Anxiety can mentally exhaust you and have real impacts on your body. But before you get anxious about being anxious, know that research has shown you can reduce your anxiety and stress with a simple mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to daily life and the things we typically rush through. It’s about turning down the volume in your mind by coming back to the body.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to spend an hour’s pay on a class or contort your body into difficult positions. You likely already have all the tools you need to practice mindfulness. Use these tricks to add little bursts of mindfulness throughout the day to ease anxiety and calm your mind.
1. Set an intention
There’s a reason your yoga teacher asks you to set an intention for your practice that day. Whether you do it in your morning journal or before important activities, setting an intention can help you focus and remind you why you are doing something. If something gives you anxiety — like giving a big speech at work — set an intention for it.
For example, you can set an intention to take care of your body before heading to the gym or to treat your body with kindness before eating.
2. Do a guided meditation or mindfulness practice
Meditation can be as easy as finding a sliver of space and opening an app. Apps and online programs are a great way to dip your toe into a practice without committing to an expensive class or taking up much time. There are countless free, guided meditations online. These meditation apps are a great place to start.
3. Doodle or color
Set aside a couple minutes to doodle. You’ll get the creative juices flowing and let your mind take a break. Does drawing stress you out? Shamelessly invest in a coloring book, adult or otherwise. You’ll have the perk of accomplishing something without having to face a blank page.
4. Go for a walk
Being outside does wonders for anxiety. Pay attention to the sounds around you, the feel of the wind against your skin, and the smells around you. Keep your phone in your pocket (or better yet, at home), and do your best to stay in the moment by focusing on your senses and your environment. Start with a short jaunt around the block and see how you feel.
5. Wish other people happiness
You only need 10 seconds to do this practice from author and former Google pioneer Chade-Meng Tan. Throughout the day, randomly wish for someone to be happy. This practice is all in your head. You don’t have to tell the person, you just have to set the positive energy. Try it on your commute, at the office, at the gym, or while you wait in line. Bonus points if you find yourself annoyed or upset with someone and you stop and (mentally) wish them happiness instead. With eight Nobel Peace Prize nominations, Meng might be onto something.
6. Look up
Not just from the screen in front of you (although definitely do that too), but at the stars. Whether you are taking out the trash or coming home late, pause and take a few deep breaths into your belly as you look up at the stars. Let the cosmos remind you that life is bigger than your worries or inbox.
7. Brew on it
Making a cup of tea is a deeply cherished practice in many cultures around the world. Settle into the practice and focus on each step. How do the leaves smell when you pull them out? What does the water look like when you first add the tea? Watch the steam rise from the cup and feel the heat of the cup against your hand. If you have time, sip your tea without distraction. Don’t like tea? You can easily do this practice while making rich, aromatic, French-pressed coffee.
8. Focus on one thing at a time
Yes, your to-do list can be a form of mindfulness if you do it right. Set a timer for five minutes and give one task your full and undivided attention. No checking your phone, no clicking on notifications, no browsing online — absolutely no multitasking. Let that one task take center stage until the timer goes off.
9. Leave your phone behind
Do you really need to bring your phone with you when you walk into the other room? When you go to the bathroom? When you sit down to eat? Leave your phone in the other room. Instead of worrying about it, sit and breathe before you start eating. Take a moment for yourself and your needs in the bathroom. Your phone will still be there when you’re done.
10. Turn household tasks into a mental break
Instead of obsessing over your to-do list or clutter, let yourself relax into the moment. Dance while you do the dishes or focus on the way the soap runs down the tiles while you clean the shower. Take five slow breaths while you wait for the microwave to stop. Daydream while you fold the laundry.
There is no right or wrong way to journal. From using the structured 5-Minute Journal to scribbling your thoughts on a random scrap of paper, the act of putting pen to paper can help soothe the mind and tame swirling thoughts. Try a gratitude journal or simply jot down the three best things that happened today.
12. Pause at stoplights
As much as no one wants to admit it, you can’t time travel or make cars move out of your way when you’re late. Instead of rushing, bring your focus inward at every stoplight. While you wait, sit upright and still and take four slow, deep breaths. This practice sounds easy on a leisurely drive, but the real benefits come when your anxiety and stress feel like they’re taking up the whole car.
13. Log out of all of your social media accounts
While social media has its uses, it can also contribute to your anxiety and interrupt your productivity. You’ll be amazed at how frequently you check your social media accounts without thinking. So, log out. Being forced to type in a password again will slow you down or stop you altogether.
When you actually want to check in, set a time limit or an intention. That way, you won’t end up feeling behind on your work or guilty for spending 20 minutes looking at a stranger’s puppy.
14. Check out
Actively trying to be mindful during every moment can actually add to anxiety and stress. Know when you need to let off some steam and let your mind wander where it wants to go. Netflix and chill has its place in your mindfulness practice. So does doing absolutely nothing.
Every little bit of mindfulness helps. What matters most is that you are consistent with your mindfulness practice. Practicing mindfulness regularly can help you calm your mind and move past negative emotions, according to a recent review. Try to take at least five minutes each day to check in and do a meditation or mindfulness exercise that you enjoy.
Mandy Ferreira is a writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s passionate about health, fitness, and sustainable living. She’s currently obsessed with running, Olympic lifting, and yoga, but she also swims, cycles, and does just about everything else she can. You can keep up with her on her blog, treading-lightly.com, and on Twitter @mandyfer1.