5 mindful behaviours to reduce anxiety
It can be hard to reduce anxiety. This is hard for most people, with anxiety levels creeping up all over the world. It’s particularly problematic in addiction recovery, where anxiety levels are both naturally heightened and potentially ruinous.
Losing control of your anxiety levels can easily lead to relapse.
Therefore, if you’re going through addiction recovery, it is important that you find a way to reduce anxiety, manage stress, and find ways to think clearly.
Mindfulness practice has been shown to facilitate this. Simple mindfulness exercises can lead to greatly reduced anxiety levels.
When we talk about mindfulness, we are talking about paying attention to what seem like little things. All the things we tend to rush through without noticing in our daily lives suddenly become opportunities for meditative practice. It’s all about tuning out the static and the white noise, becoming present, and bringing your mind back to your body.
This needn’t be a massive lifestyle overhaul. I’m not asking you to become a zen master, here. Simply taking part in a straightforward daily practice can be the difference between anxiety and calm in the long run.
Mindfulness techniques to reduce your anxiety levels
1. Greet the world to feel better
This is an easy yet effective technique to reduce your anxiety levels. Learn to properly greet the world – yourself and those around you.
Begin with yourself. Begin first thing. Wish yourself a good morning when you get up every day.
We all often begin our days in a rush. You likely know the feeling. Before you’ve even kicked the duvet off, your mind starts racing with to-do lists, worries, and a whole ream of unnecessary thoughts. This sets a bad precedent for the day.
However, grounding yourself will do the opposite. It should give you a sense of calm.
Take a moment before getting up. Practice slow breathing – take three to five long, slow breaths. Focus on how they feel in your body. Perform a body scan, if you like. Check in and see how your body feels, and how you feel.
Set yourself up right. Also, don’t feel limited to the mornings. Perform this exercise throughout the day if you feel like you need to come back to yourself.
2. Observe your thoughts to reduce anxiety
You’ll often hear this in yoga classes – be the observer of your own thoughts. There is a lot to it. Observing your thoughts as objectively as possible can greatly reduce anxiety levels.
In particular, check for negativity. It is common for all of us to imagine the worst at any one time. In CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), this is known as cognitive distortion – a thought pattern that distorts the world around us, so that we fear people are thinking the worst of us. It can lead to a great deal of negativity and, of course, anxiety.
Remain aware that you tend to do this (we all do). When you find yourself worried about what other people are thinking, simply ask yourself whether their thoughts might in fact be quite benign. They probably will be – there will be nothing to stress about.
3. Get outdoors to feel calm
Open air has been shown to reduce anxiety levels, as has the natural world.
If you get anxious during the day, try getting outside at lunch time. If you can make it a local green space, so much the better, but simply walking around outside can be fantastic for your anxiety levels. Or if it’s your lunch break and the weather is nice, try eating outside.
Go for anything, really, that allows you to spend a little while outdoors. Fresh air and a simple perspective change can be really quite profound.
Also consider leaving your phone behind to really break from the stress of daily living for a bit of brief respite.
Try paying attention to the sights and smells around you, wherever you are (obviously, this may be more pleasant in a natural setting, but it works just as well for mindfulness and anxiety in most places). Avoid crowds if you can. Pay attention to the sounds you experience, the air against your skin. Really try to focus your senses and attend to the moment.
4. Keep your chin up for cheerfulness
No, this doesn’t mean just trying to stay positive. I mean this literally. Try looking up to reduce anxiety. It may sound simplistic, but it really works if you’re trying to stay mindful. Too many of us walk through life staring at the pavement, mindlessly pacing along.
Pause every so often to look up. At night, look at the stars if it’s a clear night. During the day, look at the tops of trees or buildings. Gaze at the clouds. Take a few deep breaths and just pause to enjoy the moment and the sight.
The process of looking up is actually quite profound by itself. It isn’t just a sign of positivity. It’s also a cause. Your physiognomy is such that it will lighten your mood.
Also try looking up in a more figurative sense to reduce anxiety.
Consider leaving your phone behind when you do anything – when you go for a walk, sit down to dinner, or simply go to the bathroom. Without it, you won’t be forever staring downwards. You will be forced to watch the world around you and take stock of things.
In a similar vein, try logging out of your social media accounts when you’re not actively looking to use them. Social media can be great. It certainly has its uses and can be perfect for staying connected with people. However, it can also drain mindfulness quicker than just about anything else.
If you find yourself constantly checking social media, try to stay away from it. Logging out will force you to have to keep logging in each time you want to use it. Then you will either be forced to mindfully engage with it, or that one little speedbump will stop you from engaging with it at all.
This will free you up to stop living your life online, which can cause a great deal of anxiety, and start living it in the present, in the moment. Conversely, this can reduce anxiety.
5. Pat yourself on the back
We are all fantastic at remembering everything bad that has happened, focussing on the worst things, telling ourselves a narrative of failure – cognitive distortion, as above. Unfortunately, very few of us need any help with telling ourselves stories of where we haven’t been all we wanted to be.
However, as we have seen, cognitive distortion is a form of fallacy. It isn’t objective by any measure. We need to fix our thinking in this regard, as far as we can (which is actually quite far.) One of the first things you can do to overcome this kind of cognitive distortion is to celebrate your wins. Learn to pat yourself on the back when you deserve it.
Try keeping a ‘wins journal’, or something similar. It’s a bit like a gratitude journal. However, the emphasis is a little different. Keep a notebook by the side of your bed. Each night, before getting into bed, write down two or three things you’ve done that day that you are happy with or proud of.
These can be big or small. Maybe you got a promotion or nailed a presentation. Fantastic. Or perhaps you simply stopped to let someone cross the road when you didn’t need to. Great, write it down. Maybe you made a nice dinner, smiled at someone, anything that you are happy with. Be as precise as possible. Write down exactly what happened, your role in it, and why it was a positive experience.
This will teach your brain to recognise what is good. Then, this will reduce anxiety as you realise that – whisper it – you’re actually pretty decent. You have a lot of good in you. However, sometimes you just need to realise it!
How to reduce anxiety
Mindfulness is a great tool to reduce anxiety. As we have seen, it’s simple and accessible and can have some profound benefits.
Of course, it’s not a cure all. If anxiety is really getting to you, consider reaching out to an expert. Your healthcare provider will have plenty of ideas. Local charities, groups, and therapists represent great resources. However, you needn’t search too far: simply have a look at our Wellness Hub – we have a large and ever growing body of content put together by our healthcare specialists on how to approach any anxiety concerns you may have.
You can also connect with like-minded others within our Community hub, where you can message, attend meetings and create your own themed support groups
- Substance abuse disorders and anxiety - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3775646/