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Self-care for anxiety: 5 natural stress treatments

Anxiety, often marked by intense and persistent fear or worry, can make even the most mundane moments of everyday life feel overwhelming. Whilst all people experience some physical and psychological anxiety symptoms in the face of uncertainty, if you have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), symptoms can hijack your sense of homeostasis and leave you feeling out of control of your mind and body.  

Though many find relief from anxiety through Western treatment options, such as prescription medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, others wish to avoid the potential side effects of psychiatric medication or have found these treatments inaccessible or insufficient in relieving their symptoms. As such, many have chosen to supplement or fully turn to natural stress treatment options to reclaim their sense of wellbeing, such as alternative medicine and self-care

qigong for anxiety

How does Chinese medicine treat anxiety?

Classical Chinese medicine (CCM) believes that anxiety (known as Shan You Si) is an interruption of the free flow of Qi, which can become excessive, stagnant, or depleted. As the signs of imbalanced Qi will vary for each person, a CCM approach will always be customised to meet each person’s unique experience, symptoms, and needs. 

For all physical and mental diseases, including stress and anxiety, Chinese medicine utilises five holistic modalities: acupuncture, herbal remedies, Tui Na massage, lifestyle changes, and Qigong. As non-invasive forms of self-care, these modalities can help you learn about stress and anxiety from a CCM perspective, soothe anxiety symptoms, and develop an awareness of the flow of Qi in the context of anxiety management. 

Self-help, like the five Chinese medicine modalities, can be an effective adjunct or complete strategy for managing anxiety. Chinese medicine accomplishes this through its defining principles of Qi (life energy) and harmony. As you learn to identify shifts in your energy flow and their physiological and psychological significance, you can draw from the five modalities to help you move back in the direction of physical and mental wellbeing.   

Chinese medicine sees our emotional state and bodily state as interdependent. For example, here’s how Chinese medicine broadly considers some common physical and mental anxiety symptoms in the context of the body’s yin organs:

  • Heart: mental restlessness, insomnia, heart palpitations, all psychological disorders
  • Lungs: fatigue, sweating, shortness of breath, shallow breathing, crying  
  • Liver: irritability, difficulty going with the flow, muscle tension, headaches, dizziness
  • Spleen: worry, excessive mental activity, stomachaches, poor digestion
  • Kidneys: irrational fears, social avoidance, frequent urination

anxiety qigong

How can Chinese medicine help with anxiety?

1. Body scanning (heart, liver, lungs)

Excessive Qi, which can create feelings of agitation, tension, and heat, can result from strong negative emotions or excessive physical or mental activity. Body scanning, a simple standing meditation technique from Medical Qigong, can help you calm excessive Qi, focus a restless mind, ease muscle tension, reduce fatigue, and cultivate a sense of inner stability.   

2. Breathing techniques (heart, lungs, and spleen)

Every cell of your body relies on oxygen to function properly. Whilst anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, an increased heart rate, sweating, and muscle tension, shallow breathing can equally trigger anxiety, heart palpitations, and perspiration. Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of deep mindful breathing for reducing the physiological and psychological effects of stress. Equipping yourself with one or more Qigong breathing techniques can help you interrupt this negative cycle, downregulate your stress response, induce relaxation, and provide your body with the nourishment it needs. 

3. Lifestyle changes (spleen, liver, kidneys)

Chinese medicine operates from the understanding that our physical and mental wellbeing are inextricably linked and directly impacted by the lifestyle we lead. Whilst an imbalanced diet and a sedentary lifestyle can aggravate anxiety symptoms, nutritious foods and regular exercise can help you reduce or prevent symptoms of anxiety and stress. Similarly, dehydration can trigger anxiety by interrupting your body’s ability to function properly. Staying properly hydrated helps ensure your mind and body can function optimally, therefore preventing the undesirable physiological symptoms that can trigger stress and anxiety. 

4. Mindfulness meditation (all organs)

As it activates your sympathetic nervous system, anxiety can make you feel like your mind and body are always preparing to fight back, run away, or freeze — even from your own thoughts or feelings. Mindfulness practices, such as Qigong meditation can help you to safely sit with difficult feelings, without the need to judge, analyze, change, or encourage them, as well as identifying the root of your anxieties. This objective self-exploration can better your understanding and create a safe space around anxious thoughts, behaviours, experiences, and feelings.  

5. Qigong (all organs)

Integrating the previous four stress-relief techniques, Qigong aims to help practitioners reduce stress and anxiety and reclaim their potential for total wellbeing by restoring the free flow of Qi throughout the body. With an emphasis on total wellbeing, White Tiger Qigong allows you to develop your body awareness, breathe consciously, increase your physical activity, and experience the many benefits of mindfulness. As all Qigong exercises target at least one meridian, a well-instructed Qigong practise can be customised to address your unique symptoms and experience of stress and anxiety. 

Learn more: Mental wellbeing: 7 exercises to support your goals 

Crane Qigong for stress and anxiety

According to CCM, successfully treating stress and anxiety will always include actions that support the health and balance of the heart. One of the easiest Qigong movements to learn, Crane Qigong from the 5 Element Qigong tradition can help you cultivate a sense of calm, stability, and focus whilst promoting the free flow of Qi through the heart and pericardium meridians. 

Finding natural, medicine-free stress treatments that suit your personal needs can empower your self-care routine and elevate your total wellbeing. Find out more about the benefits of self-care and Qigong for anxiety by reading our evidence-based blog or comprehensive ebooks, or taking one of our self-guided online courses.  

 

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