Do you struggle with anxious thoughts? You’re certainly not alone. Anxiety is the most common mental disorder and will affect most people at some point. It’s the body’s natural reaction to stress and can be useful for keeping us alert during dangerous situations. Sometimes, anxious thoughts can occur in situations that aren’t necessarily dangerous, but are of great importance such as a job interview or first date.
Other times, anxious thoughts seem to creep in for no apparent reason. You may not even be able to identify the cause of the anxiety and this can make you even more anxious. When these thoughts begin to hinder your ability to function in your daily life, you may want to consider working with a therapist. There are many practices and habits that can reduce anxiety in the long term. Ensuring that you are eating healthily, staying hydrated and getting proper sleep are foundational when coping with an anxiety disorder.
But what about tackling anxiety in the moment? What can you do when you have a presentation at work in an hour, but you can’t stop ruminating on your credit card bill? Or when you feel overwhelmed at the grocery store, but need to finish your shopping? These are the little moments in life where coping skills are essential. While you can’t control or predict when anxiety will arise, be prepared by learning these five simple strategies that can be used at any time.
Mindfulness for anxiety
Mindfulness is a simple, yet effective method of calming down your anxious thoughts in the moment. When anxious thoughts arise, we are usually ruminating on the past or speculating about the future. Mindfulness keeps you in the present moment and helps to counteract anxiety. You can practice mindfulness at any time by simply focusing on your breathing. Take deep, deliberate breaths and make a note of all the sensations in your body. Can you feel the air tickling your nose? Can you see the rise and fall of your chest? When you feel your mind wandering, bring your attention back to your breath and the present moment.
Mindfulness is a popular technique used in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) that you can practice at any time. By taking the time to pause and remain present, you can appreciate all the little things about the current moment that you otherwise may not have noticed. This can have a surprisingly soothing effect on the mind and body.
Radical acceptance is another DBT technique that can be used to calm anxious thoughts. It is the ability to accept situations that are outside of your control without judgment. It is based on the premise that anxiety stems from our thoughts about a situation, and not the situation itself. Radical acceptance encourages you to accept and be at peace with reality, which can help to minimize your anxious thoughts. By embracing your reality instead of fighting it, you are less likely to experience resentment, shame or guilt about your past. This can be very effective in reducing ruminating thoughts.
Whenever you find yourself fighting reality (for example “my life shouldn’t be this way”), use the opportunity to practice this technique. You can easily incorporate radical acceptance into your life by repeating coping statements to yourself. Examples of radical acceptance coping statements include:
- The present is the only moment I have control of
- This moment is the result of a million other decisions
- I cannot change the past, I can only live in the present
- I don’t like what’s happening but I can cope with my reality
- Everything that happened in the past has led up to now
- The past is in the past, but now I can move forward
Self-soothe with Senses
This is a simple and popular exercise that can be used to calm anxious thoughts. The best part is that it can be done at any time and in any location. You’ll be using your senses to take note of your surroundings. This is an example of a mindfulness technique because it helps to keep you in the present moment. It also has the additional benefit of distracting your mind from your anxious thoughts.
- Acknowledge 5 things you can see around you. Perhaps the polish on your toenails or someone walking by outside your window.
- Acknowledge 4 things you can touch around you. This can be your hair on your neck, the ground under your feet or your clothes on your skin.
- Acknowledge 3 things you can hear. Maybe a dog is barking in the distance or maybe you’ll notice a sound your own body is making.
- Acknowledge 2 things you can smell. Take a deep breath and make a note of the things you can smell. Do your hands smell like soap or sanitizer? Can you sniff your collar?
- Acknowledge 1 thing you can taste. Maybe you’re chewing bubble gum or maybe you can still taste some of your last meal.
Walking for Anxiety
Movement is an excellent way to calm anxiety. If you’re able, go for a short (5 or 10 minute) walk before returning to your present situation. Research indicates that walking is powerful enough to “turn off” the part of the brain that is responsible for your anxiety. The physical activity of walking can have a clearing and calming effect on the mind, enabling you to see your situation with fresh eyes. Incorporate mindfulness into your walk by taking a note of the things around you. Make a game of it by counting all the red items you see on your walk. While walking outside has the added benefit of fresh air, an indoor walk is incredibly effective at calming an anxious mind.
By learning these strategies, you’ll be better equipped to handle anxious thoughts when they arise. The best part is that the more you practice, the better you will become at these skills. While they are incredibly useful in the moment, it’s also important to consider long-term strategies for managing chronic anxiety. The therapists at Flourish Psychology can work with you to identify your triggers and find freedom from your anxiety. Schedule a free consult to get matched with a therapist who best meets your needs.