Feeling stressed? Anxious? Restless at night?
I feel ya. No fun.
That tightness in the stomach. Rushing thoughts. Waking up and not falling back to sleep.
Irritable. Frustrated. Shorter temper.
a lot all of us. And can spiral until we are left angry, depressed, exhausted. Seemingly small things set us off. Activities that were once a ton of fun just don’t seem as exciting or interesting anymore.
It took me years to realize that I also carry anxiety. I have always had a pretty positive, worry-free outlook on the world. So, if you had asked me if I was worried or anxious, I probably would have grinned and said, “What’s that?!”
I can remember the moment when I realized that I carry anxiety. I was dabbling in some yoga, still not totally sure that it was my thing or that it was really worth $18 per class. The pose was pigeon, which is basically a big, not super fun, hip stretch. Here I am trying to look like I’m not hating it:
The teacher told me to notice my breath. I thought, “I can’t. There’s so many important things going on in my head that I need to figure out and take care of!!” Suddenly I realized, that’s my anxiety. That’s me worrying about stuff. That’s me getting my panties in a bunch. That’s me thinking I can use my brain to fix that thing that I want to be different. (Spoiler alert: that never happens.)
When I begin to discover how much anxiety/stress/worry I walk around with all day, it got me curious about what to do about it. Essentially, what are some things I can do so that I carry less anxiety around and feel less affected by it.
So that launched what’s now been a decade of exploring exercise, movement, meditation, breathwork, mindfulness, self-talk, and a host of other methodologies that have a tremendous amount of research behind them. As well as people incredibly dedicated to each. Sure enough, I discovered there are some incredibly effective things we can do about our anxiety. And it doesn’t have to take that much time or effort.
Here are my three favorite tricks for calming anxiety:
- Three audible exhales. Let’s do this one together: inhale deeply through your nose, gently open your mouth, “aaaaaaahhhhhh.” Repeat. And once more. Notice how you feel? A touch calmer right. It actually releases happy drugs into your brain (namely serotonin and dopamine) and turns down your nervous system so that you are in less of a “fight or flight” mode.
- Somatic awareness. Notice what your right hand feels like. Temperature. Tingly perhaps. Then notice your feet. What they feel like. The pressure of your socks or if they are bare the feeling of what’s underneath them. Tune in to the space between your eye brows. If it’s tight, let it soften. You can continue doing this to any part of your body, or return to the same ones. The reason this works is because it soothes the nervous system and slows down the mind. It has been proven that we are unable to multi-task. So when you are focusing on what’s happening in different parts of your body, you can’t actually worry about that thing you were worrying about.
- Present moment. Tune in to what is happening at this very moment. The screen that you are looking at. The sounds you are hearing. How your body feels. The shape of your breath. In doing so, you’ve brought yourself away from the thing that is causing you anxiety and into this amazing moment right now. That thing you are feeling stressed about won’t go away by thinking about it, so you can give yourself a break and savor this splendid moment.
Okay, and before I close, I’ll share a few more quick tips. Specifically on sleep. Cuz I love me my sleep.
Difficulty sleeping? Insomnia or restlessness at night – and this may come as no surprise – is also a product of anxiety. And there are so many nights I’ve spent awake. Thinking. Worrying about that thing. Anxious.
I should say I used to. Oh, the anxiety and stuff to worry about is still there. Plenty of it. I’ve just learned how to manage it instead of letting it manage me. Result: my anxiety is down and my sleep is up.
Beginner level: count your breaths. Start by trying to count 10 breaths. Then move up to 20. And so on. Initially the thoughts will make it difficult to get past 10 or so without forgetting where you are. Eventually, you’ll become a ninja and it will be time to move up to the intermediate level.
Intermediate level: feel your skin. Not by touching it with your hands. But by actually noticing what your skin is feeling like. What’s the temperature? Does it feel tingly? Can you feel the covers or clothing against your skin? When the thoughts come crowding back in, return your awareness to what your skin feels like.
Advanced level: “watch” the space between your eyebrows. While keeping your eyes closed at the same time. Sounds weird right. That’s why this is some advanced level @#%! It took me a while to figure this one out, so expect it to take a while to make sense. At first when you close your eyes and “look” at the screen on the back of your forehead, it will just look black. But over time, you will start to “see” colors and shapes. I’ve noticed since practicing this technique for about 8 years now, it gets me to sleep within 10 minutes or so. And that’s even when restlessness is in full effect.
Did you or have you tried any of this stuff? Got any other tips or tricks you’d add? I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a line below in the comments, or reach out to me directly using one of the links below.
Anxiety. Stops. Now.
Jeremi McManus is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.