I'm an innately anxious person. Maybe it's just something that's in my genes (thanks, Mom). Maybe I was just born this way, baby. As a kid, I can remember lying in bed in the middle of the night allowing thoughts of worry to ruminate in my head until I was completely consumed by panic. I obsessed over everything and often tried to predict every possible outcome of a situation before it happened. I allowed anxiety to hold me back from doing the things I really wanted to do. I skipped social events, held back from voicing my opinion in my professional life, and avoided risks at all costs.
I've missed out on a lot of moments of what could have been pure joy because I was too anxious to enjoy myself. Living in constant fear, especially when it begins to impact your daily responsibilities or your relationships, is exhausting and can be debilitating. After a panic attack so severe I convinced myself I was having a heart attack, I knew I had to make a change in order to manage my anxiety. I knew I couldn't necessarily control my thoughts or completely stop feelings of anxiety altogether, but I could control my behaviors and actions to help reduce some of the side effects.
I began to make a running list of things I did or used to help calm me down when I feel anxiety creeping in. I ended up finding over 50 activities and actions and decided I would practice the ones I felt had the biggest impact each day. I've found the morning is when I typically feel the most anxious, so I wanted to try to I pick a few practices from this list to try each morning. I've identified four rituals that I find to be the most feasible and most effective in the reduction of my anxiety. When I put these simple actions into practice (particularly first thing in the morning) I am noticeably less stressed, more focused, and best of all, less anxious throughout the day.
1. Practice Gratitude
When you're feeling a sense of worry about something in your life or just suffer from generalized anxiety, it can be hard to focus on the positive. The first thing I do when I wake up is say one thing I'm grateful for. It can range from being grateful for my family to being grateful for the comfy socks I have on. Anything that gives me a momentary sense of gratitude. Doing this makes me recognize something good in my life and ultimately fills my mind and spirit with positivity.
2. Take a Breath
All it takes is a minute of focused breathing to help slow down your brain and calm your nerves. There are lots of resources on different types of breathing techniques out there and benefits each one can have on anxiety. When my mornings are hectic or I'm already feeling the weight of the day in my chest, I prefer to practice this really focused (and superquick) breathing technique. All I do is take a deep breath through my nose for a count of 10 seconds, then exhale deeply from my mouth for 10 seconds. If I feel I need to, I'll repeat this a couple of times. The results are immediate — I feel calmer and more centered and also get a quick mental break because I'm focused solely on my breath. The best part is I can do this exercise anywhere and at any time.
I know, I know — exercise may not always be easy to do first thing in the morning. Sometimes I would much rather hit the snooze button and stay in my warm, comfy blanket cocoon than get physical. But even just the smallest amount of exercise (think a short walk or jog, some jumping jacks, yoga) can have exponential positive benefits when it comes to tackling anxiety. When I drive to the gym in the morning, feeling exhausted and anxious about the day, I always leave feeling more accomplished and centered.
4. Pick a Goal, Any Goal
A huge source of my anxiety stems from wanting to take it all on at once. I used to write a to-do list for myself a mile long and then get anxious just staring at it. So anxious and overwhelmed, in fact, that I didn't even know where to begin, so I just stared blankly, accomplishing nothing and feeling like a failure. Now, in the morning, I set one main goal for myself. I tell myself if I achieve this one thing, then I've mastered the day and immediately feel less anxious. The bonus: if I finish that goal and accomplish something else, I feel like I'm totally winning at life.
These four rituals may not work for everyone, but I can tell you they've significantly changed my life. For anyone who suffers from anxiety, or would just like to find a little more peace in their own lives, I highly encourage you to make your own list. You may surprise yourself and ultimately find a way to create a little more bliss every single day.