’t be treated with the thinking mind only. You need to learn to BREATHE deeply, and train yourself to come back to the breath on a regular basis. Mind and breath are intimately connected. If you can calm your breath, your mind will follow.

Here’s your one line panic advice: relax and enjoy!

Author: Kim Roberts, MA

Kim Roberts earned her Masters degree in Psychology from Naropa University, where she was originally trained as a Contemplative Psychotherapist. She was one of Richard Freeman’s original students in the US, and earned authorization to teach Ashtanga yoga after spending a year studying with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. Author of Ashtanga Yoga for Beginner’s Mind, Kim divides her time between Northern Thailand and Colorado, developing a private practice mostly online. She is launching a new Ecourse, How to Make a Fabulous Living Teaching, Travelng (and Saving) the World, for yoga teachers who wish to take their message to a wider audience. Her website is: Tools For Evolution.