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Anxiety is a funny thing—many of us have had it at one time or another, but it's difficult to pin down a concrete reason for it. Even now, as I write this, I'm feeling anxious. It comes in waves and it has very little to do with if I'm actually happy in my life (I am). This morning I sat down with a friend and couldn't relax. I explained to her how I was feeling and, without batting an eyelash, she knowingly nodded and said, "Sunday scaries."
Sometimes it's just that—feelings provoked from the weekend coming to a close and a full week of responsibility on deck. But other times there's a whole slew of different components. I'll feel anxious about doing my best at work, about friends, relationships, and money. Then, there are other factors that come into play like body image, aging, and health. As alienating as those thoughts feel, anxiety is common, and, for lack of better words, completely normal. I like to think of it as proof that I care—about my life, my career, and my self-confidence.
But I still thought it wise to look into some ways to address it. It's important to feel good, right? I reached out to my co-workers (and a secret Facebook group we started to chat about all things beauty and wellness) about their favorite all-natural remedies. Then, I tested each one and kept a journal of how I was feeling before, during, and after the treatment. From mind-body techniques to essential oils and meditative breathing, see below for the full rundown of my experience (and to find out which ones worked for me).
Acupuncture stimulates points in your body to correct imbalances. The practice operates under the principle that our energy flows through meridians in our body and, by activating those channels and maintaining energy flow, we can manage both physical and mental health. Traditional Chinese medicine proposes anxiety is the result of imbalances in the heart and kidney. To mediate it, an acupuncturist applies those tiny needles on points around your heart, kidney, spleen, and ears.
I love the idea of acupuncture—I've heard so many success stories, from healed injuries and pain management to relief from headaches and anxiety. That being said, the idea of multiple needles stuck in my body for any period of time makes me feel sweaty and scared. I went in for an appointment and tried to calm myself down. I warned the specialist that sometimes I feel faint around needles, and we began our treatment.
After the first two needles, as expected, I started to freak out. I told her what was going on and, as she began taking them out, I fainted. It sounds scarier than it was because, let's face it, I'm a seasoned fainter. After a few minutes of laying back with a cold compress and drinking a ton of water, I was feeling better and walked home. So while this may work for many other people, I had to cross it off my list of anxiety remedies.
A member of the aforementioned Facebook group suggested I rub a couple of drops of cedarwood oil on the bottom of my feet and behind my ears. It's said to help with melatonin production and an overall sense of relaxation, as well as promote restorative, uninterrupted sleep.
The first thing I noticed was the scent—warm, woody, and familiar. That was when I realized cedarwood is one of the base notes in my perfume (Le Labo Santal 33 Eau de Parfum, $83-$280). So, I had no qualms about rubbing it on. After putting a few drops on my feet and ears, as instructed, I did feel a new sense of calm. I applied the mixture right before bed and almost instantly drifted off to sleep.
I woke up feeling completely well-rested—an experience that hasn't happened to me much recently. I felt less anxious, I think, by virtue of getting a proper amount of sleep. But the scent had something to do with it too. I felt cozy, warm, and safe all thanks to the cedarwood oil and I've been applying it before bed ever since.
It makes total sense that unplugging yields helpful results for our mind, body (tech neck, much?), and soul. At the suggestion of my friend, I downloaded an app called Moment that records your phone use. (I've been averaging two to three hours a day, which is scary, to say the least.) You can set it to send out an alert after you've gone over a certain amount of time. I decided to allow myself an hour and a half per day (baby steps) and stick to it.
Then, I scheduled activities that don't involve technology. I made a rule that during those activities each day, I couldn't touch my phone. I would leave it at home to get a manicure, walk around my neighborhood park, and order brunch without photographing it. Originally, I was nervous to do this because I work on the internet. What if I needed to answer an email? What if I forgot to do something important? The thoughts spun around in my head. But what I found after a few days was that limiting my cellphone use actually made me more productive.
I spent time writing, editing, and revising instead of idly scrolling through Instagram waiting for inspiration. I was more proactive because I had time to step away, refresh my brain, and actually live my life (instead of watching it through an iPhone screen). Information is fed to us at lightning speed through dozens of different channels. By taking that out of the equation for a few hours a day, I was able to consume only what I needed to get my job done.
Another commenter in the Facebook group told me the absolute best thing to do to curb anxiety is "deep breathing exercises—there's a reason they tell you to 'just breathe'—as well as grounding exercises and guided meditations." It sounded like a great idea, so I booked a cushion at Mndfl, a New York City meditation studio that happens to be a few blocks away from Byrdie HQ. Its website reads: "We feature expert teachers from a variety of traditions offering simple techniques in an accessible manner. When classes are not in session, our meditation room is open to the public for self-guided practice." Since science says meditation is more powerful than pain medication, I was game to try it.
I went in and sat for a long time. I did a lot of deep breathing and chose an intention for my practice (like you're instructed to do during yoga). I tried to clear my mind and remembered a trick I had learned on the site. "You simply breathe in and out, 25 times, counting each breath as you go," it read. Sounds easy enough. I did mindful meditation, a beginner-level exercise that's meant to bring focus and release body tension. As I closed my eyes and started to breathe, I focused on the ends of my toes and continued to work my way up my body, focusing on my ankles, legs, knees, and upward (giving about 60 seconds to each body part). I was immediately immersed in the exercise, feeling more grounded and steady with each breath.
Our news editor and resident all-natural guru, Victoria, suggested I try adaptogenic herbs. She explained, "They're specifically classified to help the body adapt to stress and regulate cortisol levels. That includes maca, ginseng, holy basil, and Cordyceps." She added, "There's even science to back it up."
I was a bit familiar with the wonders of adaptogenic potions (courtesy of Moon Juice Brain Dust, $38, which I add to my coffee most mornings). So for a week, I added maca powder to my morning smoothies. It wasn't immediate by any means, but I began to notice a calm clarity wash over my mind and body throughout the day. And guess what? Jennifer Aniston does it too.
Victoria gave me a few other suggestions as well: "For me, the biggest thing is just living in a soothing, clutter-free environment. I'm always a million times more stressed when my apartment is a mess. I keep it clean with lots of plants, and do a lot of aromatherapy and burn incense, sage, palo santo, etc." I took her advice and cleaned up a bit each morning as I sipped my maca-infused breakfast.
An old co-worker, Maddie, let me know that when she's feeling anxious before bed, she likes to spray a sleep spray to help quiet her mind. She recommended Aura Cacia Pillow Potion ($8)—a calming lavender, yarrow, and hops mixture.
I spritzed it on my pillow each night for a week and had far less trouble sleeping. It made my small New York City apartment feel like a spa, complete with aromatherapy. I misted my pillows, my blankets, and even the air around my room to make sure I got the full effect. There's just something about lavender that immediately calms me down.
Massage (or Self-Massage)
I'm never one to turn down a massage, and when a colleague recommended it as a way to deal with anxiety—I immediately made an appointment for my favorite treatment. I'd gotten it before and it always did the trick. Included was an olive oil skin softening scrub and aroma therapeutic body wrap and massage meant to melt stress and rebalance your spirit. Yes, please. The other option? Self-massage. There are a ton of tutorials online for bodywork (this one is my favorite for facial massage), and it's a great way to get to know your own body a little better.
The entire experience was perfect: The massage therapist was attentive and skilled and the scents and products were relaxing and rejuvenating (can you tell I'm a huge fan?). During this particular massage, though, I couldn't refocus my mind. My thoughts were buzzing at what felt like a mile a minute, and I left feeling soft and relaxed, but still anxious. I admit, it was an especially anxiety-ridden day and the massage has worked on most other occasions. I'll chalk this one up to chance.