“I know I’m supposed to be doing something right now…what am I forgetting?”
“___ hasn’t responded to my text yet…I hope she isn’t mad at me. Did I say something wrong?”
“Why is everything feeling so hard today? Is this a sign I need to give up? Or is it a sign I should try harder?”
When you deal with anxiety, thoughts like this are a regular occurrence.
I’ve been a worry-wart most of my life. Growing up, my mom used to call me “Chicken Little”. If it was two minutes past the time she said she’d be home, I’d assume she died in a fiery car crash. A simple argument between my parents meant I was going to be homeless soon because they would get divorced and it would be easier to live in a dumpster than to decide who to live with.
These days, my anxiety manifests itself in forgetting things, and subsequently panicking about them. There’s a constant questioning of whether I’m really doing what I’m meant to be doing with my life (and then worrying that the questioning is proof I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing). And there’s a lot of mental chatter.
And while I still occasionally go through phases where the idea of getting out of bed and tackling the day just seems far too overwhelming, over the years I’ve managed to get a pretty good grip on the day-to-day worries.
Through reading about others’ experiences, learning more about myself, and speaking with a therapist, I’ve not only picked up simple practices to ease anxiety in the moment, but I’ve also learned how to reduce the frequency with which it rears its ugly head.
And I’ve come to learn that, in today’s busy world, these are practices everyone can benefit from. More and more people I talk to are dealing with anxious thoughts on a day-to-day basis. Between demanding jobs, societal pressures, and the constant connectedness that comes with today’s digital age, it’s no surprise the vast majority of us struggle with busy brains.
If you believe you have a serious anxiety disorder that’s making it difficult to function on a regular basis, talk to someone. There’s help out there for you.
If, like me, you find yourself wishing you could get your brain to shut up and chill out for just one minute, I hope you’ll find the tips that follow helpful.
Simple Practices to Ease Anxiety
Check-in time: what’s your breathing like right now? Are you taking big, deep breaths from your belly? Or is your breathing short and shallow, and coming from the tops of your lungs?
Hyperventilation is a common side effect of an anxiety attack (also referred to as a panic attack). But spending the majority of your day taking short, quick breaths can also increase stress signals in your body.
Try This: Take big, deep belly breaths. Let your belly expand as you inhale, and let it fall as you exhale. Kick your day off on a positive note and begin with 5 deep breaths before getting out of bed. Then, set a timer on your phone to return to deep breathing at regular intervals throughout the day. This will not only help in the midst of a panic attack, but it will also keep your zen vibes high all day long.
Skimping out on sleep causes your body to produce more cortisol, which – you guessed it – is a stress signal. With excessive amounts of cortisol in your body, your brain believes you’re in a constant state of stress. Your breathing stays shallow, you’re on high alert for danger, and you’re more likely to forget things. All of this can lead to even more anxiety.
Try This: Instead of forcing yourself to go to bed an hour earlier, aim for just 10 minutes earlier. Take the process in baby steps so it’s less overwhelming. Develop a healthy bedtime routine that could include reading, journalling, meditating, or even stretching. This will make it easier to fall asleep when you actually do hit the hay.
Mindfulness is the art of focusing on the here and now – something that’s highly beneficial for those of us who are constantly worrying about the past or the future.
One of the most well-known forms of mindfulness is meditation, the act of quieting the mind. I was very resistant to meditation for many years because I found it extremely challenging to shut my brain up. Once I began embracing it as a practice and stopped trying to block the thoughts from coming into my mind, it became a much more enjoyable daily habit.
But mindfulness doesn’t just include meditation. It includes sitting and just BE-ing – noticing the sights, sounds, and smells of your surroundings. It involves checking in with yourself and noticing how you’re feeling. It involves staying fully present while eating and avoiding TV or the computer.
Try This: Aim to incorporate 5 minutes of mindfulness each day. Avoid scrolling through your phone or listening to music while you’re sitting on the bus. Pay full attention to everything going on around you, sights, sounds, and all. Close your eyes and practice deep breathing. Savour a delicious meal by paying attention to the tastes, smells, and textures.
After a few weeks, increase your mindful time. You can add more 5-minute increments throughout the day, or you can have one longer daily practice.
Make a Plan
For the anxious-minded, planning can be a double-edged sword. But, when used effectively, it can be a great tool for easing anxiety. Whether you “have anxiety” or not, things like being unfamiliar with your surroundings or forgetting an important task can be stressful for anyone. Planning your route in advance or making to-do lists can help ease unnecessary anxiety.
Try This: Make a running note in your phone, or keep a notebook and pen handy at all times. Any time a thought pops into your head about something that needs to be done, put it on the list. Make a habit of reviewing that list at the end of each day and schedule in the important tasks.
Similarly, aim to give yourself plenty of time to get to important meetings and appointments wherever possible. Check out your route ahead of time so you know where you need to go.
Move Your Body
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – sweat is the BEST stress reliever! Physical activity has amazing benefits for your mental well-being, anxiety included. If you missed it, check out this post on the connection between physical activity and mental illness.
Your daily movement can become your daily mindfulness practice if you really immerse yourself in the process. Getting some activity clears your mind, improves your sleep, and boosts your confidence. All of these things are beneficial from an anxiety-management point of view!
Try This: If you aren’t currently active, aim to incorporate 30 minutes of physical activity into your day. You can squeeze in a 10-minute walk in the morning and at lunch. Prep yourself for bed by doing 10 minutes of stretching at night.
If you’re already sweating on the regular, find ways to make the process more mindful. Stop going through the motions and pay attention to how you’re really feeling. Try new things and do things you enjoy. Make the process fun.
Life with anxiety doesn’t have to be hard or unenjoyable. There are many simple practices to ease anxiety on a daily basis that don’t require much of a time investment. It just takes conscious effort. It’s time to take a time out each day and give yourself the care and attention you deserve!
How do you ease anxiety? Have you implemented any of these practices into your own life?