If you've felt a greater sense of unease lately, you're not alone. Americans are more stressed out today than at any time in recent years.
We worry about our money, the war in Ukraine, the ongoing threat of disease, political turmoil — these and other societal triggers for anxiety lurk around every corner.
An annual poll on stress conducted in the spring by the American Psychological Association revealed that an overwhelming number of Americans remain in "survival mode" because of stress related to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing costs for food and other goods, and other societal factors.
The poll found that more people are leaving their jobs, some are gaining weight because of prolonged inactivity, fewer people are optimistic about their future, and parents fear that their children suffered developmentally from the major disruption of the pandemic.
It's all just ... a lot. How can we cope?
The National Institutes for Mental Health (NIMH) recommends practicing self-care to help manage stress and anxiety. The NIMH explains that in addition to reducing stress, self-care can lower your risk of illness and increase your energy.
There is no right or wrong self-care technique. What's right for you is the habit or ritual that works. Finding out what works might take some time and research.
We reached out to 34 of our favorite healing, mental health and wellness experts and asked them to respond to the question, "What is the single most effective self-care or healing ritual that anyone can try?"
Here is their advice.
Self-care techniques and healing rituals to manage stress and anxiety
1. Get outside!
Being active out of doors each day is the single most effective healing ritual.
2. Remember that you are enough.
By reminding yourself that you are enough on a daily basis, you are rewiring your brain at a deeper subconscious level.
The more you repeat it to yourself (just like a favorite song), the stronger those neural pathways become in your mind.
Helping to overwrite the old, outdated limiting beliefs that might just be holding you back from feeling a deeper sense of peace of mind, happiness and well-being. Every day simply look in the mirror, smile and say to yourself out loud:
"I am enough."
This daily healing ritual can also be applied to feeling lovable, capable, or worthy. When you can identify the negative looping thought that is bringing you down, you can replace it with a powerful positive reframe that supports your overall well-being.
Michele Molitor, CPCC, PCC, RTT, CHt
3. Sit quietly and breathe.
When I am at the edge, I take a shower, put on fresh PJ's and sit quietly and do breathing exercises for six minutes and then remind myself everything is okay and will be okay.
4. Stretch when you wake up each morning.
Stretch each morning, before you get out of bed. Alternate moving your arms and legs across the center of your body to stretch your shoulders, hips and back. Take deep and slow breaths as you stretch and relax each muscle.
Your body will feel energized when you get out of bed.
Nancy Musarra, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
5. Pause and reflect for three minutes every morning.
My favorite ritual only takes three minutes (or less) of your day, so you can do it day after day. I call it the SAVE routine because it literally saved my life and the lives of some of my clients.
Every morning as soon as you wake up:
- Stop: Breathe and take the time to simply be present in this new day (one minute).
- Acknowledge what is good in your life. Recognize what is going well. Be grateful for being able to breathe, for having a roof over your head, for the sun coming out (one minute).
- Visualize your upcoming day if it could be the best day ever. How would you feel if everything was going your way today (one minute).
- Energy: Sense the energy flowing into your body and start your day (one instant).
You can repeat the same routine during the day if necessary. Stop and breathe. Acknowledge the positive and be grateful. Visualize what you want and allow it to come your way. Sense the shift in energy within you in just a few minutes.
Fabienna Slama, Transformation and Relationship Coach
6. Make time for deliberate introspection.
The most effective self-care ritual someone can try is quite deliberate introspection. Taking the time to get away and silence both internal and external distractions is critical for clarity.
When we are not rushed or pressured, we naturally make better, more effective decisions.
Dr. D Ivan Young, MCC, NBC-HWC
7. Become a 'parent' to yourself.
Become a compassionate parent to yourself. This is perhaps one of the most powerful things that any of us can do to provide ourselves the desperately needed self-care (love & acceptance) that we all need as we move through our journey in life and healing.
To be the compassionate parent to yourself means to soothe ourselves, to encourage and look at tough situations through a strong healed adult view versus our tormented inner child who often is reactive and needy. This allows us to re-parent ourselves in the fashion that we may have needed in our formative years creating new paradigms for our thinking, feeling and reacting to life situations and relationships.
Instead of self-condemnation, we gain support from our inner parent, who confirms their love and acceptance, telling us that we are good and worthy. The act of becoming aware of the internal language that we speak to ourselves followed in this compassionate parent ritual provides us with strength, courage and peace.
Rene' Schooler, Relationship Coach
8. Learn to breathe well.
No matter if you practice breathing as a part of physical activity such as tai chi, chi gong, or yoga, as a means of meditation, or just as a practice in and of itself, breathing well on a regular basis will literally change your life.
When you breathe in a deeply present, relaxed way, you give your brain and body the cue that you are safe. There are no predators lying in wait. There are no real threats to your well-being in this present moment. And your brain and body need more of those moments to rest, digest, recover from life's daily stresses, and heal.
9. Access the power of meditation.
Meditation has to be the most powerful tool I've ever used for self-healing and self-care. Mediation calms the nervous system, leads to greater awareness both internally and externally, and finally creates a greater sense of overall well-being. I highly recommend it!
Lesley Goth, Coach and Licensed Clinical Psychologist
10. Use the power of breathing.
When we allow ourselves to take a few minutes to breathe, we become aware of what our body and mind are experiencing. Taking those few breaths will literally slow down your brain because your mind has to listen to your lungs.
Once you’re aware of what you’re experiencing now you have the power of choice, what do I want to do with this information? Do I want to honor what I need at this moment to care for myself?
Breathing can be done anywhere, it doesn’t require another individual, and it’s free!
Nancy Andino, LCSW, CASAC, CDWF-C
11. Create peace for yourself.
Two Heartspace skills, brain-breathing and self-empathy, are remarkable tools I have developed. If you want a life where you create peace, rather than depending on others to provide it then you must learn Brain-breathing and Self-empathy!
Susan Allan, Founder, Heartspace and The Marriage Forum, Inc.
12. Find your personal groove and follow it!
People tend to say, “do XYZ for self-care or healing.” What works for you might be unique to you.
Maybe what you need to heal is to put on a panda costume and dance around the house. Maybe it’s self-love. Find what works for you and do that. Personally, I like to play guided meditation while I steam my face.
Erika Jordan, Love and Relationship Coach
13. Embrace your personal rhythm and be in the moment.
Stand tall with your feet between your hip bones and your pelvic bone. Raise your hands out to the side and then up above your head and bend your knees as you breathe in fullness.
Straighten your legs as you bring your arms down out to the side and then down to your side as you breathe out openness. Repeat. Breathe in. Breathe out. Do this seven times.
Embrace the rhythm your body moves in. Be in the present moment.
Jennifer S. Wilkov, Founder & CEO, Best-Selling Author
14. Think positively to subconsciously reprogram the mind
The single most effective self-care ritual is subconscious reprogramming. The most powerful thing in this world which has the capability to make or break any person is individual own subconscious thoughts and beliefs.
If one can train their subconscious mind to think affirmatively and grasp the positive energies of the universe, the results are amazing.
Sidhharrth S Kumaar, Astro Numerologist & Founder, NumroVani
15. Use slow body movements.
When you're lost in your head, overthinking and overdoing, you add to your stress. You are a whole being — mind, body, and spirit.
Slow body movements help slow down your brain, connect to all parts of yourself, and bring you into the present moment. The beauty is that you don't have to do anything overly strenuous, like cardio exercise, or even formal, like yoga, tai chi, or chi gong (though those are great options).
Simple movements like slowly dancing to music alone in your room, moving your body slowly and intentionally while cleaning, or even playing with a dog can be powerful healing rituals. If you don't have a dog, consider borrowing a friend's pooch — it's fun and easy for anyone to do.
Britta Neinast, LCSW, Relationship Expert
16. Get enough sleep.
Often overlooked and very basic and wonderful is getting enough sleep every night. Easy to do if your bedroom is a favorite place with soft, comfortable sheets, cozy pillows and quiet.
Relax with thoughts of gratitude for all the positive things in your life that day, all the wonderful, unexpected surprises. Know you have done the best you could that day, resolve to do something kind tomorrow and let peace wash over you.
Rev. Ellyn Kravette, MSC, MSW, LSW, CASAC
17. Practice gratitude.
This is by far the most life-changing practice I know to bring in abundance, joy and the sense of being in the now.
Every morning, I wake up, place my hands on my heart for a few moments, and say "Thank you!" I thank my heart, first of all, and then also give thanks for all the joys in my life.
It helps to name the things you are grateful for, and also practice this throughout the day. It is very difficult to get to a better place, even to a different place, without cultivating gratitude.
Inga Nielsen, Intuitive Healer
18. Offer yourself love and kindness.
Giving ourselves self-compassion is one of the most impactful things we can do to take care of ourselves and heal from pain. Offering ourselves love and kindness — especially for the harder moments of life — motivates us to take care of ourselves, eases pain, reduces stress, and increases resilience.
Suzanne Manser, PhD, Psychologist
19. Choose a personal form of meditation.
In my experience meditation has been the most helpful for my self-care and the self-care of my clients. There are forms of meditation for all.
The most simple one is to sit down and be quiet while taking slow deep breaths. Start with five minutes and gradually move up to 30 minutes as you get used to your new practice.
Over time, you will start to notice a difference.
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Roland Legge, Spiritual Life Coach
20. Maintain a mindful state of calm.
During a stressful situation, you can develop your ability to maintain a state of calm.
Try calm breathing to slow down your heart rate to relieve stress and tension in your body.
Take a deep breath in through your nose for four counts, pause for three counts, and breathe out your mouth for six counts. Focus on your breathing until you feel calm.
Practice this technique to improve how you respond to stress.
Catherine Wood, Corporate Mental Fitness Coach
21. Practice frequent meditation.
Self-care isn’t about being selfish. It’s about being "self-full," so you can flourish in your daily life.
I routinely recommend a daily meditation habit to my clients to process emotions and make decisions, as well as to build resilience. It’s free and simple — when you learn to relax into it — and it can be done anywhere.
Frequency works better than duration, so you don’t have to invest much time. It’s the most impactful use of 10 minutes I know to induce calm, create clarity, and access self-compassion.
Close your eyes or hold your gaze on a spot and ground yourself as you pay attention to your breath, focus on the present moment, and let your thoughts come and go without judgment.
You can also listen to a guided meditation on an app to take you on a more specific journey such as reducing anxiety, improving sleep, and feeling inner peace.
Lisa Petsinis, Career and Life Coach
22. Take a 'self-compassion' break.
Self-compassion is an often overlooked foundation for self-care and healing. While we tend to automatically fall back on self-criticism, research shows that self-compassion is more motivational and leads to better outcomes.
Whereas self-criticism keeps us stuck, self-kindness provides both the courage and the wisdom to best address our problems. In this way, it not only helps us feel better and stronger but it reduces anxiety and depression and increases life satisfaction.
At any time you can choose to be kind to yourself by asking yourself what you most need to hear and treating yourself the way you would treat a child or valued friend. I regularly use and recommend a simple one-minute practice developed by compassion researcher and author Kristin Neff called The Self-Compassion Break.
The basics of this three-part practice are recognizing that something you are facing is hard, recognizing that others also face this hard thing, and finally, recognizing that you can give yourself the self-kindness you need in the moment.
Lisa Newman, Positive Psychology and Mind-Body Eating Coach
23. Begin the day with prayer.
For me, most days, it’s starting the day in a quiet room or on my back deck with a cup of coffee to read some Bible verses and pray. It helps me to feel grateful for my life.
24. Know when (and how) to say 'no.'
Practice using the word "no" and use it. When you say "yes" to something that you don't want to do, you are abandoning yourself, which is the opposite of self-care.
Kavita Melwani, M.Ed, Intuitive Success and Business Coach
25. Let your creativity flow.
For me, drawing a "card a day" has been one of the most potent healing rituals of my life. Find a deck of cards that has artwork you adore. Pick a card a day from this deck.
Here is the insider's trick: Don't read the interpretation in the book just yet. Allow the imagery of the card to speak to you directly.
Make up a story about the image that you see. If you have time, journal about it. Then, read the interpretation the book has to say and you may find additional resonance.
I find this practice brings meaning and reflection to whatever I may be facing on that day.
26. Connect with yourself intentionally every day.
Tune into yourself and live each day with your own conscious intention.
My mother-in-law told me a good decade before she passed on that life goes by fast. It's even faster now. Dealing with the warp speed of the 21st century, It's important to center into your mind, body, and spirit to find out what you need most at least once a day. Then choose to do it.
Sometimes it's a walk. Sometimes it's a massage. Sometimes it's praising yourself and celebrating a job well done. Sometimes, a snooze; other times, connecting with a friend.
Follow the seasons of your life, not anyone else's. We all need connection with others, but we so often put connection with ourselves last.
Kathryn Ramsperger, Intuitive Life and Creative Coach
27. Cultivate a habit of self-praise.
Guard against self-criticism, and instead, practice acknowledging yourself. High standards are useful when setting boundaries. However, when you use them against yourself, it becomes a form of self-harm.
The best self-care practice is to stop yourself in the tracks of beating yourself up and give yourself some praise. Even if you catch yourself in the middle of a critical thought and say to yourself, "I must really care about having a great life."
Start with the small things you can compliment yourself for — getting up on time, making a healthy meal, walking the dog, taking a shower, etc. You're so worth it! By cultivating this self-praise habit you will enhance the joy and positivity you feel. What could be better than that? You're so worth it.
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Laura Rubinstein, Hypnotherapist, Coach, Feminine Power Mentor
28. Talk to yourself as you would a good friend.
One of the most effective self-care rituals that I recommend is to talk to yourself the way you would talk to a dear friend.
It's helpful to do this if you're dealing with a situation that's frustrating or makes you feel embarrassed, depressed, or ashamed. Take a few minutes to think through what you'd say to a dear friend in the same situation, and if it's different than how you're talking to yourself, try to switch your self-talk to the more compassionate message you'd give to your friend.
There's probably a lot of wisdom in it!
Paul Greene, Ph.D., Director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
29. Share your life with others.
A self-healing process is being with healthy people with whom I share ideas, information, concerns and adventures.
Ruth Schimel, PhD, Career and Life Management Consultant
30. Practice conscious deep breathing.
Love is our very life force. To know it, feel it, express it, one only needs to take a deep breath and feel the magnificent life within. Everything else becomes possible from there.
Larry Michel, The Love Shepherd, Founder, Institute of Genetic Energetics
31. Create space for yourself and schedule downtime alone.
As an introvert, this is important for me, and for as old as I am (which is fifty-six years) and as long as I have been in the personal growth industry (twenty-two years), I know this to be true for extroverts as well. “Lone time is the best time.” More than anything I crave space. No company is better than any negative company to me. People I live with, I love — and no one is negative, yet at times I feel their presence as an intrusion.
So, my dear, I schedule thirty minutes of daily downtime in nature. Now if this is not possible for you right now, try taking ninety-minute me-time four days a week. It’s not a luxury, it’s a must-have for optimal mental, emotional and physical wellness, in my model of the world.
If being without headsets, a book, or a journal for thirty minutes a day, sounds scary, try it for ten minutes and then increase it by one minute a day until you get to the thirty-minute session. Use the timer on your phone to let you know when this time of being with yourself in nature or a neighborhood park with no one and nothing around you to take you away from your mental silence is up.
Even as an introvert, I had to learn to cancel mental and emotional noise and need for distractions and get comfortable being with myself. Today, I do not feel lonely in my solitude.
And this is how I learned to create space for myself, for self-care and self-healing. I learned that if I want to be comfortable with others around me and have others be comfortable with having me around I need to be comfortable with myself alone.
Mastery of this ritual takes time and I am still a work in progress, yet this is the only way that’s most effective for me to stay happy, healthy, peaceful, purposeful, and feel abundant and prosperous. My soul craves it and my heart and mind need it for keeping my hormones, organs, bones, and joints healthy, strong, and youthful.
Keya Murthy, M.S., C.H.t, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Spiritual Life Coach
32. Combine self-love with self-acceptance.
There are many ways to practice self-care however none of them would be effective without self-acceptance and self-love!
Self-love is vital for well-being, strong relationships and success, and is key for personal empowerment and happiness. The ability to connect with others and to give and receive love is measured by the ability to love ourselves.
Loving yourself is an art that can work wonders for your health, self-esteem and confidence. Self-love is something that can and should be cultivated and embraced. It is possible to achieve that through deep exploration of your story and focused inner work.
You are the most important person in your own life! If you love yourself.
Angelika Matev, Certified Counseling Astrologer & Growth Coach
33. Notice the good in your life and be grateful for it.
When I think of self-care or self-healing rituals, I find the most effective are those that require no tools or resources. Only oneself!
I suggest people try simply noticing and affirming what is good in their lives with a daily habit of practicing gratitude. It costs nothing and the payoff has proven to be great from emotional to physical well-being and beyond.
Ann Papayoti, Author, Coach, Educator
34. Love yourself first.
Practice self-love. Not the perfunctory version; I mean authentic, absolute, unconditional self-love. Loving yourself first.
This is not a mental, ego-based notion. It's a kind, whole, heart-based acknowledgment.
Can you look in the mirror without judgment? Can you say, "I am the creator of my reality and I love all of my creations?"
Can you honor every aspect of yourself without applying shame, guilt, or self-doubt? Can you embrace triggered responses without diminishing your inner peace and well-being?
When you can answer these questions with limitless, genuine self-love, you will change your world forever in an exponentially elevated experience. And that creates a rippling overflow into the rest of the world.
You are that powerful. Own it. Love it. Love yourself.
Tina Marie Bueno, Intuitive Guide
Carter Gaddis is senior editor, experts & wellness, for YourTango.