As a lifelong anxiety sufferer I know it can be annoying when you’re drowning in worry thoughts and someone who has no idea what anxiety is actually like tells you to just get some sunshine or exercise and “get over it.” If it was that simple, do you think anyone would still have anxiety?
That said, we can ease the severity of our symptoms by picking up habits that promote good mental hygiene. There are relaxing practices we can incorporate into our every day lives that help us feel more centered and less at the mercy of our runaway thoughts. Here are the best ones I’ve found, try them out and see if they are helpful for you.
1. Prioritize sleep. For a long time I prided myself on not “needing” as much sleep as other people, but when I started working evenings and could sleep as long as I wanted to in the morning, I discovered how much more relaxed I felt every day when I was consistently getting enough sleep. I have to get up in the mornings again, but my day is a lot easier when I don’t interfere with my sleep budget.
2. If falling asleep is difficult, this recipe almost always helps me feel relaxed, worry-free, and ready to sleep: a clean bedroom, freshly washed sheets, and a few drops of lavender oil on my pillow. You will wake up feeling like you were on vacation at a spa, at least until you actually open your eyes.
3. If falling asleep is really difficult, add a sleep meditation podcast. You just turn it on and listen to someone guide you into slumber. I really love anything from Meditation Oasis.
4. Every time you wash your hands, take three deep breaths in and out. After you do this for awhile, it will be automatic and you will have little built-in relaxation breaks throughout the day, cued every time you go to the bathroom or prepare for a meal by washing up.
5. Take a hot shower. This makes a lot of worries go away, and it at least gives you a break from the big ones.
6. Occasionally, take yourself out to lunch. Sit outside if you can. Order something yummy and read a book or just enjoy having a stretch of time that is just for you.
7. When you get angry at yourself because you can’t stop worrying, say “It’s okay, I’m just trying to take good care of myself.”
8. Take out a piece of paper or open up a new document and write out all the things you are worried about. Sometimes just putting a name on it can be a huge relief.
9. Take a minute to remember that the worst probably won’t happen — and even if it does, you’ll figure out a way to deal with it. You always do. Here’s a quote from Danielle LaPorte I find very helpful in this regard:
P.S. You’re not going to die. Here’s the white-hot truth: if you go bankrupt, you’ll still be okay. If you lose the gig, the lover, the house, you’ll still be okay. If you sing off-key, get beat by the competition, have your heart shattered, get fired…it’s not going to kill you. Ask anyone who’s been through it.
11. Dim the lights and light a candle.
12. Do the examen, an ancient self-improvement practice where you list the three most satisfying and the three most frustrating things about each day. Over time, you can see patterns of what stresses you out and what brings you joy — and adjust your life accordingly.
13. Keep a “compliment journal” where you just write down the nice things people say about you. After awhile you’ll have pages to flip through when you’re having a bad day and you can remind yourself that the way your anxiety-brain sees you is not the way everyone else sees you.
14. Make it a habit to touch your partner. Give hugs frequently, making sure you have a lot of skin to skin contact. It releases oxytocin which will make you feel good.
15. If you’re single, make it a point to hug your friends hello and goodbye. Consider trading back rubs while you watch TV or hang out so you don’t miss out on those benefits.
16. Walk around the block. No need for a big commitment, just once around the block.
17. Try to get to know people at the places you go to often — your coffee shop, gas station, grocery store, gym. Just learn the names of the people you see and say hi to them. They’ll greet you back and soon it will seem like everywhere you go people are happy to see you.
18. Go to a pet store and look at the baby kittens and puppies.
19. Go to the beach. It’s a free way to people watch and get out of your head while absorbing some vitamin D.
20. Drink a glass of water. Sometimes anxiety is just being dehydrated.
21. Buy yourself some flowers. For only $6 you can get a bouquet of hydrangeas, which are beautiful, smell good, and last a long time (as far as flowers go).
22. Buy a lotion with a calming scent like lavender and spend a few minutes massaging it into your arms, legs, hands and feet when you’re stressed.
23. Make a list of everything that is currently giving you anxiety. Try to list three things that might help each situation. Actually do (or take a step towards doing) one of these helpers.
24. Reread a book you read growing up.
25. Mute that person on Twitter who always stresses you out or makes you feel bad about yourself.
26. If your gym has a sauna or a steam room — take advantage! You don’t even have to work out, you can use it as a way to get out of the house and relax.
27. Clean your room or your apartment. It’s crazy how cathartic cleaning can be, and how much better you’ll feel when everything is in it’s place.
28. Try some sensory therapy with a product like Origins’ Peace of Mind on-the-spot relief. It’s a small bottle you can keep in your desk or your bag and delivers a powerful punch of calming smells that will relax you every time you use it.
29. Tell a trusted friend what’s bothering you. You’d be surprised at how calming someone else’s perspective can be when you’re off the deep-end in your own head.
30. Or, just go out and meet them for a cup of coffee or tea. Changing your environment when you’re stressed out is an easy way to literally leave the stress behind.
31. Stream Anchorman on Netflix. Or any other movie that makes you belly laugh every time.
32. Try a spin class. The lights are out so you don’t have to worry about looking stupid and the combination of loud music and a challenge in front of you is the perfect distraction for an anxious person. Whatever it is that’s on your mind, it will look like a smaller challenge when you’re done.
33. If you already know exercise helps anxiety, but you have trouble motivating yourself to get started, remind yourself that you only need to do it for 21 minutes in order to reap the benefits. That’s less than an episode of Friends!
34. Do yoga.
35. If you are a super beginner or just don’t like yoga, try doing a routine meant for sick people. It’s meant to be very easy and relaxing.
36. Take a minute and remind yourself of a time when something bad did happen to you, and how you had the intelligence and the strength to get through it. You can and will handle whatever else comes your way.
37. Buy new sheets, pillows, and make sure your comforter is really comfortable. The idea is to have at least one place (your bed) that is a haven — always relaxing and comfortable and something you do just for you.
38. Get a haircut. Make sure you go somewhere where they really massage your head while shampooing. Focus on the feeling of how luxurious it is to sit there and let someone else do something for you.
39. Turn on mellow music. This playlist is a good place to start.
40. Release some of your tension through the joy of sex (or masturbation).
41. Instead of wallowing in your own thoughts, do something for someone else. It can be as quick and simple as sending someone a text thanking them for something nice they’ve done or just saying that you appreciate them. If you have more time, bake someone their favorite treat or bring them flowers just because. Seeing how good you can make someone else feel is powerful.
42. Make a list of 10 things you are grateful for.
43. Pop a fish oil pill. Omega-3s are linked to decreased anxiety and depression.
44. Some helpful advice is “move the body and the mind follows.” Just like our physical symptoms are caused by our anxiety thoughts, easing the symptoms and ease the thoughts. Slow your breathing, massage your forearms, do whatever you need to do to make your body feel like it is relaxed, and your mind will come around eventually.
45. Decide you will be a person who forgives. Let go of the weight of grudges or disliking people who have wronged you in the past. Choose to not care anymore.
46. Embrace minimalism.
47. Paint something in your bedroom yellow. The color is shown to make people happy.
48. Read a zen story.
50. Keep a journal and document how adopting some of these habits help you over time. Often, the best motivation for change is just knowing that it’s possible.