Stress and anxiety—5 keys to recovery

Being stressed and feeling very anxious / worried / tense or fearful — these are indeed hallmarks of our age. The estimates of how many people are adversely affected by these conditions vary from “Many” to “Massive numbers”. I discuss the incidence and impact of anxiety, depression and ‘stress’ in the introduction to my recently released book Freedom from stress and anxiety.

In the book the ‘Pathways to freedom’ are portrayed as a jigsaw puzzle with twelve pieces. From my long experience of working with people and listening to their stories FIVE elements of recovery stand out most prominently. Five factors will help enormously with almost every sufferer. Then further factors may help as well, depending upon the individual and their unique situation.

ONE – Food as medicine
Eating right is terribly neglected across the medical world. Just this week an Australian study was published that showed the so-called Mediterranean diet can significantly reduced symptoms of depression (anxiety is a prominent symptom). Numerous components of the typical Australian diet can have a negative impact upon nervous system and mood, eg. sugary foods and drinks, insufficient ‘whole foods’ to provide adequate minerals such as magnesium.
Get help from a doctor or naturopath who truly understands and believes in the therapeutic potential of nutrition.

TWO – Rest
Simple, old-fashioned rest. Haa! How the hell do you do it if you have a lifestyle, work, family commitments etc that pile on the pressure to do more and more and more? It aint easy, but it may well be vital. If the symptoms that ail you are bad enough you may be ready to sit down with spouse / doctor / other advisor and completely rejig you entire lifestyle to find time (and motivation) for rest. Rest means allowing the proper eight hours for sleep AND not doing stuff in the hours before sleep that will make sleep difficult. Once you are motivated, and are making the time you may well need factors three, four and five to train yourself to be able to rest well.

THREE – Movement and exercise
Getting good amounts of exercise, especially exercise that includes enjoyment, will help you rest and sleep better. And it has its own direct effect on blood chemistry and factors that enhance mood. How vigourous the exercise is depends upon your condition and what you have been doing up till now.
It is quite enough for many people to do some walking, or walking plus some uphill walking, or walking plus a little light jogging mixed in. Walking is a fabulous activity to do every day for a number of reasons. It can be combined with getting into a pleasing natural environment. Nature has its own wonderful therapeutic effect. Walking or jogging can be done in a mindful way, as a kind of movement meditation. I recommend that if you go for an hour walk, to deliberately take about 15 minutes of it to consciously do ‘walking meditation’. My book explains walking meditation in a number of sections.
Yoga, Tai chi and such specialized types of exercise system are also of great benefit.

FOUR – Meditation
As far back as the 1960s, Australian doctor and author Ainslie Meares was writing extensively about the enormous value of ‘relaxing meditation’ for people suffering with anxiety, ‘nervous tension’ and the other terms that were widely used then. He published many case histories in his books and medical journal articles.
For tackling anxiety and depression the styles of meditation that emphasise stillness and relaxation of body and mind are likely to be the best. Freedom from stress and anxiety has three chapters devoted to meditation and mindfulness. The second of those chapters is about ‘brief stress busters’ or mini-meditation approaches. We are all different and for some people two, three or five minute sessions is their best way to get started. The third chapter that deals with meditation is titled ‘Beyond meditation techniques: metaskills’. You can learn the basic techniques anywhere. But getting the best value or results from your practice means refining the attitude and mindset with which you approach it. And it means learning the most helpful attitudes for getting through those times you feel ‘stuck’ or frustrated with it.
Undoubtedly, meditation is a Right-royal approach to coming out the other side of troubling episodes of stress and anxiety.

FIVE – Medicine
Perhaps I should have titled this piece “4 and a half keys …”, since medicine will not be essential for everybody. I am very sympathetic to those who might tell their doctor: “can we keep medications on the backburner and you support me in trying self-help approaches”. I have done that myself when trying to sail through a lengthy period of almost-clinical depression.
That said, there should be no objection, shame or other obstacle to using medications wisely in a recovery process. If they help for now, help with getting sleep and being functional in the day, use them. If possible have a doctor whose goal—along with your goal—is to reduce and get off the medications reasonably soon. As soon as all of the other strategies, self-help and lifestyle, can get working and having their effect.

  • For more information about Freedom from stress and anxiety (2016) go back to the home page of this site