We all experience anxiety at some time in our lives. Rushing thoughts, feelings of worry and unease that can affect you both physically and mentally. For some people it is an all too regular occurrence, which can really disrupt life and cause you not to attempt things you really want to do.
Anxiety is usually caused by either ruminating on things that have gone wrong in the past or worrying about events that might happen in the future. Restoring your thoughts to the present time is the most effective way to calm anxiety. And there are lots of ways you can do this.
Here are my 9 recommended fixes to try for tackling anxious thoughts whenever they come up. Each one will work as a quick fix when you need it. For greater impact, integrating some of these strategies into your routine will improve your long term wellbeing too.
We’re all different, so you may find some techniques work better for you than others. Having a choice of options means there are lots of things to try, helping you figure out what works best for you.
Focus On Your Surroundings
This is a great mindfulness exercise, really simple and one which you can do just about anywhere. All you need to do is consider each of your five senses in succession, acknowledging what each one tells you.
So, one by one, one after the other:
- What can you see? Look around and notice all the things your eyes can find.
- What can you hear? Register all the sounds you ears pick up. Voices, music, nature, all the noise around you.
- What do you feel? Next to your skin, the temperature, under your feet, in your hands. All the things you can feel externally.
- What can you taste? Quite simply, what taste is in your mouth? Where did it come from?
- What can you smell? Notice all the scents your nose picks up.
This may seem really simple, but sometimes the simple things are the most effective!
Take a Walk
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to boost your mental health, and something which you should try to make part of your daily routine. Regular exercise boosts serotonin levels in your brain, which is one of the primary neurochemicals that regulates your mood.
This doesn’t have to mean going for a run or sweating it out at the gym. The next occasion you feel anxiety strike, go outside and take a walk for as long as your time will allow. Even 10 minutes will help.
And as you do this, try the previous exercise too – keeping your head up and noticing the sensations as you walk. Two great anxiety bashing weapons in one!
The next time you feel anxiety, notice how you are breathing. As anxiety generally causes the body to release chemicals like adrenaline, this puts us into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Automatically we start taking shorter, shallower breaths in order to oxygenate our muscles. This is turn raises our heart rate.
The way to counter this and slow your heart down is by taking long, slow and deep breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Try doing 10 of these and notice how you feel.
Find a Distraction
Taking your mind away from what you are feeling stressed about will instantly cut your anxiety. Your conscious mind can only process around seven pieces of information at any one time. Giving your brain something else to do means it is incapable of concentrating on whatever has been causing you to feel anxious.
There are lots of things you can do, such as:
- try a puzzle – maybe Sudoku, a crossword or a wordsearch.
- read a book or article, really concentrating on every word.
- unwrap and chew some gum – noticing all the flavour sensations in your mouth
- listen and sing along to some music.
- silently count backwards from 10,000 – saying each number aloud in your mind.
5. Wellbeing Phone Apps
There are lots of great apps available containing easy to follow short and simple exercises that are designed to quickly make you feel better. These include breathing and mindfulness exercises. Check out the app store on your phone to see what is available for you, download a few and find one you like – make it your ‘go to’ app that is there whenever you need it..
I can personally recommend the Headspace app for a short daily dose of mindfulness meditation. There are 10 minute meditations specifically designed to suit lots of different situations or moods you are facing, as well as 10 day programmes to follow for longer term change. You could also try Breethe, Calm or Simply Being – along with the myriad of others available.
Turn Anxiety to Laughter
Scientific research shows laughter has physiological effects that counter anxiety, including lowering your blood pressure and heart rate, plus stimulating endorphins.
Sometimes you can see a way to find humour in a stressful situation by looking at things from a different perspective. Otherwise, keep at hand something you can turn to that you know you find funny.
You will be able to judge what is appropriate for you; but however you do it, finding a way to elicit some laughter will make you feel better.
Try saving to your favourites some clips you find funny on YouTube. Maybe scenes from film or TV or something else you find hilarious. Aim for half a dozen. Simply watch these, laugh out loud and notice how much better you feel. And also how your perspective on what was making you anxious has shifted.
Write It Down
Lots of research studies have found that writing down how you feel improves your sense of wellbeing; making you better able to cope with negative thoughts and be less impacted by them.
Keeping a daily journal is a great idea. A place where you can record all of your thoughts, the positive stuff as well as the things that make you feel anxious. You can use this space to set out your goals for the day and over time notice how much you are able to accomplish.
If this appeals to you, a good starting point is The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day by Intelligent Change, available on Amazon.
If a regular journal isn’t for you, just sit down and write down how you feel every time you get anxious. After you’ve finished writing, read back what you wrote. You will soon see your situation in another way. This is because you are looking at things from a different point of view, taking yourself out of what you have written. It’s amazing how calming this can be. And also really helpful in finding answers to your problems.
Be Thankful For What You’ve Got
When you’re feeling bad, trying to make think positively isn’t always easy. The tendency is to stay focused on the things that have been making you anxious, causing you to feel even worse.
To move away from anxiety, the most important thing is to change your mental state.
One way to do this is to think of three things that you are grateful for. They can be from any part of your life, anything you are happy to have in your existence. Such as people, animals, possessions, memories, holidays, your health – whatever makes you feel glad.
Think of each of these three things in detail, one after the other, for two minutes at a time. So, a total of six minutes focusing on elements of your life you are grateful for.
It’s not possible for your mind stay in a negative place when you immerse your thoughts in things you are grateful for. Your brain just doesn’t have the capacity to do both things at once – so your anxiety will be pushed out of the picture.
Most of us never take the time to stop and feel grateful for what we have. When you do, you’ll realise just how powerful this is.
We may not always feel like this, but human beings are social animals and talking to another person has been shown scientifically proven to lift our mood. It doesn’t matter what you talk about, sharing an interaction with another person you enjoy talking to will make you feel better.
This doesn’t have to be face to face, you could do this over the phone or by video call: However, not by text, using your voice is really important!
Make a list of people you enjoy talking to, and who you can call or visit for a chat at times you feel anxious. Share your stresses if you want to, or alternatively talk about what’s going on in their life. This will be a welcome mental distraction for you, plus it will make them feel better too, knowing you care about what they are going through.
So a win-win for both of you!
Having a go-to strategy to combat anxiety is so important. Take some time and get yours ready for when you need it.