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How to Get Out of Your Anxious Mind

Cultivating calm through disciplined practice.

Taylor Leopold/
Source: Taylor Leopold/

You want to feel calm, confident, and in control of your life. Every morning you wake up and vow to find time to meditate, to practice deep-breathing and to let the small stuff roll off your stressed-out shoulders. Great goals, indeed.

The problem is you’re not taking action as much as you're thinking about taking action. You can blame your anxious constitution in part, as your mind can drive you to distraction. One minute you’re feeling calm, the next you’re convinced you left the stove on before rushing out the door for work.

The good news is you can manage your anxiety so it does not manage you. As a psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, I can tell you the keys are consistency and intentional effort.

Practicing mindfulness-based exercises and asserting proper boundaries with troublesome coworkers are great actions, but even better for when they become habits.

In addition to lifestyle imperatives like getting adequate sleep, reducing caffeine, and exercising for at least 30 minutes per day, the following tips can help you make the most of your active mind:

1. Settle your central nervous system. In short, breathe. Research has shown that certain breathing techniques can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood, or changing blood pressure. Additionally, exercises like abdominal breathing can help train the body's reaction to stressful situations and reduce the production of harmful stress hormones.

  • Sit comfortably and raise your ribcage to expand your chest. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Notice your upper chest and abdomen move while you breath.
  • Concentrate on your breath and try to breathe in and out gently through the nose. Your upper chest and stomach should be still, allowing the diaphragm to work with your abdomen and less with your chest.
  • With each breath, allow any tension to slip away. Once you are breathing slowly with your abdomen, sit quietly and enjoy the sensation of physical relaxation.

2. Befriend a flexible mindset. One of the worst anxiety culprits is an inflexible, concrete, and rigid mindset. Look for exceptions where you typically see things as all-black or all-white. Watch for polarizing words such as always, and never. Is you best friend always late for dinner, or on most occasions? Has your child ever cleaned his room? Are you certain you’ve tried everything to curb your anxiety?

3. Catch your catastrophic thoughts before they spiral out of control. Catastrophizing is a negative cognitive-emotional process which includes magnification of the problem at hand, helplessness and rumination. Studies show that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is quite effective at teaching new ways of thinking and behaving in situations which create anxiety.

CBT is based on the premise that anxiety problems involve maladaptive patterns of thinking and behaving. Thinking patterns include overestimating the probability and severity of negative outcomes. Behavioral patterns in anxiety include avoidance, compulsive rituals and rapid, shallow breathing. This CBT article offers an in-depth guide to help you recover from the negative behaviors which maintain your fears.

4. Resist the urge to over-explain yourself. Anxious people have a complicated relationship with oral language. Too few words and you risk being labeled as socially phobic, while too much talking can lead to “emotional vomiting.” The reality is you don’t need to offer as many details as you think about your job interview, your relationship, or why you bailed on CrossFit yesterday. Time is money. And mental energy is finite. When you over-explain, you squander precious emotional and mental properties (and waste other people's, too). Talking too much is a boundaries issue. This article offers solid tips to trim the fat from your vernacular.

5. Visualize your life as a calmer person. Visualization is a common practice among professional athletes aiming to optimize peak performance come game day. Whether your endeavor involves sweat or not, preparation goes a long way toward facing certain situations and people who typically activate your stress levels. In order to properly visualize the way your day or your event will play out, focus on constructing a complete mental picture, including your five senses.

By envisioning specific emotions, sights, and sounds, you're more apt to remain calm and collected, and execute your plan even in a chaotic setting. Speaking of, when you visualize what could possibly go wrong, you’re better able to problem-solve if and when glitches occur.

Getting on the right side of calm will not happen overnight. And on some days you will slip into old, familiar ways of thinking, feeling and doing. That’s okay. When you falter, repeat the steps above to reinforce that you can cultivate a calmer way of life.

Say goodbye to your former stressed-out self and take your first step toward positive change today. Because when it comes to your mental health game, it’s not what you know, but what you do.


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Copyright 2016 Linda Esposito, LCSW