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A Simple Technique to Calm Your Anxious Mind in 20 Minutes

Anxiety relief doesn't have to be complicated.

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes everyday —unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” ― Dr. Sukhraj Dhillon

Philipe Cavalcante/unsplash
Source: Philipe Cavalcante/unsplash

Recently I received an email from a college student who’s struggling with anxiety and wants to get unstuck.

A tall order for a non-therapy client, but he was nice and the millennials are struggling with stress and worries at alarming rates, so here goes.

I’m going to share a simple technique I’ve used with many counseling clients, and it’s a game changer.

How to Overcome Obstacles to Peace of Mind

But first, let’s talk about what trips up even the most well-intentioned person in the quest for a quiet mind and body.

  • Over-attention to the content of your worries. This is especially prevalent in people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I know how counterintuitive this may seem when it’s your mind obsessing over scary thoughts, but honestly, they are not that important. Your brain is stuck in overwhelm overdrive, but don’t let it take you along for the ride. Grab the steering wheel and park it below.
  • Underattention to problem-solving. Largely because of the first obstacle, your rational mind becomes dormant in the throes of runaway unhealthy thoughts and uncomfortable physical sensations such as rapid, shallow breathing, tightening in your chest, dizziness and nausea, etc. Next to "ER" (see below), problem-solving is your best asset for calming an anxious mind.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by…everything!
  • Giving in to impulsivity. According to research published by The Journal of Affective Disorders, a correlation exists between anxiety and impulsive behaviors. This is largely due to an inability to delay gratification and intolerance for uncertainty. Examples of giving in to impulsivity include: abusing substances or “self-medicating,” self-injury, avoidance of unpleasant situations, physical or verbal aggression, excessive social media or other media use to the extent that responsibilities are neglected, etc.
  • Allowing your emotions to get the best of you. “Emotional regulation” (a most unfortunate name for a must-have mental wellness tool) is where it’s at. At its core, ER (not the medical facility where up to 40 percent of the population ends up with complains of chest pain, when in fact, panic attack is the culprit) is the ability to withstand a wide variety of emotional situations and uncomfortable feelings. Examples of healthy emotional regulation include deep-breathing to slow you mind + body, pausing before you respond to an angry inquiry, taking a timeout when stressed, walking away instead of engaging in a psychological arm wrestle, etc.

Now the anxiety-relief tip, you’ve been waiting for.

Twenty Minute Calming Technique

1. Stay in the fray of your frazzled feeling state (3 minutes). While the tendency may be to “get calm,” your worries alert you about something which needs to change. Think of this as a mini-meditation for increasing self-awareness.

2. Sit in silence, close your eyes and pay attention to your body (2 minutes). Where do you feel stress? Is it your stomach, your head, your chest area? Where do you hold tension? Make a conscious effort to breathe into those areas of stress and replace the heaviness with relaxation.

3. Settle on one small action you can do which will bring you one step closer to solving your problem (10 minutes). Anxiety loves avoidance, so beat it at its own game and start acting. Set a timer for 10 minutes and completely immerse yourself in this step. Clear all distractions and focus on your goal (if you’re stuck, start with what you’ve been avoiding and what specifically bothers you about uncertainty: Is this an uncomfortable conversation with your spouse? Is it opening your VISA bill? A stagnant relationship? The time between text messages to a love interest? Needing to know the results of the lab test? The security of a good job upon graduation?).

4. Write down one task you will complete tomorrow to stay on the action track (5 minutes). Get specific and hold yourself accountable.

Repeat this process daily so you develop a nice habit. Challenges can be all-consuming or all-empowering. The goal is not necessarily to be calm, but to handle daily stress better and to find the right side of ‘in control’ quicker.


(A version of this article originally appeared on

© 2018 Linda Esposito, LCSW

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