5 Easy Ways to Calm Your Anxious Mind
Today I want to talk about five easy ways to calm your anxious mind. One of the things that we run into on our daily trek through life is a surprise of our anxious mind. Moving along, we haven't had anything trip us up in a while, and then all of a sudden, boom, it's there. I often hear from people that they didn't know what to do then, like this just came out of "the blue" and they weren't prepared for it. So I want to run through five little ideas that you might be able to find one or two of these that you can keep in your back pocket to use if you get sideswiped by anxiety when you were least expecting it.
This first tip actually comes from Rick Hanson, who was on the show quite a while ago, and in his book, the Buddha's Brain, he talks about a bunch of different ways to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. One of the easiest ways to do that that you can take with you in your daily life is to touch your lip with two fingers. So when you're stressed, when your sympathetic nervous system puts you in a state of high alert, and you feel that fight or flight coming on, you can feel the hormones raging through your system, and your panic tells you that there's some sort of a threat going on, when that happens, you are really already off and running. That's already started. So you want to be able to find a way to engage your parasympathetic nervous system, your rest and digest system, your state of natural being.
Your parasympathetic nervous system when aroused and stimulated produces the opposite feeling of the panic, the fight or flight. It produces a feeling of relaxation and ease. Like I said, this is our state of rest and digest. The lips contain parasympathetic nerve fibers that make this simple touching of your lips creates a sense of calm that you can use anywhere, anytime. Now, I really ask you to try this. What I have found is that many people do this naturally. See, I think intuitively we know these things. We know how to calm ourselves down. We know how to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system. So left to our own devices, we may have found this on our own. And many people have because I have suggested this before after I had read Rick's book. And I noticed that I have done this to myself many, many times. The fingers, two fingers, going to the lips.
And again, the lips contain parasympathetic nerve fibers making this a simple approach to creating a sense of calm. To reap the benefits of this, all you need to do is touch your lips. Breathe slowly and tell yourself, "I am safe." Now remember, just thinking, "I am safe," brings the parasympathetic nervous system on board. Just slowing your breath down brings the parasympathetic nervous system on board, and now we're going to add touching the lips. That's the one, two, three punch, should really bring you some ease. I hope that you'll try it.
The second one I want to talk about here is a walking meditation. You can do this practice any time that you're out walking. You may want to find a peaceful place to do this away from a lot of people or traffic. And if you can walk barefoot doing this, it's even better. So it'll give you a sense of connection with the Earth and you'll be earthing at the same time, which is another thing that we will get into another day. But if you can be on wet grass or grass that's just moist, it's even better. So get comfortable with your walking area and then stand straight and tall with your shoulders and arms relaxed and breathe normally. Breathe with a sense of relaxation on the exhalation. That brings ... That sets up the calming effect to begin with. And breathing out the tension. And then as you breathe in, whatever the breath in is, let it be calming energy coming in and breathing out the tension.
So we're just paying attention to our breath here. And we can do this walking maybe on our lunch hour, maybe on our way to our car on the way home. But begin moving slowly forward. And if you can sync your breathing with your steps, like right foot up is the inhale and left foot is the exhale, and use your senses to be fully aware of your surroundings. Let this be a full sensory experience. Feeling the temperature of your surroundings. Feeling the wind or hearing the rustling of the leaves in the trees or the snow crunching under your feet. The goal is not to arrive at a destination, it's simply to be present in the experience of walking. And the reason I like this little, short, walking meditation is because it helps to teach us to be in the moment, not to be thinking of our destination.
And actually, when I learned walking meditation through Vipassana meditations, they ask you to map out an area of so many paces and just go back and forth because the goal is not to get somewhere. Sometimes if we go, "I'm going to go even from here to that tree," we have a destination in mind. So if you can just do it for so many steps and then you turn, it takes that destination piece out of it because we're always forward-thinking. We're always trying to get somewhere. And if we could just be with each step here and there for very short periods of time, it helps to bring us into the present moment. I hope you will try that one too.
How about a meditative shower? How about a mindful shower? It's easy to let go of other thoughts when you're standing under a stream of water. And especially if you set the temperature to your favorite shower temperature, you can just relax right there. Just letting the water run over you and taking this time to tune into all of your senses. Once again, just like when we were walking, use the items that you love; your soap, your washcloth. Have the scents be what you love, using essential oils, and feel and enjoy the sensation of the water on your skin, the temperature that you chose, that you love. Feel the water coming over your head and down your body, all the way down, and the water going down the drain, just swirling down.
Notice when you begin to think about the day ahead or the day behind you. Notice if you're judging. And if you do find that, just notice it. Note it, judging, and then let it go. Don't judge the thoughts or yourself for having a judgmental thought. It's okay. It's what we do. And the more we can catch it and be aware of it in a neutral way, the less likely it is to pop up over and over again. It's when we add to it by being angry with ourselves or hard on ourselves, discounting of ourselves, that it just digs in deeper. Instead, visualize those judgments and odd thoughts going down the drain. And then bring your focus back to the experience of enjoying a few moments in your meditative shower. I hope you will try that one. We certainly get plenty of opportunities to try all of these things.
The next one I have is doing your chores mindfully. I know I've talked about this before, but I want to bring it up again. Whether you're sweeping the floors or vacuuming, dusting, washing dishes is a favorite meditative time, it can be your meditation if you bring your attention completely to the activity and immerse yourself. Washing dishes, for example, like I said this is a favorite, can be satisfying and grounding. You get to feel the water again. Water is miraculous. And whether you're in the shower or washing your dishes, enjoy the warmth of the water. Let it be bubbles on your hands, and enjoy the experience of making dirty dishes clean again. You don't have to think about finishing or how many there are to do. Or what we usually do, thinking about what we have to do when we're done. But you can focus solely on the doing, the doing of the dishes, and see if you can find a sense of acceptance and presence, and doing it slowly and with intention, and doing it well. Again, it's another thing we get plenty of opportunity to try.
And finally, one of my favorites is I've taught this for many, many years, mindful eating. So instead of eating your meal quickly, with one eye on your food and the other eye on the computer. Or back in the day, it would have been a newspaper or a book. But turn your mealtime occasionally ... Obviously, we're not going to be able to do this every time. But this is especially valuable if you have a meal that you get to eat alone, maybe on your lunch hour, occasionally you're eating alone, or your dinner time or breakfast at home, try this. It doesn't have to take too long. So why not put everything to the side and make this a special time just for you. The texts and the emails and the social media and all of that will wait. It will all be there when you're done if you can take a little bit of time for this mindful meal.
Take some time to notice your breath and identify with the different nuances of each item that's on your plate, the scent, the textures, the beauty of what you have prepared and how it's there on your plate. Or maybe it's just coming out of your sandwich bag. It's okay, enjoy it visually. And when you're eating, put your sandwich down or put your fork down in between each bite for this mindful meal. Just put the fork down and think about what you're doing with your food. Appreciate the flavors and the textures that are there in your mouth. Enjoy it, and really see what is happening in there in your mouth. Get into the whole experience of different flavors and textures.
This will help keep your mind in the now again. We're just appreciating through our senses, and eating is a particularly awesome way to do it because it requires so many of our senses to enjoy it fully. So if you find your thoughts wandering to things that you have to do when you're done with your lunch, bring your attention back to your sandwich or your fork and your plate, and have another bite. And then breathe, enjoy, and we're going to do this over and over, and savoring the food that is in front of you. If your thoughts wander, just notice, "Oh, well it's time to take another bite. Okay, right back to the experience that is right in front of me." And going to enjoy this meal one bite at a time. It's really fun to do it. And like I said, if you have the time and you have a meal that you're doing alone, that's marvelous. You may want to take a meal with family or friends and dedicate the first five or 10 minutes to everyone doing this. This is how we've done it in group settings where we have 10 minutes of silence and eating our meal mindfully together.
So experiment. First, experiment on your own and see if you would like to share it with your family. It can be an awesome experience. And it brings you to the now. It takes you out of future thinking, and you get to rest as you are digesting your meal. I hope you'll try all of these. They're kind of fun, and they're easy. And if you can incorporate one of them, you're doing great.
If you're ready for more, go to anxietycoachespodcast.com/group-coaching and join today. I'd love to see you in the group. And now for today's quote.
"Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again." And that's from Thich Nhat Hanh
Be Well and Aloha!