Living with anxiety is no fun. It sucks the life out of you. Feeling like you are at the mercy of fear-based thoughts, worries, and overreactions is especially frustrating when you take good care of yourself. Even if you eat healthy, or go to the gym, or have lots of tools in your toolbox to calm yourself down, you may still find yourself caught up in a negative tailspin more often than you’d like.
Many people try to relieve their anxiety with a primarily cognitive or behavioral approach, by talking and reasoning things out. However, that may not give you the total relief you deserve. You may notice that thinking about the “why” behind your worries and talking about your anxiety sometimes makes it worse and increases its hold on you. Rather than trying to make rational sense of an overly activated nervous system, teach yourself how to shift your body’s reaction from a panic-like state to a calmer, more easygoing place.
Next time you find yourself having anxious thoughts and feelings, despite your best efforts to stay calm, try one of these tips instead. You may find them helpful!
Feel your feet on the ground
When you are feeling anxious and caught up in your head, it’s helpful to explore other parts of your body that don’t feel constricted. Bring your awareness to your arms, legs, or feet and notice what happens inside your body when you sense into these different places. Find one spot where you notice more sensations and feelings than the others and stay with this area. Then, see what you are actually physically feeling (in your feet for example). Feel your feet against the ground and notice what this feels like. If you are barefoot, notice the texture and temperature of the floor. If you are wearing socks or shoes, focus on how your foot feels against these materials. When your anxious thoughts surface, keep bringing your attention back to your feet. By doing this, you are shifting the focus to a part of your body that helps you feel more grounded.
Imagine someone in your life that is supportive
Think about a person in your life that makes you feel calm and peaceful. This can be anyone you choose: family member, good friend, partner, deity/religious figure, mentor, someone made up, etc. Really imagine this person – their presence, how they look, what they would say to you – and start to notice what comes up for you. Why do you find them suportive? What is it about this person that makes you feel at ease and relaxed? Tap into these pleasant qualities that draw you to this person. See what happens inside your body as you shift your attention to a welcoming, safe, and supportive person.
Appreciating what is going well is the best antidote to anxiety. Start a gratitude journal, and write what you are grateful for in your life. Try listing five things that bring you joy. You can write something as simple as your favorite cup of coffee, for example. Do this every morning when you wake up. Then, throughout your day, keep drawing your attention to the pleasant things in life, no matter how small they are.
Short practices throughout the day
Bo Forbes has done a lot of research on how yoga practices completed throughout the day are far better for your emotional well being than a one hour yoga class at night. She calls these practices “tiny two minute tools.” You can do this any number of ways: you can meditate two minute out of every hour, take ten minutes every couple of hours for a few relaxing yoga poses, or enjoy longer breaks throughout the day. Even a short walk around your office gets you moving and out of your head.
Hand on your stomach
Gently rest your hand on stomach when feeling agitated. This tool can be practiced while having a stressful conversation with another person or when you are in a tense social situation. The idea is that having the physical reminder of your hand placed gently on your stomach gives a cue that you are not a part of somebody else’s stress – what they are dealing with is their drama, not yours – and brings your awareness back inward.
Any yoga teacher will tell you breathing is good for you, it’s free, and there’s no shortage of air! Taking some nice, deep breaths activates your parasympathetic nervous system and pushes oxygen to your brain. There are numerous breathing exercises recommended for anxiety. One simple way is to count your breaths, slowly working your way to extend your exhale twice the length of your inhale. You may also add an affirmation or mantra, like “relax” to your breathing. When you inhale, say to yourself: “re” and on the exhale, say: “lax.”
Get into your right brain
Creativity, imagination, and enjoyment lives in our right brain. Find time to do things that are fun, light, and bring a sense of playfulness to your life. Movement is a great way to get out of your left brain (logical, analytical). You can also try drawing with pastels, daydreaming, or taking a poetry class.
Judgement and negative self-talk only causes more anxiety. Instead, find time every day to send compassionate thoughts your way. I like to use Phillip Moffitt’s loving-kindness guided meditation. Write these sentences down and carry them around with you. It works best if you sit in a quiet place and say these words to yourself for a couple minutes each day:
May I be safe from internal and external harm.
May I have a calm, clear mind and a peaceful, loving heart.
May I be physically strong, healthy, and vital.
May I experience love, joy, wonder, and wisdom in this life, just as it is.
When you relax your body, your mind relaxes. And when your mind relaxes, your body relaxes, too. It’s a beautiful thing when we learn to self-regulate and self-soothe by tapping into our inner wisdom. I hope these new tools help free you from the anxiety you’re experiencing!