Self-compassion, Self-Love and Self-Directed Kindness

10 Mind-Body Practices You Can Do if You Feel Anxious

Sometimes we feel unusually anxious and need to calm ourselves. I am writing during the Coronavirus, and a lot of people (including myself) are struggling with anxiety.

When we face national and personal crises like the Coronavirus, it is easier for us to  feel anxious about everyone and everything in our life. These are natural feelings and nothing to be ashamed of.

Sometimes, however, we need a way temporarily to ground ourselves, escape our anxiety, or step outside of it in order to gain objectivity and think more clearly.

This post discusses some practices and activities I have found helpful in situations like this. Perhaps it will help you, too.

One: Sit down and close your eyes and try box breathing: breathe out four counts; hold for one count; breathe in four counts; hold for one count. Repeat for a few minutes until you start to feel more calm.

When we breathe shallowly, it can overtax our nervous system and make it hard to think and stay calm. Box breathing is one way to calm down our nervous system and clear our thoughts.

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Two: Do a grounding imagination. Sit down and close your eyes. Breathe in your nose and out your mouth several breaths. On your next inhale, imagine breathing in gold or silver light from the earth into all the cells of your body.

On your exhale, imagine breathing out the light into the world.

Have you ever freaked yourself out by imagining really scary things or the worse case scenario? You can also use your imagination to calm yourself down.

This grounding imagination helps you remember that you are connected to something larger than yourself; it helps you imagine beautiful light filling your body; and it allows you to imagine sending this light to the world.

The more you let yourself feel the different parts of this imagination, the more likely it is to calm you down.

Three: Give yourself permission not to know. You are not required to know how everything is going to work out. That is not your job, and it is not possible. You are just a human being. It’s okay to be vulnerable and scared.

That is a normal human reaction during this time. Say out loud or to yourself, “It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to feel scared.” You might put your hand on your heart while you say this.

Sometimes when we feel afraid and anxious, it is because we feel like we are supposed to know how everything is going to turn out.

And when we don’t know how it is going to turn out, this makes us feel more anxious and afraid. You have permission not to know how things are going to work out.

Nobody knows how everything is going to work out, and it is not a sign of weakness or irresponsibility not to know. You have permission to take it one day at a time.

Four: Act “As If” something loving and bigger and wiser than you is guiding and holding you, working things out on your behalf.

You don’t have to believe that this is true or feel it. Just for today act “As If” it is true. Tomorrow, you can decide to act differently if you like.

Something Loving is Holding You

I know you have things–important things–you need to figure out. And I know you want to be responsible and attend to them. Good for you for being responsible.

But if trying to be responsible is making you really anxious, it is okay, just for a moment, just for today, to act “As if” something larger than you is taking care of things.

You can resume responsibility again tomorrow. Taking periodic breaks is wise and helps you think more clearly.

Five: Figure out what worries you can postpone. There are some worries you need to address today. That’s fine. Do that. But probably most of your worries, you can postpone until next week, next month, and next year.

If it helps, draw a chart with three columns: Today, Next Week, Next Month and figure out which worries you can postpone until later.

As you handle your responsibilities, please remember that you are not meant to handle them all at once.

If your responsibilities are stressing you out, it is okay and wise to prioritize and postpone ones you don’t have to handle today. This will allow you to work on the ones you must handle today.

Six: Take a bath. If you have bath salts, add these.

Taking a bath, especially with bath salts with a soothing fragrance, can help calm your nerves and help you feel present and connected.

When we get anxious, we often feel scattered and disconnected. This makes it really hard to focus and know what to do next. Taking a bath can soothe us and clear our thinking so we know what to do next.

Seven: Search for whale songs or recordings of rain falling on YouTube. Sit or lay down and close your eyes.Trying putting your legs up on a chair or bed. Listen to the sounds.

This is another activity, like taking a bath, that can soothe your nerves and help you feel present and connected. In addition, we are biologically wired to thrive in nature, and so listening to natural sounds is especially soothing.

Eight: Build a blanket and pillow fort, even if you are an adult. Take a mini-vacation and hang out in your fort for a while with your favorite books and snacks. If you have Christmas twinkly lights, consider adding those. It helps, I promise.

When anxiety makes us feel scattered, surrounding ourselves with a blanket or a hug or some comforting structure like a fort can help us feel present and safe again.

There is a reason that little kids love building forts. Forts can be for adults, too. Hanging out in one can also be a way for you to care for the little child in you who is still there and still needs to be comforted.

Nine: Do an activity you like or tolerate that gets your heart beating quickly. Jump rope. Hula hoop. Dance to music you love. Do jumping jacks.

It’s okay if you don’t feel like moving and are really grumpy about it. Just start it and see if you can go for a minute and get your heart rate up. You can stop any time you want.

Anxiety is both a mental and a physical thing. Our body needs movement and flow, and sometimes when we feel really anxious, it is because we need to move more so we can get more oxygen to our brain and think more clearly.

Doing any activity that gets your heart pumping can greatly help with this.

This is your brain #2

Ten: Go outside near some trees or by a creek if there is one near your house. Stand or sit for a moment and be quiet.

Answer these questions to yourself: What is one thing you see? What is one thing you hear? What is one thing you feel? What is one thing you smell?

Since we are biologically wired to thrive in nature, when we surround ourselves with trees, water, and sky, we feel more alive, focused, and clear.

This often helps to scatter the clouds of our anxiety so that we can think more clearly and decide what to do next.

It’s okay to feel scared in times like this. Focusing on concrete steps like this can help you soothe your anxiety and be a good friend to yourself.


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13 thoughts on “10 Mind-Body Practices You Can Do if You Feel Anxious”

  1. Good ideas here – I think I might go and stand by our birch tree and watch the blackbirds for a bit… 🙂

      1. When the ground has dried out a bit here we’ll be able to go for walks in the country at the edge of town and along the river. But it’s a bit too soggy at the moment!

  2. Some very good tips – your posts are always so calming even during such troubling times. And I’ve been trying more than a few of these at home! 🙂

  3. These are brilliant tips, Shelly. One good thing that might come out of this is that people learn some of these self-soothing techniques. I have in the past tried to persuade family members to try meditating, and they have rolled their eyes and called me a hippy. This week my daughter told me she’s started mindful colouring before bed, my other daughter is journaling and meditating and my partner is using the headspace app to meditate.

    1. I am so glad you found them helpful, Ali! And I agree with you–I think people are definitely going to learn self-soothing during this time. Hopefully it’s self-soothing that truly helps them. At some point in our life, we are all scared little kids again and have to figure out a way to calm ourselves. I hope you all are holding up well.

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