50 Tips to Help You Feel More in Control of the 'Runaway Thoughts’ of Anxiety
As someone who has dealt with anxiety her entire life, I know it can be annoying when you’re drowning in worried thoughts. I know it can be annoying when someone who has no idea what anxiety is like tells you to just get some sunshine or exercise and “get over it.” If it was that simple, do they think anyone would still have anxiety?
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 everyday 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. When I started working evenings, I 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. A clean bedroom, freshly washed sheets and a few drops of lavender oil on my pillow.
If falling asleep is difficult, this recipe almost always helps me feel relaxed, worry-free and ready to sleep. I wake up feeling like I was on vacation at a spa, at least until I actually open my eyes.
4. Every time you wash your hands, take three deep breaths in and out.
After you do this for awhile, it can be automatic and you can 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 me a break from the big ones.
6. Occasionally, take yourself out to lunch.
Sit outside if you can. Order something yummy, read a book or just enjoy having a stretch of time just for you.
7. Say this to yourself, “It’s OK. I’m just trying to take good care of myself.”
Remember to say this when you get angry at yourself because you can’t stop worrying.
8. Write down what you are worried about.
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 to it can be a huge relief.
9. Take a minute to remember the worst probably won’t happen.
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 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 OK. If you lose the gig, the lover or the house, you’ll still be OK. 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.”
10. Read more helpful, calming quotes here.
11. Dim the lights and light a candle.
12. Do the examen.
This is 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, what brings you joy, and adjust your life accordingly.
13. Keep a “compliment journal.”
Here you 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. You can remind yourself 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 television 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.
Whether it is your coffee shop, gas station, grocery store or gym, 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. Look at the baby kittens and puppies.
19. Go to the beach.
It’s a 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.
Lavender is one option. Spend a few minutes massaging it into your arms, legs, hands and feet when you’re stressed.
23. Make a list of everything 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 amazing how cathartic cleaning can be and how much better you’ll feel when everything is in its place.
28. Try some sensory therapy.
A product like Origins’ Peace of Mind On-the-spot relief is a great option. It’s a small bottle you can keep in your desk or bag. It 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. 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 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 silly. 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 may look like a smaller challenge when you’re done.
33. Remind yourself it won’t last for long.
If you already know exercise helps anxiety but you have trouble motivating yourself to get started, then remind yourself that you only need to do it for 21 minutes to reap the benefits. That’s less than an episode of “Friends”!
34. Do yoga.
35. Try a yoga routine developed for a sick person.
If you are a super beginner or just don’t like yoga, then try doing a routine meant for sick people. It’s meant to be gentler.
36. Remind yourself of past wins.
Take a minute and remind yourself of a time when something bad did happen to you. Remind yourself 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. It should be 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. Give back.
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 you appreciate them. If you have more time, then 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. 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.
49. Listen to catchy pop music that can’t help but make you happy.
50. Track your progress.
Keep a journal and document how adopting some of these habits help you over time. Often, the best motivation for change is just knowing it’s possible.
Image via Thinkstock.