“…It’s like a mother, when the baby is crying, she picks up the baby, and she holds the baby tenderly in her arms. Your pain, your anxiety is your baby. You have to take care of it. You have to go back to yourself, to recognise the suffering in you, embrace the suffering, and get relief…”
Thich Nhat Hanh
I have had many conversations about mental health and anxiety with friends and colleagues. Therefore, I decided to dedicate this blog to this theme and offer you some practical tips!
If you are experiencing anxiety, please, first of all, know that you are not alone. We are living in tough times. We are in uncharted territory.
There are many definitions of anxiety. We can undoubtedly say that a simple one is ‘intolerance of the unknown’. That energy can build up in our system and affect the physiology of our body. Some of us may manifest physical symptoms, from stomach pain to headaches, and others will experience more fear or repetitive negative thoughts.
Moreover, we can say that anxiety is calling for our attention. It is telling us there is something we need to pay attention to, and we may need to turn inwards and listen. Obviously, this is not easy, especially when we are already overwhelmed or tend to live up in our heads.
Below you can find eleven invitations to calm your anxiety and resource yourself while you navigate the unknown.
Uncertainty is part of the dance of life, and you may need to learn some new steps!
Most of those practices work for me. I integrated them after deepening my studies in somatics and somatic stress release.
To be able to write to you is a beautiful way for me to feel centred, so thank you for being here with me and taking the time to read this letter.
Here we go!
1) Make a list of what makes you feel anchored.
Identify the who, what (actions or objects), when, and where that brings you a sense of peace, safety and ease. It can be a superhero, your grandparents or a childhood teddy bear. Unleash your imagination!
Create a practice or habit to turn towards those when looking for a resource or need to feel calmer. When you feel anxious, it is easy to forget where there is ease. So take a moment to be with this.
Even if you find a small thing or area, that is OK; start from there! Every single step matters.
2) Turn your attention towards a memory of delight.
Remember some joyous circumstances when you felt vibrant and energised. Pay attention to this landscape. What are the sounds, textures, and colours? Perhaps you can hear the waves and birds singing, or sense the sand under your feet. How does it feel? Take a moment to pause and listen. Let it sink.
Imagine that your body can absorb that memory of delight in every cell, organ, muscle, tendon and ligament.
Allow that sensation to circulate in your system, and if you wish, drink it as sweet nectar.
3) Change focus and redirect your attention.
This is a simple but effective one. If you are feeling very anxious, start doing something else and find an activity that comforts you.
Call a friend, prepare nourishing food, put on some music, tidy your house, or listen to an inspiring podcast. Do whatever helps you to redirect your focus.
Create plans that you can follow and focus on small achievable steps.
4) Hug yourself and offer yourself some sweet talk.
Holding yourself is a way to give your system a sense of your physical boundaries. This way, you can create the space to connect with yourself and your body in a contained way. And this is particularly important when the energy of anxiety may give you the feeling that you are all over the place.
Touch can help you regulate and soothe your nervous system. We are mammals, remember?
If nobody can hug you in a moment of distress, you can!
Allow yourself to spend a few moments in this position and to feel held and supported.
As an extension of this little practice, I invite you to offer yourself some sweet talk, words of acknowledgement and self-validation. Speak to yourself as your best friend. Words are magical and have power.
5) Move your body.
If you experience anxiety, your body probably has not fully processed some stuck or excess energy. This is part of your biology and physiology, and there is no need to be afraid. You can make friends with it.
Go for a walk, ride your bike, dance, or tap on the parts where you feel stuck or have excessive energy and then move with it. Shake, move your booty and have a good sweat!
6) Make some sounds.
Take a deep breath in, and create a humming sound with a vowel on the exhale. Allow the breath to be fluid and effortless; no need to control it or contract.
It doesn’t need to be loud; this can be very gentle, subtle and internal. (I love this one!). You can also experiment with it in a busy place or on the train if you need to calm yourself down. It can be quite an intimate experience, and nobody will hear you.
On the contrary, you can play with different volumes and pitches if you are alone and comfortable with making noises. It can be quite a life-affirming process while you give yourself permission to take space and be louder.
In any case, you can focus on the vibration in your chest, face, and skull and allow it to travel to your trunk, limbs and feet. Imagine the sound travelling down into the ground.
Whatever you decide regarding volume and intensity, you can imagine sending that sound in every part of your body as a lullaby and giving yourself some love.
Do it a few times times.
This simple practice can calm the nervous system and stimulate vagal tone (essential for relaxation, feeling connected, safe and engaged with life).
7) Create a support system that allows you to turn inward.
Call a trusted friend or family member. Talk to your coach or therapist. Do something that makes you feel resourced.
What do you need to do to turn inward safely and be in contact with yourself?
As some says, the only way out is through! It is essential to have safe places where you can allow your experience without needing to fix it, change it or transcend it. This is not an invitation to indulge in it or drown in anxiety. It is about welcoming yourself as you are, validating what is happening within you and being with it. Sometimes, paradoxically as it may sound, we need to feel it all before we can let go of it.
Once you feel supported, find a space to sit with what is happening, speak to it as if it is a friend and let it express what it needs and do whatever it needs to move through. Maybe the anxiety has a message for you. This is an invitation to trust your inner experience and listen to it.
8) Make a list of things and areas where you feel in control.
It is easy to get overwhelmed when you have massive to-do lists or worry excessively about the future or what you can’t control.
Break down the steps. Create a simple routine or structure. Redirect your attention towards activities you can manage daily, i.e. what you eat, when you shower, do your laundry or exercise.
This is one of my favourite ways to keep anxiety and overwhelm at bay. As a self-employed person with a lot of unstructured time, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of routines and creating anchors or a simple schedule in daily life.
9) Reduce the amount of news and screen time.
There is no need to overstimulate your senses and take an overload of information that your system may not know how to process or digest. Often it is simply too much.
We live in the information age, which may trigger our nervous system’s alarm devices and responses.
The news presents us with so much horror, despair, fear and anguish that briefly after is mixed with fashion, sport and entertainment. All this can be confusing and disturbing for our psyche.
Whether conscious of it or not, we are constantly processing something. So it is a good idea to reduce all that can cause additional distress.
Choose consciously what information you need and identify what is contributing to anxiety.
Reduce screen time, especially at night, as blue lights on your phone and computers may alter your natural circadian rhythms and mess up your sleep.
10) Expand and play with your senses.
Whenever you feel anxious, you may be overthinking. Your tunnel vision or attention gets even narrower, and your focus is on what makes you feel uncertain. We are evolutionarily designed this way: our ancestors survived by retaining more vividly negative memories. It is also possible that this pattern may trigger other insecurities, your inner critic or a toxic self-image.
Therefore, I invite you to ‘zoom out’ and experiment with expanding your senses to get out of your head, reclaim a friendlier relationship with your body, and feel more at home in your skin. Focus on beauty.
Smell the roses.
Dance in the rain.
Absorb the colours of the sunset.
Listen to the birds.
Feel the warmth on your skin.
Taste your food.
Get a massage.
Rub some warm oil on your tummy.
Touch your pet.
Hug a friend.
11) Include gratitude.
Create a simple gratitude ritual in the mornings or evenings.
As I mentioned earlier, we evolved for (good) survival reasons to prioritise the memory of potential dangers (also called negative biases). It is easy to feel lost like a leaf in the wind when the mind goes in loops or may have the tendency to anticipate the worst. Consequently, we need a little effort to balance this pattern and focus consciously on gratitude.
Make a list of what you are grateful for in your life.
Acknowledge the goodness in your heart.
Take some time to see how it feels.
You can recall this experience many times during the day.
Pause and remember.
You may already know that gratitude stimulates a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain that reduces stress. Moreover, studies show that gratitude promotes the heart’s coherence and rhythm. Those are interlinked with a general sense of well-being and improved cognitive, physical and emotional health.
So, thank you, dear ones, for taking the time to read.
Let me know how these invitations land and what you find most helpful.
What is your favourite one? What else would you add to this list?
Whatever you decide to do, the more you practice and include simple steps, the more you send the message to your body that it is safe to be with whatever needs to be processed. There is containment and ground, indeed. Furthermore, in this way, you can be in a relationship with what is emerging and find ways to be creative rather than being swallowed by it. You can dance more with life and have more choice and agency.
Please note that these invitations are not prescriptions; each person is unique, and what works for me may not work for you. Let’s honour our individual needs and unique colours!
Remember also to be gentle and forgiving with yourself when you are not managing to implement new things and perhaps are still indulging in old habits.
Also, if something feels overwhelming, please stop and focus on something easier or more comfortable. These practices are not intended to add additional stress.