Are you filled with anxiety and overwhelmed by stress? You’re not alone. Anxiety is the most common psychological condition that people struggle with, and it often follows high stress.
You’re probably familiar with the toll that high anxiety can take—the tension throughout your body, trouble sleeping, constant worrying, and avoiding things that trigger anxiety. Less commonly recognized signs include constant self-doubt, fearing the worst, difficulty focusing, and being irritable with those around you.
Thankfully there are things you can do to calm your anxiety and better manage the stress in your life. And best of all: The practices don’t have to take a lot of time. Reducing anxiety and dealing with stress doesn’t have to be its own source of stress!
There are many quick and easy practices that can have a big impact on your well-being. The ones I’ve included here have a solid basis in research, and are things I encourage my psychotherapy clients to use. I’ve also found them personally useful in managing my own daily stresses and anxiety.
For best results, space these practices throughout your day. That way you’ll have many opportunities to re-center yourself and release the stress that tends to accumulate in our bodies and minds. If you wait until you’re completely overwhelmed, it’s much harder to regain your balance.
Early Morning: Start Your Day With Presence (30 seconds)
Begin your morning with a basic grounding exercise to set the tone for your day. You can use this practice when you first wake up—before you’ve even opened your eyes—or during your morning routine (in the shower, waiting for your coffee to brew, etc.).
Close your eyes and turn your attention to the breath as it moves in and out of your body. As you breathe in, think to yourself, “I am.” As you exhale, think, “Here.”
Repeat this cycle a few times as you breathe: “I am … here. I am … here.” Notice how your body and mind respond to this simple declaration.
Return to this practice during the day, with your eyes open as needed, to affirm your place in the world.
Mid-Morning: Be With the Breath (60 seconds)
Focusing on the breath is one of the most reliable ways to lower anxiety and manage stress, and for good reason. Being with the breath engages the vagus nerve, which activates the calming part of your nervous system.
Best of all, you don’t have to try to relax—just breathe. Your nervous system will handle the rest.
Set a one-minute timer. Take a nice calming breath, really slowing down the exhalation, for one minute.
Count how many breaths you take during that minute. Whatever number you count to is your breath number—for example, mine is seven.article continues after advertisement
Whenever you feel stressed during the day, pause and take that number of slow, calming breaths. It will take about a minute, and you won’t need a timer. Notice if the mind starts to settle simply by returning to the breath
This exercise is especially helpful when you find yourself feeling stressed or worried. It can be done anywhere—at home, at work, while driving (obviously keep your eyes open!)—whenever and as often as you need it.
Lunchtime: Rest and Digest (30 seconds)
Eating engages the part of our nervous system that counteracts the Fight, Flight, or Freeze mechanism responsible for our stress hormones. But we often rush through our meal—and most of us focus on stressful distractions while we do it, like work or upsetting news.
Lower your stress and improve digestion by eating in a more relaxed state. As much as possible, eat at a table and put away work and other stressors (I know, it can be hard not to work through lunch…). Try this simple exercise to prepare your body and mind for your meal.
When you sit down to eat, take three slow, grounding breaths.
- With the first breath, feel your feet on the floor and your weight pressing into your chair, sensing where you are physically, mentally, and emotionally.
- With the second, take in your surroundings, noticing the things that fill your life. Pay special attention to anyone you’re sharing the meal with, really seeing what’s around you.
- With the third breath, notice the food in front of you, taking in its colors, textures, and aroma.
Early Evening: Let Go of Tension (2 minutes)
Our bodies collect physical tension throughout the day, which in turn increases anxiety and becomes its own source of stress. Practice releasing tension a few times throughout the day. It may be especially beneficial to relax during transitions, like when coming home for the day before you greet your family.
In this exercise, you relax your muscles by first tensing them. Though it may seem counterintuitive, this tension-relaxation cycle can be more effective than simply trying to relax your muscles.
Sit in a quiet place with your eyes closed. Take three calming breaths, exhaling for a count of five.
Squeeze your hands into fists, hold for a moment, then completely let go of the tension in your hands. Take three more calming breaths.
Now shrug your shoulders up toward your ears, creating tension, and then let your shoulders relax. End with three more slow breaths. Notice how you feel now.
If you carry tension in other muscles, feel free to adapt this exercise for those areas.