Feeling stressed? You’re not alone—but when that stress and worry snowballs and turns into anxiety, it can certainly feel like it. Anxiety can’t just be pushed aside—it can make us feel tense and overwhelmed, and make it hard to focus on everyday tasks. Left to fester, it can even affect our physical health, manifesting in bad sleep patterns, poor digestion and muscle pain.

There are ways to combat anxiety though, using the powerful tools of mindfulness and meditation. But if clearing your mind sounds like an impossible task when anxiety grips you, there are other options. We had a chat with Calm psychologist Rosie Nisker for her top five mindfulness activities to try when anxiety strikes.

Focus On Your Breathing 

By stopping and focusing our mind on breathing, we can feel more connected to the present moment, and not get as easily swept away by past or future concerns. As Nisker says, “When we place our attention on the breath, we give ourselves the chance to gain some perspective on anxious thoughts rather than be automatically overtaken by them.” A good tip for a breathing practice to help with anxiety is to try inhaling for four seconds, and then exhaling for five. Having a longer exhale helps regulate the nervous system, which forces our bodies to relax and calm down. To help get you started, Calm’s breathe bubble can guide you.

Listen To Music 

Music can heavily affect our mood, so it makes sense that the right tunes can help with anxiety. Listening to music or relaxing soundscapes is a gentle form of self-care that can help calm your anxious thoughts. Find a relaxing song to play (so not your heavy rock soundtrack—try something a little more mellow) and then get cozy in a comfortable position with pillows and blankets. Try to focus fully on the sound. If your mind wanders—which is perfectly natural—just gently bring yourself back to the music. Allow yourself to be immersed completely in the sounds of the music without worrying about everything you have to do by setting a timer for five to ten minutes.

Be Aware Of Your Senses 

Next time you’re beginning to feel anxious, guide yourself back to a more soothed state with this simple exercise from Nisker that you can do anywhere. Start by taking a few deep breaths, where you focus on exhaling and then begin to name:

  • Five things you can see
  • Four things you can hear
  • Three things you can feel
  • Two things you can smell
  • One thing you can taste

Use your senses to turn your awareness away from anxious thoughts and ground yourself by focusing on your physically bodily experiences. Nisker explains that “Once we connect more fully with our sensory experience, we have greater capacity to meet whatever is troubling us with more steadiness and clarity.”

Try A Guided Meditation

Whether you are an experienced or beginner meditator, meditation can be a calming exercise no matter the level of your anxiety, and doing a guided meditation makes it easy. Calm’s app is full of guided meditations, but Nisker recommends the 10 minute Daily Calm, which has been designed to help keep your anxiety at bay no matter where your anxiety levels are. Changing themes every day, it will guide you through a range of mindfulness and meditation practices.

Move Around

Don’t sit and stew—go outside, close your eyes and listen to the sounds of nature, even if it’s just for ten minutes. While you wander, try to take a bit of time and pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells, texture while on a walk or do some morning stretches. Walk slowly and focus on how each step feels. You don’t need to have a destination in mind as Nisker suggests “having no place to go makes it easier to be exactly where you are and tuned into what’s around you.”

Here’s 10 ways to look after your mental health this year, according to a psychologist. 

Image credit: Brooke Cagle

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