How To Be Anxiety Free In The City That Doesn't Sleep

Ask any New Yorker, the city can be a pretty anxiety inducing environment. In a world where it is common for even our dogs to be prescribed Valium, it can seem virtually impossible to find peace.  

About 1/3 of my caseload consists of anxiety disorders.  This includes generalized anxiety, anxiety related to a chronic health condition, panic, fear of flying and agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house...yes I do home visits). The majority of those are women in their twenties who are working too much, drinking too much and/or generally neglecting their self care. While many clients have limited time, what they do have is access to an unlimited amount of resources for anxiety relief.  Often, its the prioritizing, consistency and lack of sleep that separates them from full recovery. 

I'd like to take a moment to break down the above: 

How Do We Prioritize What Self Care To Do To Reduce Anxiety? 

First I'd like to begin by reiterating that anywhere we live we are bombarded by information.  Take that experience and combine it with a never ending barrage of fitness crazes, nap rooms, mediation clinics, floating pods, and vibrating tables promising to bring relief from the bizarre, overstimulating streets we call home.  How is one supposed to sift snake oil from substance? My first response -"Excellent question."

Second response - "I'm glad you asked." Having a background in social work and community mental health, I never see the therapy room as a place simply to explore and express experiences.  Therapy can also include finding the right questions to ask, improving problem solving and strengthening decision-making.  For me, this is as valuable as any other type of life transformation one could experience from traditional psychotherapy.

While some may not view "Where should I take my next yoga class?" as a tough question, I assure you, those living in anxiety and information overload would agree that it is.  

That said, my top tips for developing a self care routine for reduced anxiety: 

1. Get To Sleep - Just because the city doesn't sleep, does NOT mean you should.  There is a ton of research on the importance of quality sleep on our overall well-being.  If clients are not sleeping, I always make this a priority that needs addressed either through clinically proven therapy techniques such as Cognitive Therapy or Hypnotherapy. 

2. Breathe - I know I know, "really you are going to recommend breathing?" That's right.  I'm not just going to recommend breathing but I'm going to suggest you prioritize it above other things in your life.  Again, the research continues to pile up in terms of the benefits around a regular breathing practice. If you aren't sold on it, just check out Wim Hof and his incredible research in terms of breath control.  Luckily you absolutely don't have to do any fancy breathing techniques.  Literally, just 30 big deep breathes (as you like... in through the nose, out through the whatever) can cause tremendous changes in physiology and your ability to relax. 

3. Keep It Simple - Speaking of not over-complicating our breath, let's take that and apply it to every other decision you make around anxiety relief. One decision in particular that the chronic illness community has to address is the use of anti anxiety supplements.  Some clients discuss having so many supplements they have lost track of what they know to be working and what isn't.  It's always a good idea to take a step back and get back to essentials.  In the example of supplementation, possibly you want to work with a licensed Naturopath, Chiropractor or MD.  In other areas of self care, it might be helpful to ask: "How can I just go back to the basics?"

How Can I Stay Consistent With Self Care? 

Whether you are having trouble consistently taking medications for anxiety or have a hectic work schedule that limits your ability to be consistent at the gym, there always seems to be one thing or the other that keeps us from staying on track.  

Therapy can absolutely help with this. Some ways therapy can help: 

1. Utilize Apps - Use your sessions to review scheduling and organizing apps.  For example for those female clients unclear whether or not their anxiety and irritability coincide with menstruation, I suggest things like the FLO Living App as a way for women to take control of their periods and also have a point of discussion in sessions. 

2. Get Organized - Some clients say their disorganization is barrier to consistency. Because I work from an approach that emphasizes our relationships with all things (not just people), our sessions can include how you are relating to your objects.  Is your closet a disaster? Do you have such a messy kitchen you can't even cook on a daily basis? This might be something to take a look at.  Plus, we know that things like anxiety and depression benefit from neat and organized spaces. 

3. Get Accountability - Research shows that accountability allows us to follow through with goals.  Let's face it, some of us are just not in a place to be internally motivated to wake up and go the gym daily or eat our best all the time.  We all need help.  That's where having someone to speak with regularly can be the missing link needed to stay the course. Whether you are looking for a workout buddy or ready to invest in a health coach, finding accountability is a huge support. 

How Can I Get More Sleep?

Some consider this THE question of modern life. My answer: "It's probably gonna take a bit of work.  Insomnia isn't generally the result of just one thing.  It my office, it often has to do with a combination of poor sleep habits, chronic stress, alcohol abuse, and unresolved trauma. 

Sleep hygiene often needs to take a multi-disciplinary approach. While psychotherapists can utilize tools like Cognitive Therapy and Hypnotherapy, it is often helpful to consult medical doctors, acupuncturists and massage therapists to address all aspects of sleep hygiene. For example, some causes of insomnia such as sleep apnea often go undiagnosed and once addressed can reduce anxiety dramatically. 

Addressing Anxiety Requires Taking a Look At Your Lifestyle

Rather than trying to address everything above, take another glance through the article and decide on just one aspect of your self care that might require a bit more attention.  Then, ask yourself what might be standing in the way of taking action. Here's to finding Peace in the City that doesn't sleep!