With the seasons changing, people going back to school and back into daily routines following the summer, we can feel a little anxious. Moving into a new season of life comes with unknowns and new responsibilities. We can begin to look forward and think about the different things we’ve got coming up rather than being present. Looking forward and planning for the future can help but when there’s a lot of unknowns, we can lose ourselves thinking through different scenarios which may never happen. This drains us and leaves us feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
At the moment, globally, we’re living with even more uncertainty with the pandemic. Creating time for mindfulness practices can be a powerful way to help reduce anxiety. Mindfulness can help us become more present and reduce the mind chatter which can be unhelpful at the best of times! Below, I’m sharing my top daily mindfulness practices for anxiety. Not all of these will appeal to everyone and the idea is not to try to do it all. Having just one or two practices you can come back to daily can really help keep the anxiety levels down and ease the pressures and stresses of life.
I have spoken about the power of journaling so many times and I’m going to say it again. I cannot over emphasise the importance of knowing what’s going on in your own mind. It’s only when we are aware of the thoughts, feelings and emotions we are experiencing that we can act in a way that suits our current needs. If we are not aware that we are feeling really low then we cannot begin to help ourselves feel a little better day by day. If we are not aware that we keep thinking about an issue we are facing then we can’t begin to help allay our own fear about a present which has not yet happened. Journaling can help us identify patterns in our thoughts and emotions. One of my favourite ways to use journaling in this way is to answer 3 questions:
- How am I feeling physically?
- How am I feeling mentally?
- How am I feeling emotionally?
Working with Fear
A lot of anxiety comes from a fear of things that might happen and of not knowing what the future holds. In working through those fears, we can help reduce some of the anxiety we feel. There are two main ways I like to deal with fear and they work in very different ways.
Face the fear
This comes from stoic philosophies and is known as ‘the premeditation of evils’. Simply put: we think of the worst thing that can happen and plan for it. By confronting the worst thing we take away a bit of it’s power and by planning for it we feel a little more in control of the situation. This does not mean we dwell on the situation and it does not mean we overthink it. By confronting and planning we can set the fear aside and know we’re ok.
Set aside the fear
This is a good one to use when the fear is comprised of so many different scenarios that we just keep circling round from one fear to another and another. Taking time to remember that the fear is not real. It is an imagined future which has not happened yet. Fearing an imaginary future does not help us in the present. The fear may not come to pass and if it does, we will face it when it meets us in the present. By remembering the fear is all in our mind it can help us change that mental focus to something more useful.
A lot of stress and anxiety is felt in the body by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This is our body going into ‘fight or flight’ mode: our heart rate increases, our muscles contract, we become more alert, our senses heightened and our breathing increases. By focusing on reducing these symptoms we can move the body into ‘rest and digest’ calming the body with the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. One of the fastest ways to calm the body is through the breath. By slowing the breath, we reduce our heart rate and blood pressure, we decrease tension in the muscles and calm both the body and the mind. Focusing on lengthening the exhale in particular can help this to happen even quicker. One of my favourite simple breathwork exercises for anxiety is:
- Sit up straight, drop the shoulders, relax the face, close the eyes.
- Breathe deeply into the belly to a slow count of 4, breathe fully out to a slow count of 6.
- Repeat for as long as you need.
Finding ways to be present and focused on the now helps us to get out of our head and into our body. Finding ways to reduce the power of our thoughts can really help ease anxiety. For some if can be painting, playing music, dancing, meditation, walking in nature. Whatever takes you out of your head and into the present – your body, the surroundings, the present moment; make time for those things. A quick way to become present when the mind is spiralling is:
- Stop and take a breath.
- Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
I hope some of these practices find you when you need them the most. Know that if you’re feeling anxious right now, not only is it normal but it’s something a lot of us are experiencing. You are not alone and if you need more help, reach out to someone. If you don’t feel you have someone, call the Samaritans 116 123.
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If you use these practices or have any other anxiety practices which work for you please comment below!