“Stop worrying so much”, they’ll say, as if it’s that simple. Meanwhile, a storm of every worst-case-scenario and insecurity get tangled in your mind. You can get lost in a maze of fear, stress, self-doubt, and negativity.
Anxiety can be minor or outright crippling, and I’ll be honest that I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum and everywhere in between.
In our bustling modern world, it’s easy to get caught up worrying about the future. Fortunately, a mindful approach helps us slow down and take control of our thoughts, rather than letting them control us.
The good news and the bad news is that anxiety is all in your head. Anxious thoughts are simply stress and worry that have gotten out of hand. It’s time to wrangle them back in. Research shows that mindfulness can help us take back control by significantly reducing feelings of anxiety and stress.
“I cannot always control what goes on outside. But I can always control what goes on inside.”
Those words of wisdom came from best-selling author Wayne Dyer.
If you’re sick of the “meditate and do yoga” advice, I’m right there with you. We all know we should be doing yoga and meditating as much as possible. These are obviously very powerful tools for lowering stress and anxiety, but here we’ll focus on some lesser-known practices for alleviating anxiety through mindfulness.
Here are 7 science-backed methods on how to practice mindfulness for anxiety.
#1 – Rewrite Your Story
Most people go through life on auto-pilot. They fall into routines and forget to pay attention to their thoughts, feelings, and actions. They aren’t writing their own story. Instead, they let the outer world and circumstances write it for them.
This is often the root of anxiety because it feels like you have no control over your circumstances.
Mindfulness is a straightforward way to rewrite your story by rewiring your brain.
The first step is, ironically, separating yourself from your mind. In other words, it is crucial to recognize that you are not your thoughts—you are the observer of them.
Eckhart Tolle phrased that precept perfectly:
`“To realize that you are not your thoughts is when you begin to awaken spiritually.”
In order to learn how to practice mindfulness for anxiety, it is important to disassociate from the anxiety itself. Don’t ever ever say the words “I have anxiety” or “I am anxious”. Hell, you can even remove the word “anxiety” from your vocabulary altogether.
Your limitations don’t define you.
Think about it: you have anxious thoughts that are limiting you from reaching your fullest potential. You don’t want to be defined by this limitation.
So flip the script. You are not anxious, you do not have anxiety; you simply think or feel anxious. It is not who you are.
You (and only you) have the power to change your story.
Put it into practice:
- Simply start observing your thoughts. Don’t judge them, just notice them as if you are on the outside looking in.
- When you have a negative thought, take note, “oh, that isn’t a pleasant thought” and then let it pass.
- Work on observing your thoughts throughout your daily life, while driving in the car or doing the dishes. Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts- you are the observer of the thoughts.
#2 – Replace Anxiety with Affirmations
Anything you repeat to yourself is a mantra. It is an affirmation to your subconscious mind.
Do you want your mantra to be “I’m so worried about XYZ” or “I have anxiety so I can’t do XYZ”? Of course you don’t. If you notice yourself accidentally repeating anxious thoughts, remember that these are mantras you need to change.
Mantras are powerful signals to the subconscious. As the Buddha said:
“Resolutely train yourself to attain peace.”
Mindfulness helps to replace anxiety-inducing mantras with positive affirmations. For years, I found myself identifying as “someone who has social anxiety”. When anxiety becomes intertwined with your identity, things go wrong pretty quickly. Your subconscious is always listening to your thoughts.
Anxiety becomes like a bad habit woven into the fabric of who you are. You become what you think.
It’s time to rip up those old clothes and sew together something new.
Affirmations like “I am joyful”, “I am calm”, and “everything is perfect in this moment” can be seriously effective if you repeat them long enough. It may feel like you’re lying to yourself at first, but persistence is key.
Put it into practice:
- On a blank piece of scrap paper, make a t-chart.
- On one side write down 5 anxious thoughts that loom in your mind on a regular basis. They may sound childish or illogical, but that’s OK. Our deepest subconscious fears are often rooted in our childhood. For example, I might write “nobody is going to like me if I express my raw vulnerable emotions”.
- Now take a deep breath and observe these thoughts (now physically on the page), recognizing that they are separate from you.
- On the other side of the t-chart, write an affirmation that cancels out the anxious thought. For the above example I would write, “I am free to express who I am” or “vulnerability is strength” or “I love my emotional vulnerability”.
- Rip off the left side of the t-chart and throw it away (or burn it, if you’re into that sort of ritual). Tape the right side up on your mirror and repeat the affirmations daily.
#3 – Brainwash Yourself to Feel Secure
Brainwashing sounds like a bad thing. But you can mindfully brainwash yourself to beat anxiety. By repeatedly signaling a feeling of security to your subconscious, your physiology begins to relax, which translates into less physical tension, less stress, and less spiraling negative thoughts.
Security and safety are the very basis of a happy and healthy life. We all want to feel safe in our own minds and in the world. When we don’t feel safe, it feels like everything is spinning out of control and we can’t focus on what really matters.
Repeating affirmations and practicing mindful self-talk can make you feel safer and stop focusing on the worst-case-scenario.
One really powerful way to brainwash yourself is to record voice memos on your phone talking yourself out of an anxiety cascade. It seems silly at first, but this really works because the voice in your head is your own voice. When you feel overwhelmed, you can hear your calm self talking to your freaked-out-anxious-worried-stressed self.
Put it into practice:
- Open up voice memos on your phone while in a private place.
- Record yourself talking to yourself.
- Say your name and give yourself a pep talk like you would to a friend who is having a hard time. Remind yourself of all your accomplishments, passions, and wonderful qualities. Tell your future self that everything will be OK and this moment is only temporary. Tell yourself that wonderful things are coming your way.
- When you feel yourself falling into a dark loop of anxious thoughts, remember to stop, take a deep breath, and listen to the recording.
#4 – Count Your Blessings
Gratitude goes a long way in all areas of life, but especially for those of us who need to overcome anxiety. When we slow down and focus on what is working in our life, the fears of what could go wrong fade into the distance.
Like Robin S. Sharma so succinctly put it:
“Gratitude is the antidote to fear.”
Gratitude is super simple yet it’s easy to forget about it in this fast-paced world. Just like anything, you need to practice it every day. Flex your gratitude muscle with this simple routine…
Put it into practice:
- Make a list of 10 things you a grateful for in this moment.
- Read each thing aloud, starting with “I am grateful for…”
- Rinse and repeat. The most happy and successful people start everyday with a gratitude journal.
#5 – Get Out of the Lizard Brain
We all know that anxiety puts you in fight or flight mode. Anxiety triggers your body’s sympathetic nervous system with a cascade of stress hormones, increased heart rate, and faster breathing.
Basically, your body tricks you into thinking you’re being chased by a lion, when in reality you are laying in bed thinking of every horrible thing that could happen.
This all happens in your “lizard brain”, or the limbic cortex. It is the primal part of the brain that gets activated when we start freaking the hell out.
To get back in your prefrontal cortex, where logic resides, you have to figure out how to pull yourself from the pits of the fear-based lizard brain. Meditation is by far the best mindfulness practice for anxiety because it brings us back into the logical part of our brain.
I know, I know. I promised I wouldn’t preach “yoga and meditate”. Meditation often seems so hippy-dippy and inaccessible. But there’s a reason that eastern cultures have practiced meditation for thousands of years. Science has repeatedly shown us mindfulness meditation can be extremely useful for anxiety.
Anyone and everyone can benefit from meditation, especially if you feel like anxiety is overtaking your life. Do you have 3 minutes? Here is a super simple 3-minute mindfulness meditation for even the biggest meditation-skeptic.
Put it into practice:
- Set a timer on your for 3 minutes (with a soothing alarm sound).
- Sit down under a tree, in the grass, or by a window. Set the phone face down and on silent so no notifications distract you.
- Use a guided meditation app or simply close your eyes and focus on your breath. Place your hand on your stomach to feel it going in and out.
- If anxious thoughts or random memories begin to appear, think of them like clouds. Observe them and let them pass in the sky of your mind. Stay focused on your breath.
- When the timer goes off, flutter open your eyes and force your self to smile. Repeat to yourself, “I am calm” and “I am free”.
#6 – Get Back in Your Body
Mindful action can eliminate anxiety and acute stress, but it needs to be deliberate and challenging. When you do something really difficult (like an intense workout, hot yoga, or balancing on a tightrope), it is all you can focus on. Intense focus on the physical removes your attention from the mental.
To practice mindfulness for anxiety, it is crucial to get out of your head and back into your body. The best way to do that is to do something that challenges you and makes you uncomfortable. The physical discomfort forces you into the present moment so it becomes impossible for you to worry about the future.
If you’re feeling really desperate to end the anxious thoughts loop, try a cold plunge. Or better yet, incorporate cold showers into your regular routine.
WTF? A cold shower? It sounds like the worse thing ever, right? But it just might be the secret to getting you out of your anxious future-focused mind and back into the calm of the present moment.
Research has shown that cold showers could reduce depression and provide stress relief. The brief and intense temperature swing can catapult you out of your thoughts so that you can feel calmer and more present.
Ultimately, getting back into your body is all about presence. Anxiety comes from worry about the future or the past. If you can challenge yourself to be present in this very moment, you start to realize that everything is OK right now.
Put it into practice:
- If you are feeling anxious, hop in the shower at a normal hot temperature.
- At the end of your shower, close your eyes and imagine the calmest image you can think of. I like to think of the beach on a perfect sunny day.
- Repeat your affirmations from above, or say something like “I am calm”, “I am resilient”, and “I can do hard things”.
- Then, for 5 seconds, stand under the water and turn the knob to cold water.
- Take 5 deep breaths and feel the frigid cold water wash over you. Put your face under it and embrace discomfort just for a moment.
- Then turn it off, hop out, and you might find that your anxiety has magically disappeared.
#7 – Fall in Love With Yourself
No, really, you need to fall in love with who you are. Of course, I don’t mean become an arrogant asshole. Self-love is far from arrogance, in fact, it tends to make people more compassionate and humble.
Insecurity and lack of confidence often come along for the ride with anxiety. Learning to love yourself will help you cut yourself a break when things get bad. You won’t feel like panicking in social scenarios or stressing about your job when you access a deeply grounding force of self-love inside yourself.
People with self love also tend to take better care of themselves. They eat nutritious food, exercise, read books about personal growth, and nurture their relationships, all of which help with anxiety.
Mindful self-love allows us to slow down, let go, and stop judging ourselves so harshly. In turn, we stop feeling so anxious about outside circumstances or other people’s opinions.
Put it into practice:
- Think about 5-10 things you like about yourself. They can be physical or mental traits, personality traits, or even just passions. If it’s hard to think of something you love about yourself, just go with something really simple such as “I like the color of my eyes” or “I like that I’m good at _______”.
- Look in the mirror and compliment yourself. It may feel corny at first, but it’s OK to hype yourself up sometimes.
- Normalize self-care and self-love in your daily routine. When you feel anxious, try to remind yourself what a badass person you are. There is no one else on Earth like you!
With these 7 tips on how to practice mindfulness for anxiety, I promise you that you get well on your way to conquering anxiety. If I was able to do it, then you can too. Nobody wants to live in a constant state of stress and worry. You can always rewrite your story.