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Do You Know These 5 Unconventional Tools to Reduce Anxiety?

Personal Perspective: A fireplace, treadmill, birdfeeder, mantra, and yoga.

Johnathan Larson / Unsplash
Source: Johnathan Larson / Unsplash

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features and generalized anxiety disorder. On the whole, I live symptom-free. I’m extremely lucky. But chronic mental illness is, well, chronic, and my symptoms come back and rear their heads from time to time.

To remain well, I consistently do certain things every day. I use my meat and potatoes wellness tools—OK, now that I’m vegetarian, I guess they’re my tofu and chickpea wellness tools.

For me, that set of basic, well-known self-management strategies, include:

  • Medication.
  • A healthy diet—which includes a tasty assortment of treats. Healthy, in my opinion, is eating for joy as well as for nutrition.
  • A strong social network—good friends who I can talk with and who share with me.
  • Exercise. I run. Actually, I "slog" (slow jog). And it certainly feels like a slog now that I’m 57.
  • 7-8 hours of sleep and rest per day, on average.
  • SAD light for fall and winter and any time when there’s a period of grey (which in Vancouver is a lot of the time).
  • Counseling on an as-needed basis.

But I have also discovered some unconventional strategies, particular to me, that help enormously, too. Following are a few of them. If you’re struggling, maybe they'll spark ideas for additional tools you could use to ease your symptoms or bide time while they pass. That’s my hope for you: to have a plethora of tools to choose from when the dark seems to be getting darker, techniques that can help bring in light a little at a time.

1. Let There Be Light. I bought an electric fireplace after staying with a friend who had one. I was astonished at how calming the flames and light were. Research shows that fireplaces, electric or otherwise, reduce stress and increase well-being. Scientists have dubbed this the fireplace effect. I have it on almost all the time, even on sunny days. It can soothe my nervous system when I’m out of sorts.

2. Sitting Is the New Smoking. I got myself a standing desk and under-the-desk treadmill because, as they say, sitting is the new smoking. And during my pre-standing-desk era, my sitting must have been equivalent to a two-pack-a-day habit. Every day or so in the afternoon, I raise my desk and switch on the treadmill to a comfortable walking speed. It helps me get into my body and out of my head, even when I’m ruminating. Thirty to sixty minutes later, I’ve got my steps in, my body feels looser, and I feel calmer.

3. Meditation as Medicine. Vedic meditation has been a game-changer. It’s the non-trademarked form of transcendental meditation (TM). I checked out both TM and Vedic meditation. The TM vibe just wasn’t me but vedic definitely is. It’s the only meditation where I felt relaxed and calm in both body and mind. And it happened almost immediately after one practice. I was stunned. It’s a simple, natural technique using a personalized mantra. You practice 20 minutes twice a day. I know. With other meditation styles, I was barely able to do 5 minutes twice a week. I’ve practiced for almost two years and can count on one hand the number of times I missed my twice-a-day practice. The practice resets my system, helps me destress, and gives me structure to my day. Structure is key in staying mentally well when you have bipolar disorder.

4. Saluting the Sun. On most days, as the sun rises, I do the sun salutation. It’s soothing and inspiring at the same time. For you night owls, this one might be a stretch. Besides the benefits of yoga asana itself, there’s a hidden bonus: It motivates me to get to bed early and maintain a healthy sleep routine.

5. Feathered Friends to the Rescue. I’ve always loved birds. My dad and I used to go to Stanley Park in Vancouver. We’d walk, stop somewhere along a trail, extend an arm, and with a palm flat covered with bird seed, little chickadees would light upon our hands and nibble up the food. I’m not near Stanley Park anymore. Instead, I have a hummingbird feeder and a suet bird feeder. They’re in my eyeline, so when I look up from my computer while I’m working, I’ll see glittering Rufous hummingbirds, stoic juncos on the ground, or plucky chickadees hanging like acrobats pecking at the suet. Whenever I see them, I get this happy-present-moment-kind-of-feeling. Life feels simple, and that feels good. All I have to do is watch.

According to a University of Exeter in England1 study, watching birds even through a window is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. (I wrote about it in more detail in this post.)

An electric fireplace. A meditation using a mantra. Bird watching from a window. Walking in place, standing at a desk. Greeting the sun at dawn. If you had asked me years ago what they have in common, I would never have said that they’re essential to my wellness and that they alleviate, and even prevent, symptoms of my depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. But they are. I embrace the traditional, better-known tools, and these tools are bespoke to me. They work beautifully in tandem.

Let go of preconceived ideas about wellness tools and allow yourself the freedom to find what works for you, no matter how uncommon it might seem.

© Victoria Maxwell


1. Daniel T. C. Cox, Danielle F. Shanahan, Hannah L. Hudson, Kate E. Plummer, Gavin M. Siriwardena, Richard A. Fuller, Karen Anderson, Steven Hancock, Kevin J. Gaston, Doses of Neighborhood Nature: The Benefits for Mental Health of Living with Nature, BioScience, Volume 67, Issue 2, February 2017, Pages 147–155, /

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