Anxiety is not something I feel often but during the times I have I found two tools that really helped me. These are Breath Focus Meditation/ deep breathing and The Pleasure List. It's believed that many people experience anxiety because of their thoughts. It's through these two tools I could bring my attention to present moment and let the thoughts causing my anxiety to go peacefully without attaching to them. It's probably best to point out that these are two of many tools, they might work for you but there really is no one size fits all.
Breath Focus Meditation or deep breathing can be done either sitting or standing, depending on where you are at the time you wish to use this tool. You can close your eyes and do deep, slow abdominal breathing. There are a number of breath patterns you can use but I often use four seconds in and six seconds out. I do this roughly 10 times, or sometimes for upto 10 minutes when I get into the groove. It's really important to bring your attention to your breathing, to the present moment as well as making sure the seconds out are longer than the seconds in. This can help elicit the relaxation response in your body, stimulating the parts of the brain and nervous system responsible for creating a sense of calm tranquillity.
The second tool I use is the pleasure list.
Write a list of 15-20 items or activities that bring instant joy or make you feel happy. I recommend writing it on your phone so you always have access to it. You should try avoid including things like alcohol or food and focus more on writing about memories, activities or thoughts that you have associated positive feelings with. They will most likely give you a bit of a dopamine hit, the feel good hormone.
When you're feeling anxious or have uncomfortable feelings that aren't helping you in that moment you can pull out your list and choose something to focus on. Having a variety or items will allow you to use the tool in many situations.
Below are a few examples of whats on my list.
- Reading. I love loosing my mind in my books. Not only do I really enjoy it, but it changes my focus from the thoughts I may have been having to what I'm reading about.
- Tik Tok videos. People are really creative on there and many of the videos I watch have me cracking up.
- Hug. If my partner is around there is nothing better than giving him a big cuddle! I know that doing this my brain might be releasing a bit of oxytocin, the bonding or love hormone.
- Walk in my garden. I love to practice mindfulness as I look at the beauty around me and breathe in the fresh air. I will try to keep my attention in the present moment.
- Scrabble. During lockdown my parents and I had some intense and funny scrabble battles. Some of the funniest times were had, mainly because my mum is so sneaky! This is a brilliant game which we now find ourselves playing often.
I won't go through my whole list, but I hope you get the idea. You want to include a mixture of activities and memories incase you can't do one or the other. If you are choosing a memory, you also want to keep in mind that your memory could initiate another memory that may be 'negative' so you want to choose carefully what memory to focus on. For example, although I have many fond memories of my Grandma, she's also quite sick at the moment, my beautiful happy thought could quickly jump to, "oh but she's sick and I wish I was there with her", which may initiate an emotion that I don't want at this time.
Also, this isn't one of my tools but Im adding it in whilst I think of it. :)
I often check in with myself and ask myself a few questions. Am I getting enough sleep at night? Am I eating food that my brain will love or need? Have I been moving enough? Do I feel connected with my friends, family or nature? These I can easily adjust which can have a major positive influence on myself and how I experience life. With some reflection I can see certain things that may need to be adjusted if it's within my control.
If you have recently just started experiencing anxiety, do reach out to some professional help and find some guidance that way.
Stay safe, be kind, much love.
Recommended resources to check out Youtube: Relaxation Response with Dr Herbert Benson teaching you the basics