Stress can come to anyone at any time, and the feeling can be crippling. Professional treatment is the first line of defense for anxiety or overwhelming stress, and while treatment should always be the starting point for coping with anxiety, there are tools you can learn to use outside of therapy to manage your emotions and find a sense of peace in a chaotic world.
When you develop skills to help you deal with everyday anxiety, you’ll have greater control over your life, feel better and be able to accomplish more. Here are four quick mental health exercises to help you get control over your anxiety.
1. Breathing exercises
There are dozens of ways to practice breathing exercises that can quickly decrease anxiety. According to the Harvard Medical School, deep breathing can slow a person’s heart rate and stabilize blood pressure, inducing a state of relaxation.
A 2017 study published in the journal Perspectives of Psychiatry Care found that participants who underwent training in breathing relaxation techniques presented with decreased symptoms of anxiety.
Here are two types of breathing exercises to practice today and use tomorrow.
Square breathing: breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds and hold for four seconds. If four seconds is too difficult to start with, try three second intervals and slowly build up your lung capacity.
Visualization breathing: imagine your breath filling and expanding your lungs, and then picture what it looks like as it leaves your mouth. Use other images to guide your breathing – picture a wave crashing onto shore and receding as you breathe in and out.
2. Make a list
One of the best quick mental health exercises to combat anxiety is creating happy lists. Write one or several lists on your phone or in a notebook, and the list could be about anything (as long as it’s positive). A checklist of favorite vacations, things you’re grateful for, a list of people who you admire or even some of your favorite inside jokes could do the trick.
Jotting down positive things is backed by research to boost mood, too. A study from the journal Nature of Human Behavior found that individuals who were able to recall happy memories after exposure to stress were able to lower their cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and regulate their emotional state.
When you’re first using this mental health exercise, write down the lists. Later on, you simply consult the lists when anxiety strikes, and eventually you will think of positive things out of habit.
3. Be kind to someone
We all fall victim to complacency at times. Stopping negative emotions can be as simple as changing up your routine to benefit someone else. Acts of random kindness for a loved one (or even a stranger) can lift us out of a rut and be a pleasant distraction when anxiety starts to set in.
In fact, when you behave in an altruistic manner, serotonin (the “happiness hormone”) is released. According to the Annals of the New York Academy of the Sciences, serotonin reinforces positive social interactions, meaning that making others happy makes you happy, making it more likely that you’ll continue the cycle of good deeds.
Consider trying one of the following this week.
- Text your friend an affirmation message noting their positive qualities
- Write down an inspiring quote and leave it on someone’s car
- Leave a thank you note for your mail delivery person
- Compliment someone at the grocery store
- Buy your friend a gift card to his/her favorite coffee shop
- Send your grandparents a picture of you with a few life updates
- Pick a flower for someone
The options are truly endless and not only will you boost your own mood, you’ll lift someone else’s spirits, too.
The practice of meditating is an ancient exercise, traditionally used for spiritual practices. While it’s still widely used for religious purposes, it can also be used to enhance wellbeing and improve mental health.
Meditating can be as easy and brief as you desire, and condensing a few affirmations or hopeful thoughts into a minute or so can significantly decrease anxiety. Find a quiet spot, or just close your eyes at your desk. Escape for a moment with a guided meditation or one you come up with on your own.
If you’re looking for a starting point, there are plenty of quick mental health exercises online. Check out this mini meditation video or this gratitude meditation. Consider reading a daily reflection as part of your meditation, like the Daily Meditation Book of Healing. However you decide to rest and reflect, you’re guaranteed to get a little dose of peace.
Practice makes perfect
Practicing these one-minute skills is crucial to their effectiveness. When you have built up muscle memory for breathing exercises or have a go-to visual image for your meditation, you’ll be able to respond more quickly and more successfully when anxiety strikes.
Although honing these tools on your own can be helpful, having the support of a trained professional is essential to decreasing your anxiety in day-to-day living.
If anxiety is contributing to substance use issues, reach out to The Light Program. At The Light Program you’ll have access to the best treatment available to help you break free from a drug or alcohol addiction. Build a more peaceful life for yourself, call 855-945-7788 today.