How to use mindfulness to reduce anxiety
One of the symptoms of anxiety is “overthinking” or ruminating. Once your brain latches onto a worry, it’s hard to break free of it. You can easily get caught in a thought loop where you replay every bad outcome you can imagine. This, of course, isn’t useful. We all know that worrying doesn’t prevent bad things from happen.
Using these 7 simple and mindful strategies can help you reduce rumination and worry. Staying in the present moment, rather than in the future, is an effective way to manage anxiety.
- Change the scenery. Get up and move yourself to a different location. Your environment impacts your mood. If you’re somewhere quiet, find somewhere with noise and activity to sit. If you’re inside, go outside. If you’re around negative energy, look for positive people or calming décor. We’re looking to shake up your thinking with some new sensory input.
- Get your creative juices flowing. Creativity uses your brain in a different way than rote tasks. What do you like to create? I believe everyone’s creative, but sometimes people shut this part of themselves off thinking it’s a waste of time or “I’m not good at art”. Think of creativity in a broad sense; it’s not just painting and drawing. It’s the creative process, not the finished product that matters. So, if you enjoy painting or cake decorating, you should go for it regardless of whether you’re “good” at it!
- Be active. Physical activity is one of the best things that you can do for your mental health. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain that make us feel happier, calmer, and less stressed.
- Do something you’re good at. Using your strengths feels good. It’s great to try new things, challenge yourself, and take chances in life, but when you’re really struggling and thinking negatively, go ahead and do something that you excel in. If you’re a great cook, whip up your favorite recipe or if you’re a great photographer, snap some new photos.
- Distract yourself with something that takes brain power. Distraction is an easy and valid strategy for anxiety. Some types of distraction may be more effective than others, however. You may find that plugging into the new season of “Scandal” does the trick, but some people find TV doesn’t engage their brains when they’re highly anxious. If this happens, try something that requires more concentration like Sudoku puzzles or trying to recreate some complicated craft you saw on Pinterest.
- Use all of your senses. One of my favorite ways to reduce anxiety is to “ground” yourself in the present. Simply use all of your senses to notice what’s right in front of you. How many windows are in the room? How many tiles are on the ceiling? What do you smell? Is the chair you’re on soft or smooth? What do you hear? Like distraction, this engages your brain and forces it to think about only what’s real right now.
- Breathing. I couldn’t write a post about anxiety without mentioning breathing! It’s another favorite strategy because you can do it anywhere. There are many breathing techniques that you can look up online if you’re so inclined. But all you really need to remember is to slow your breathing and focus on inhaling and exhaling. Count to five as you inhale. Count to five again as you exhale. Bringing more oxygen into your body is calming.
Managing anxiety can be hard. It takes practice to implement new behaviors and ways of thinking. You’re not going to be perfect at it. Some days it will be harder than others. Cut yourself some slack. Getting down on yourself because you just spent the last hour googling signs of brain tumors, isn’t going to help your anxiety. Grant yourself the same compassion that you give to others, regroup and try another strategy.
I suggest jotting down a couple of these strategies and keeping them handy in your purse or taped to your refrigerator. When you get stressed and anxious it can be hard to remember them. And everyone is different, of course. You’ll need to experiment a bit and find the strategies that work best for you. And don’t forget that practice makes everything easier. So, don’t give up if these don’t work immediately. Keep practicing!
Would you like to learn more about mindfulness to reduce anxiety? Contact me to schedule a counseling appointment in my Campbell office (near San Jose, just off Highway 17) for help managing your anxiety.
©2016 Sharon Martin, LCSW