In this entrepreneur series, we look at how to have a thriving business by optimizing your physical and emotional health. Today’s focus point: Managing anxiety.
Cultural stigmas aside, you don’t want to ignore this one as anxiety has the potential to have a negative impact on your business in terms of poor decision making, inability to focus, loss of mind space, and losing sight on what is important to just name a few. In this article, I will be sharing what you can do today to take charge and get on top of things.
First things first: it is completely normal to be feeling more anxious than you would usually do since the world is in a very special place with regards to Covid19. Particularly if you have existential worries and fears it is not uncommon at all if you do find yourself worrying more than usual! Let’s look at how you can rock it despite feeling a bit doubtful or uneasy about the future.
So what exactly is anxiety? Anxiety signals a threat. It is the act of intense, persistent, and excessive worrying. You may experience feeling tense, stressed, frustrated, or angry. You may also feel overwhelmed and that things got out of control.
Who is affected? Typically, people who already suffered from anxiety in the past may experience a flare-up of their restlessness during times of intense stress just like skin conditions flare-up with stress.
In my practice, I have also seen a number of people who never struggled with anxiety prior to Covid19. They started experiencing an uneasiness only during or even after the lockdown when for instance, mask-wearing and social distancing became more visible in everyday life.
Even people with a solid social network, a secure job, a regular exercise routine, and healthy diet can feel the impact of the ongoing restrictions which is amplified by the inability to see loved ones, be it due to the travel restrictions or out of fear to make someone ill.
From a business perspective, your entire setup may have had to change, which by itself is enough to stress you out and give you sleepless nights. So give yourself some credit here that you made it through this year!
How does anxiety show up in your body? You may notice that you are not sleeping well anymore, that your digestive system is a bit funny, perhaps your body feels tense, you can’t think as clear anymore. You may also feel your heart racing or feel jittery. Some people may experience an intensification of their anxiety that could even yield into a full-blown panic attack which may show as cardiac symptoms.
Why stress management is the key to managing anxiety: Stress and anxiety are connected. Persistent, elevated stress levels commonly lead to sleep problems. When we are tired, we tend to drink more caffeine to wake up and keep the mind sharp, which – you may suspect it – raises cortisol levels! Even that cup of coffee you had at 7 a.m. can still affect your sleep this night!
During prolonged periods of intense stress, it is not unusual to go through hormone imbalances as the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin can mess up your delicate hormone system. High-stress levels (meaning high cortisol levels) have been connected to anxiety, mood swings, and even depression.
Side note: The stress hormones can also mess with the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen, leading to a loss of libido and fertility in both men and women or erratic menstrual patterns, which can further contribute to the downward spiral you may find yourself in.
The role of the Vagus nerve – the superstar in your “organisation”
Our nervous system consists of two parts which are carefully regulated in a healthy body as part of an intricate system, similar to a high-tech manufacturing plant: the fight-or-flight (sympathetic) and the rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) nervous system, which is managed by the Vagus nerve. The Vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, comes out of the cranium (the head), goes along the spine, and communicates between the brain and almost all the organs.
During long periods of high stress, the Vagus nerve tenses up. This means the body stays in a state of heightened alert. The self-regulating mechanism fails and kind of gets stuck there. It is as if your subconscious keeps asking “Am I safe?”. In my practice, rebalancing the Vagus nerve is a key aspect. From my experience, it is a very powerful tool to feel calmer and keep that feeling compared to a massage whose effect often dissipates quickly.
When your Vagus nerve is not working properly you may find yourself unable to relax, you don’t sleep well, you are feeling constantly stressed, and might be able to meditate anymore, your digestion isn’t working either… Needless to say, this isn’t healthy and you shouldn’t stay too long in this state!
What can you do about it?
Since anxiety and stress are connected, a good starting point is working on your stress levels. Here is my top list:
- Have a regular exercise routine. Distinguish between high intensity/strength workouts and activities to calm the nervous system such as qi gong, hatha yoga, yin yoga, yoga nidra… This can work well if you are not able to meditate. Do these calming activities ideally 2-3 time per week, at least a weekly session. When you feel calm and relaxed you are less likely to feel anxious.
- Make sleep a priority. If you don’t sleep well, you can’t be at your best in your business. Develop a healthy sleep routine. Get support if you can’t figure this one out by yourself. It’s too important to ignore.
- Avoid sugar and caffeine. Both can mess with your nervous system and can contribute to anxiety and feeling stressed.
- Avoid combining so-called “uppers” such as coffee and energy drinks with “downers” such as alcohol or medication.
- Eat healthily. This means lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, wholemeal, lentils, chickpeas (hummus is great as it improves the production of the happy hormones serotonin and dopamine and can to some extent work as a mild anti-depressant). Avoid packaged and fast food. Don’t like sauerkraut? Think about gut-brain-connection. Fermented foods are great for both your digestive system and your brain.
Anxiety is overpowering right now. What can you do?
- Lavender essential oil is the go-to-remedy that I always have in my bag as it is so versatile. Even just smelling on the bottle can help. Pro tip: make a relaxing foot bath by mixing 2-3 drops of lavender essential oil in a tablespoon of salt (water and oil don’t mix, so don’t skip the salt), give that into a bucket of hot water, ideally before going to bed.
- Try the Panakaya anti-stress herbal infusion (caffeine-free tea)
- Try aromatherapy products such as Panakaya’s “Sage’s Mist” that may affect the limbic system, the part in the brain which regulates emotions. For more information about essential oils read this article.
- Go out and sit under a tree or walk. Nature can help calm us down.
- Bachflower rescue remedy can help. For some people it works wonders, for others, it doesn’t work at all. It’s worth a try.
For more inspiration, read my recent article “worklife balance for entrepreneurs“. As always, if symptoms persist or you are really struggling, please do reach out to a qualified psychotherapist.
Jennifer Eisenecker is an ex-banker, German-certified naturopath, and business owner. Knowing how limited time and mind space often are, her recommendations are practical, easy to follow, and as simple as possible.
Jennifer’s multi-disciplinary approach involves going back to basics, looking at health from a trauma-aware perspective, and achieving health by calming down the nervous system to optimize your body’s innate ability to rebalance itself. She loves herbs and natural remedies.