How to Reduce Anxiety: 3 Tips [Plus Exercises!]

thinking May 28, 2021
woman leaning on couch feeling worried and anxious


You can be sitting in a comfortable environment around people that you enjoy, yet the thoughts you’re having are preventing you from enjoying it. The environment on the outside might be a good one but inside all you can do is think about how you might have said the wrong thing or how you could have done something better or how someone who’s around might not like you. This is the experience of anxiety and it can really consume your mind and your day.


And trying to find ways to deal with anxiety? Well, that can be equally consuming. Before we know it, there is little room left for us to experience the joy and meaning of whatever it is that we generate joy and meaning from in our lives.


The purpose of this article is to help you maintain your ability to get joy and meaning from the things you enjoy in life by offering you strategies to create space and not lose yourself amongst anxious thoughts. All of us have anxious thoughts to some degree and rather than expecting them to go away, why not develop the resources to respond to them productively when they arise?


From my personal and professional experience, some of the most compassionate and effective tools in relating to our thoughts, whether they be anxious or other, are based in mindfulness. The three tips I share with you below, therefore, are rooted in the practice of mindfulness, i.e., the ability we each have to pay attention to our life experience with a sense of openness and curiosity.


Tip 01


Engage the Power of Non-Judgement


When noticing anxious thoughts, it helps tremendously to engage the power of one of the foundational qualities of mindfulness— non-judgement. When practicing non-judgement, your intention is really to open up to your experience whether it’s a comfortable or uncomfortable one. As you practice not judging your experience, you instead open up to, face, and give space to whatever is actually here. This can be quite a contrast to what we’re used to at first because our mind is typically drawn to want to fix or change something so as to alter the experience we're having. This is quite normal and is rooted in our human tendency to judge everything around us as good or bad… right or wrong. By engaging our quality of non-judgement (and labeling our judgmental thoughts and other mental tendencies as ‘judgment’ if we need to do that first), however, we can begin to simply pay attention to what is there, which in the case of anxiety often includes a racing heartbeat, racing thoughts, a knot in the stomach perhaps, and other bodily representations of the stress we’re experiencing.


How To Do It


You can practice this quality of non-judgement by simply observing things as they are, through a lens of openness and compassion rather than through the deep opinions, beliefs, and biases with which we’re probably accustomed to viewing the world. Another way that you can easily engage the power of non-judgement to reduce anxiety is a common mindfulness exercise that utilizes the three senses of sight, sound, and touch. When you're focused on things that you can see, hear, and touch, there is much less interpretation involved than might otherwise be present if you were discussing your future worries with a friend. So, when engaging your three senses, you simply name three things that you can see in your environment (e.g., someone walking by, my laptop next to me, a bird out the window), followed by three things you can hear (e.g., a car passing by, the sound of myself breathing, my heater on in the house), followed by three things you can feel (e.g., the floor under your feet, your arm resting against the table, a ring pressing against your finger).


If you’re wondering what this quality of non-judgement feels like in action, join us in The Happiness Hub, my virtual community, for some live exercises this week (or catch the recording whenever you can)!


Tip 02



Settle Your Mind By Focusing on Your Breath or Your Heart


Have you ever heard the phrase “where attention goes, energy flows”? What that means is that our attention can dictate a lot of our life experience. So, if your attention seems to be absorbed by your anxious thoughts, it helps to remember that there are many other directions to which you can orient your attention. Just when our attention wants to be fixated on a possible future threat by thinking anxious thoughts, you can acknowledge that telescopic narrow focus and see if it feels okay to regain a more comprehensive awareness of what’s actually going on around you.


How To Do It


A great way to reorient your attention to something more calming and reassuring is to invite yourself to focus on your breath. Anxiety is a state of mind that is focused on the future, and that’s what makes any breath-focused exercise so effective at reducing anxiety— when you focus on your breath, you are very naturally bringing your attention back to the present. So, if you feel caught up in worries about the future, take a breath and let yourself focus on the feeling of that breath. By moving your attention to your breath, you more readily open up your ability for non-judgmental presence with your thoughts. You can also invite your attention to go towards your heart. By moving your attention to the area of your heart, you open up your ability to compassionately observe and be with your mind’s worrisome thoughts. Either way is beneficial. Try one; try both; see what fits your mind and preferences best.


If you’re eager to guide your mind to your breath and into the area of your heart, join us for a live exercise in reducing anxiety this week (or catch the replay any time!) in The Happiness Hub, my virtual community dedicated to helping each of us reduce stress, worry, and negative thinking and live our most meaningful and joyful lives.


Tip 03


Anchor Yourself Into The Present


Bringing together the first two tips of embracing non-judgement and settle your mind by guiding your attention to your breath or your heart, the third tip is to really anchor yourself into the present moment. The way that we anchor ourselves into the present moment is by engaging our ability to observe and accept what's happening and to remain in the present moment where everything is always happening.


How To Do It


One palpable way to do this is to really become aware of the movement of our breath alongside the sensations that exist within and throughout our body. We can become aware of the sensations that exist in our feet and toes, our belly, our chest, our hands and fingers, and everywhere in between. As we do so, we may become aware of how our body intrinsically senses our feelings in its own time and at its own pace. We might also notice that we inherently feel safe and comfortable, with no need to rush or change anything about our current experience (“hey, this is actually working!” you might even find yourself thinking). What once felt like an inability to manage thoughts of anxiety becomes a simple noticing of thoughts without judgement or evaluation. Our mind thinks any thoughts that it wants and we observe them without holding on or trying to change them… and all of a sudden, we find relief.


Mindfulness, like many internal experiences, is much better practiced in real time. Come join us for live practices of exercises in reducing anxiety centered on these three tips in The Happiness Hub. Responding in a new way to one anxious thought at a time makes all of the difference. I look forward to seeing you there!


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