3 Tools to Calm Your Anxious Mind

Sometimes anxiety can be overwhelming. You wrestle with it, but it just gets stronger. You try to not think about your worry, but it persists. You do everything you can think of to make the fear go away. Nothing works. This is the situation many of us who have wrestled with anxiety find ourselves in, and it is painful.

When we indulge it, we ruminate on the anxious thoughts that come. We follow the catastrophic story lines again and again. We search and scan for the cause of the feeling we want to get rid of. When we try to avoid it, we do all sorts of things under the hope, “I just want it to stop.” Ultimately, neither of these two approaches work. The problem is that anxiety is maintained by both indulging and avoiding it.

Rather than indulging or avoiding, the way to get the grip of anxiety to lessen is to allow it to be as it is. Left to its own devices, anxiety, like all other feelings, will come, spend a bit of time, and then go. When we indulge or avoid it, we falsely prolong its time with us. Allowing it, though, can be easier said than done.

I have found three tools to be particularly helpful in working with anxiety to allow it to go on its natural path. These tools are not for when you actually are in physical danger (if you are in danger, of course please take steps to make yourself safe), but when the mind is giving you all kinds of danger messages while you are actually in safe surroundings. The tools are: Notice, Name, and Pivot; 5 Sense Awareness; and Breath Awareness.

 

  1. Notice, Name, and Pivot:

Our thoughts can be so compelling! First notice the thoughts. Even if the thoughts feel very “true,” they are just thoughts. Then name them by saying, “Oh these are anxious thoughts,” “This is anxiety,” or “Hello, my anxiety.” This helps the mind get a little breathing space from anxiety’s tight grip. Once you name it, allow the feeling to be there and the thoughts to come and go without trying to stop them. Meanwhile, pivot your attention to notice the present moment that you are experiencing. Often when we’re deep in anxiety, we are hardly noticing the present moment. The next two steps are ways to get more focused on the present moment.

 

  1. 5 Sense Awareness:

One of the best ways to deepen your awareness of the present moment is to use the five senses. You can either use your favorite one, or go through all five, noticing everything you can pick up through each particular sense.

Sight: Notice the colors, shapes, and textures of objects and people or animals around you. Notice what your eye is drawn to and how your mind finds some things more pleasant to look at than others. Can you really see all that your eyes are taking in? Notice what’s above the line of vision you usually gaze at. Notice what’s below. Look around from left to right. Then, soften your gaze looking forward and see if you can notice what you can see in your peripheral vision. Gaze softening and noticing peripheral vision sends a particularly calming signal to the nervous system.

Touch: Notice the surface that is supporting you. Perhaps the floor underneath you, or a couch, or chair. Notice the feel of how it is supporting your body without you having to do anything in particular. Can you soften your muscles to allow your body to be held by what’s beneath you? Notice other sensations of touch. What are your hands touching? Maybe hold one hand in the other and notice where the skin is smooth or rough. Notice the clothing on your body and the sensations of anything else that is in contact with your skin. Notice textures of rough or smooth, notice density of firm or soft. Maybe even notice the air on your face and skin.

Hearing: Tune into the sensation of hearing. Notice any sounds that arise, and how there is a moment when they begin, a time they are sustained, and then the moment they cease. Notice if it feels like you are ‘reaching out’ to try to hear the sounds. Experiment with sitting back and letting the sounds come to you. If there is quiet, notice what that sounds like.

Smell: This can be a subtler sense depending on what’s around you. Be curious if any scents are present. Maybe the smell of a meal cooking or recently eaten. Perhaps the smell of your laundry soap, detergent, or cologne is present. Does the air smell stagnant or fresh?

Taste: If you are eating something, taste is a wonderful sense to notice. Notice the various qualities of the food you are eating. Salty, sweet, sour, or savory may be present. If you are not eating, this may be a subtler sense as well, but still check in and see if you notice if any tastes in your mouth.

 

  1. Breath Awareness:

Another helpful tool in drawing your attention to the present moment is the breath. The breath is helpful tool to know how to use because it’s portable…it is always with you.

Start by just noticing the breath without trying to change it. It is short and shallow? Is it deep and slow? Where do you feel it moving your body? Maybe in your chest, your shoulders, or belly, or throughout your whole body. Does it have a particular texture to it? Maybe smooth, maybe rough, or something else. Try to notice it without judging it as “bad” or “good.” Notice the length and feel of the inhale. Notice the length and feel of the exhale. Maybe there are pauses in between the inhale and exhale.

You might notice that without even trying to change the breath, the breath may be changing. Awareness tends to have a good effect on the breath much like sunshine has a good effect on flowers.

If it feels helpful to invite a breath that is a little slower, softer, easier, or deeper, feel free to play with this. The more you can view it as allowing rather than forcing, the more your nervous system will feel it is safe and respond with sensations of calm.

Try out these three tools the next time you are in a struggle with anxiety and see how they work for you.

I invite you to read more about some of the anxiety disorders I work with. Another fantastic resource for in-depth information on anxiety disorders is the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. If you’re ready for one-on-one help with these tools and other ways to work with your anxiety, please request a free consultation and I’d be happy to talk with you!

 

One thought on “3 Tools to Calm Your Anxious Mind”

  1. Soo Kim says:

    Great advice, Jeanette!

Speak Your Mind

*

Jeanette Lantz, Ph.D.

Online Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist
Licensed Psychologist
Washington – PY60502318
California – PSY23674

jlantz@cbtnorthwest.com
253-792-1077

Request an Initial Consultation