When you feel stressed or anxious, have you been mindful of your breathing? Notice if you’re holding your breath, taking shallow breaths, or breathing too quickly.
Take control of your breathing by trying a short breathing exercise:
Lay, sit, or stand comfortably, with good posture to allow yourself to breathe easily.
If you’re laying or sitting, maybe you want to close your eyes to increase focus.
You may place your hands gently on your stomach to physically feel it move in and out as you breathe.
Take note of physical sensations and then focus on your breathe.
If you find yourself becoming distracted by anything, acknowledge the distraction (distractions occur naturally and are reminders to return to what we were working on), allow it to roll through your awareness, and then simply return your attention to your breathing.
Breathe in for 3 seconds: 1-2-3
Breathe out for 3 seconds: 1-2-3
Repeat 3 times
Notice any differences in how you physically or mentally feel.
Calmly return your focus to the environment around you.
You may want to play around with the time spent in the exercise, do what works for you.
*Tip for severe anxiety and panic: if you find yourself holding your breath for longer than the brief pause during this exercise, skip the pause all together and just focus on steady in-and-out breathes.*
What’s your favorite positive affirmation, right now?
Mine is, “I have everything I need.”
I tend to feel like I need MORE (belongings, money, approval from others, etc.) and it can create anxiety and tension. I don’t actually need any of these things. When I practice living in the moment and tell myself that I have everything that I need RIGHT NOW, HERE in the present, I feel less anxious.
To all of the busy women, here are some strategies that can help you be productive and calm.
Does this sound familiar to you? Personally, as a busy person (have a young daughter, maintaining relationships, keeping the house tidy, running my own mental health private practice, blogging (for two websites), and preparing for ultramarathons), I struggle with being calm while I go about my day.
Here’s how it usually goes.
I’m usually productive in some way because there is always something that needs done. I tend to feel like things need to be done in an overly particular way. Tasks get done, it’s just not always how well (quality) or in the order that I’d like it to be, so I need to be flexible.
When there’s anxiety present.
Anxiety couples this feeling that something needs to be a certain way or lack of having an amount of control. Anxiety is also provoked when I feel overwhelmed by the amount of things that I need to do. It’s difficult being calm. I want things to be completed in a timely manner and done right. Sometimes, I aim for perfection, but I know that that’s unrealistic. I put a lot of pressure on myself.
How do I remain calm while I’m in a state of being busy and usually anxious?
• I practice time management • Prioritize tasks • Ask others for help • Tell someone “no” when they ask if I can do something when I truly don’t have the time • Mindfulness • Slow myself down, so I can think clearly • Stay grounded • Self-care. Sometimes taking a full day for it! • Exercise or run • I focus on my strengths and goals (and the reasons behind them) • I think positive (in general) • I reframe my distorted thinking • I write down affirmations
There are probably some other tricks that I use that aren’t coming to mind. Whatever I do, I choose to act in a more helpful and healthy manner. I choose to react in a way that is more calm.
How do I know which strategy will help?
I don’t 100% of the time know which strategy will help, but I do know that I can try two or three and see if they work. Overtime, it is easier to know which strategies will work and for what. If a strategy doesn’t help, no big deal, pick another. There are instances where anxiety is stronger and it takes a handful of strategies to help. Also, no big deal.
The strategies from this list are additional “to do’s”, but they makes life better and adds peace. This work becomes more effortless the more that I practice it. You can do this, too.
IMPROVE the Moment is the next skill. The acronym IMPROVE makes life a little bit better when it is not going so well.
During a crisis, you have two options. You can sink into the distress or invest in behaviors that might improve how you feel in the moment.
I: Imagery M: Meaning P: Prayer R: Relaxation O: One thing (or moment) at a time V: Vacation E: Encouragement
Imagery is powerful because your mind can convince your body that you are elsewhere. A good example is being at the beach. When you’re actually sitting on the beach, your muscles are relaxed. When you imagine yourself at the beach (and you’re elsewhere), you can still get your muscles to relax, you convince your body that you are sitting there.
Ideas for imagery
Use an app or purchase a recorded guided imagery. You can also just use your own mind and create a guided imagery.
• Forest path • Walk on the beach • Favorite place • Safe place • Sunflower field • Stroll by a stream • Waterfall • Garden of butterflies • Sunset • Star gazing • Mountain summit hike • Sitting by a campfire
Practice and enjoy the benefits! Also, imagine yourself doing well and practicing your skills.
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), one of the founders of existential therapy, once said “If there is a why, then a person can figure out the how.” [Look him up, his life was remarkable. He wrote the book “A Man’s Search for Meaning,” which is about being a psychologist in a concentration camp. He is well-known for this book, but he has several other accomplishments.]
List and contemplate your “whys” for working on any problem.
Examples: Why stay safe?; why practice your skills?; why improve your self-care?
Having meaning motivates you; your whys will motivate you to act.
Prayer is a calming ritual, it also provides connection, guidance, and peace.
Pray where you are at, or go to your place of connectedness or worship. This skill is useful anywhere and at anytime. Connect to your spirituality.
Everyone needs relaxation. What do you do to relax? What do you think could be relaxing that you would like to try?
Schedule in some of those relaxing behaviors every day. Keep in mind that relaxing also takes practice.
Tips for practice: Be mindful of your breathing; be mindful of tense muscles and release the tension; sit in a quiet place.
One thing (or moment) at a time
Take on only one thing in the moment. When we try to juggle or do too many things at once, we become overwhelmed and or shut down completely.
Example: You don’t know how to make it through your day, but you know that you can make it through the next hour, or through the next 5 minutes. Focus on what is manageable.
Take a break from your stressors or crisis. These breaks need to be planned, like scheduling a walk in the park in the evening, or watching your favorite movie before bedtime. Taking quiet time to reflect, meditate, or do deep breathing exercises are also good ideas.
Allow yourself to take a break when you feel that you need it.
You need encouragement during those tough times. The things that you say to yourself matter, they influence how you feel.
During your self-talk, say affirmations, coach, and cheer for yourself.
Write down 10 affirmations you can repeat to yourself throughout difficult times.
• This crisis will pass. • I can do this! • I have everything that I need to get through this.
This is a popular grounding technique, and it is for everyone.
This technique engages all 5 senses, which reminds you of the present moment, and builds awareness. This is a calming technique that can help you get through tough or stressful situations. Taking a deep belly breath at the beginning and end of this activity can feel calming and will help prepare you for the next thing that occurs. As you do this activity, saying the things that you sense out loud will reinforce your present state of being and awareness because you are hearing in your own voice what your brain is telling you and what your body is actually experiencing.
Take a deep belly breath to begin.
5 – LOOK: Look around for 5 things that you can see and say them out loud.
Example: “I see a dog, a chair, a lamp, a window, and a cup.”
4 – FEEL: Pay attention to your body and think of 4 things that you can feel. Say them out loud.
Example: “I feel the dog, the cushion that I’m sitting on, the sun coming in through the window on my skin, and the carpet beneath my feet.”
3 – LISTEN: Listen for 3 sounds and say them out loud.
Example: “I hear the dog snoring, the air conditioner running, and the birds outside singing.”
2 – SMELL: Say 2 things that you can smell. If you can’t smell anything from where you are, you may move to go smell something or say your favorite scent.
Example: “I smell the candle burning and the fabric softener on the chair throw.”
1 – TASTE: Say 1 thing that you can taste. If you can’t taste anything, then you can say your favorite thing to taste.
Example: “I taste the toothpaste mint from when I brushed my teeth.”
Take another deep belly breath to end and notice how you feel.
Download this technique below to store on your device or to print it out and share!
Mindfulness is choosing to be aware of the present moment, on purpose, and in a non-judgmental way. When being mindful, our attention and focus is on whatever we choose to observe or do.In this moment, choose to focus your mind wherever you’d like it to be.
Maybe you focus on your emotions, thoughts and physical sensations as you experience the environment around you.
Hold your attention there, focusing on being in the moment.
States of mind
We have three states of mind:
• Emotion Mind • Reason Mind • Wise Mind
Wise Mind is the balance between emotion and reason. We acknowledge and validate our feelings and use reason to problem-solve, think about consequences, and choose effective behaviors.
In Wise Mind, we act in ways that reflect our goals, values, and who we want to be.
Ask yourself, in any moment, “What is my Wise Mind telling me?” Then act.
Getting into Wise Mind, Step One
• Observe and describe what and how you behave, think, feel, and your surroundings in a non-judgmental way. Stay focused one-mindfully.
To observe means just noticing how things are, without adding or taking away.
To describe means to put words to your observations.
• What you do is participate and how you do that is effectively.
• Take what you observed (step one) and choose what you want to participate in. Participate in it fully, immerse yourself in the experience.
• How to choose what to participate in: base it off of what will work or be effective.
Once you are participating effectively, you’re in Wise Mind. Notice what this feels like.
Let Go of Judgments
We all have judgments. Whenever you notice yourself judging, let the judgment pass through and drift off, don’t allow it to stick around. Judgments should come and go like clouds and ocean waves.
Practicing Mindfulness in the Moment
Be present in the “small moments.”
Take 10 minutes and clean part of your home, fully immersing yourself in the process.
When you find yourself distracted, this could be a judgmental thought, refocus on what you’re doing. Full focus and attention, non-judgmentally.
A thought on meditation. Meditation can be considered anything if you are present, being non-judgmental, and have an open heart.
Meditate on your life experiences, starting with the moment you are currently in. Stay present for some time, connecting to the moment, then, when you’re ready, shift your focus to another moment.
Let potentially stressful situations, criticisms, or anything else that might “stick” to you, causing needless suffering, roll off your mind. Allow these experiences to slide through your awareness.
Distractions, distractions, distractions
Distractions don’t go away, they are a part of this world. Do not get frustrated with distractions, they are reminders to go back to what you’re working on. They’re natural.
When you become distracted, bring yourself back to the present moment. Do this over, and over, and over again, if you need to.
Taking hold of your mind
Direct your mind where you want it. There are many thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations to direct your attention towards. Choose one of those, opening up your mind to it and closing your attention off from the other options.
If your mind drifts towards a closed off option, gently re-close it and return to the option of choice.
I think of the graph as an umbrella. The emotions on the edge of the circle are related to the “main” emotions (or the emotions that we most commonly identify), which are in the very center. For example, when we feel confident and successful, we feel proud, and we feel happy.
If someone is struggling to pinpoint or identify what they are feeling, just seeing all of the emotions in front of them might be helpful.
This graph is good for teaching kids about other emotions, not just the “main” ones. So, when they feel happy about receiving a good grade at school, proud, confident and successful can be introduced to them.
Pay attention to your patterns, they can be physical, mental and or emotional. Patterns will reveal your reactions to situations, giving you feedback on what works, versus what doesn’t work. When you are doing something that works, do a little more of it.
This is a mindfulness strategy that helps anyone suffering from stress, anxiety and depression, chronic pain, relationship problems, focus and attention issues, and painful memories and feelings.
Here’s a short example: A person who is suffering from seasonal depression (seasonal affective disorder) is exhausted and lacking energy most of the time. Their usual routine is, they wake up, get ready for work, skip breakfast, head to work, work their usual shift, come home, eat dinner, unwind by watching television, clean part of the house, call someone over the phone, get ready for bed, try to get some sleep. They realize that this routine doesn’t work for them because it isn’t really addressing the depression or tiredness.
Looking at their patterns, they realize that they could start their day off better by eating breakfast before rushing out the door for work. Eating a healthy, balanced breakfast is added into their daily routine. They liked the idea of breakfast and coffee, and having fuel in the tank effectively addressed the tiredness.
After adding breakfast into their routine, they kept up with that for a few weeks. Reexamining their patterns, they felt like eating breakfast wasn’t enough in itself when battling their seasonal depression. Instead of watching television, they exercised for 30 minutes to an hour every other day. Adding the exercise boosted their mood and overall wellness. Making these adjustments of adding breakfast and exercise improved their seasonal depression.
What to do
Ask yourself these questions (maybe spend 5 minutes a day working on this):
Pay close attention to what happens when difficult thoughts and feelings arise – what do you do in reaction?
Why do you keep doing what you do?
What do you get from it?
It’s not always easy finding your patterns, solutions and making the adjustments, but stick with it. We go through several difficult and complex situations in life, so when necessary, talk with a therapist because they can support you through this process.
[This card is from the deck of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT Deck) cards, which I purchased through Amazon, online.]