This article was originally published in February 2015 and has been updated.
You can’t sleep, can’t concentrate at work, and can’t even enjoy dinner with friends because you’re worried about work, debt and/or your marital/fertility status and everything else under the sun.
Come to think of it, what aren’t you worried about?
But when anxious thoughts replace everything else, including joy, optimism and even your relationships with friends and family it may be time to take decisive action. Fortunately, there are a number of practical steps that you can take to reduce anxiety and ease the burden of an overtaxed mind, says Michelle Trantina, a yoga teacher and the co-founder of My Yoga Online, the world’s largest online yoga website.
Here are six tips from Trantina that are designed to help reduce anxiety.
1. Get physical.
It may feel counterintuitive but, rather than stay at home and brood on your worries, it’s a far better idea to get out of your head and into your body. For Trantina, who started taking yoga in the 1990s, the practice of yoga provided an outlet for her to relieve tension in both her body and mind.
“Yoga is an amazing activity that provides exercise and benefits in addition to spiritual benefits,” she says. The poses, coupled with the deep breathing techniques that make yoga such a unique activity, can also help reduce the physical symptoms (shallow breathing, increased heart rate, muscle tension, racing thoughts) that come with distress.
2. Face your fears — safely.
Be brave; do a handstand. It may sound kooky, but a yoga class offers a safe space to practise facing your fears. If you’re terrified of doing a headstand or handstand, work yourself up to facing that fear through yoga. You may be surprised how facing a manageable fear on your yoga mat translates into the real world, whether at work with a difficult boss or at home in resolving an issue with a loved one.
“Letting ourselves get uncomfortable in a safe environment is a good thing. It’s also a good way to practise acceptance that there is both comfort and discomfort in life,” says Trantina.
3. Observe your thought patterns.
Don’t brood on your thoughts; meditate on them, advises Trantina. What’s the difference? Brooding is a reaction to upsetting thoughts, whereas meditation is simply a way to observe thought patterns.
“Meditation helps melt your tensions and leaves you with a relaxation effect that will help bring in positive thoughts,” says Trantina.
Find a quiet space in your house, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Notice the type of thoughts that keep coming up. Don’t react to them; simply notice your thought patterns and how they may be keeping you on a worry loop.
Trantina offers a guided meditation on thoughts here.
4. Breathe it out.
Whether in meditation, at home, or on the subway during rush hour, use conscious breathing exercises to calm down when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
“Don’t fight your feelings, breathe through them,” says Trantina. It may sound silly, but by breathing deeply through our distress we can go a long way toward calming ourselves. Breathing consciously, “ensures you’re not hyperventilating and will help to regain the Co2 (carbon dioxide) balance in your body that creates many of the worst anxiety symptoms.”
Try this breathing exercise from Trantina: Breathe in slowly and gently through your nose for five seconds. Hold your breath for three seconds. Breathe out slowly and gently through pursed lips for seven seconds. Repeat.
5. Live in the moment.
We spend a lot of time dwelling on the sorrows or slights of the past and fearing the future and its endless unknowns, but too little time enjoying the present. One way to keep your mind in the present tense is to celebrate small but meaningful moments throughout the day, says Trantina.
“Celebrating small wins throughout the day forces you to live in the moment and prevents you from dwelling in the past or fearing the future.”
You may feel like a goof, but give yourself a mental pat on the back for getting up early to go for a jog, or being patient with your least favourite colleague. Another way to enjoy the present: have a laugh. “Laughing increases blood flow, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to our organs and tissues, and decreases stress hormones,” says Trantina.
6. Share your experiences.
“Chatting with someone about your anxiety is a great way to stay on track and remain encouraged on your journey to overcome [it],” says Trantina.
More importantly, when you open up to a friend or join a community forum where others are openly sharing their thoughts and feelings you take away one important lesson: you’re not alone.
Click here for two weeks of free yoga from myyogaonline.com. Tell us, does yoga help you manage stress?