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Don't Let Anxiety Ruin Your Day

Start your day off with less stress by following these four simple steps.

Leszek Glasner/Shutterstock
Source: Leszek Glasner/Shutterstock

It's not uncommon these days to wake up with a feeling of dread. If we’re not worrying about what’s going to pop up in our news feed, we’re worrying about our overpacked schedules and endless to-do lists. Oh, if we could just pull the covers back over our heads and not get up.

Fortunately, we don’t have to hide under the covers to escape our anxiety. Here are some quick and easy ways to keep anxiety from ruining your day, even before it begins.

1. Play the “I Wonder” game.

In her book Embracing Uncertainty, Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., offers an exercise that can help break the worry habit. When you wake up, simply ask yourself, "I wonder what will happen in my life today." (This is instead of saying, “I really hope this happens,” or, “I really want this to happen.”)

Let’s say you have a big presentation to give at work. Instead of saying, “I hope it goes well,” as your jaw clenches and your shoulders tighten, you say, “I wonder how my presentation will go today.” Can you feel the energetic shift when you go from hoping to wondering? In essence, you’re letting go of an excessive need for control. After all, if you’ve done your best to prepare, and u can’t control the outcome.

Jeffers writes: “Wondering neutralizes both hoping and pessimism. It allows us to handle better what life brings us. It helps us to drop our need for control of the uncontrollable, thus setting us free. It cleans the slate for the future and relieves us of much anxiety.”

So before your feet hit the floor, say to yourself, “I wonder what will happen in my life today.”

2. Avoid overmonitoring.

In her book The Anxiety Toolkit, Alice Boyes, Ph.D., reminds us that the more closely we monitor our anxiety symptoms, the more stressed we become: "When people make reducing anxiety their primary focus, they usually do a lot of checking in with themselves about how anxious they feel at any given moment. They might wake up in the morning and immediately ask, 'How anxious do I feel today?'" She notes that this tends to make feelings of anxiety worse.

If you’re someone who immediately notices that you've woken up with a sick feeling in your stomach or a racing heart rate, take a moment to calm down as best you can. One way to get your mind off your bodily sensations is to focus on other things: What do you see in the room? What do you hear? What do you smell? Just a quick check-in of your surroundings can be a great antidote to over-focusing on anxious symptoms.

3. Ground yourself.

When you wake up feeling stressed, you’ve already got the fight-flight-freeze part of your brain activated. In The Stress-Proof Brain, Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., provides numerous short exercises that help “ground” you—in other words, soothe your nervous system. Some involve imagery and can be a quick exercise you do before you even get out of bed. Here’s one:

Imagine a golden cord (or stream of light) growing downward from the base of your spine—through the floor-boards, through the earth beneath the floor, to the molten center of the Earth. Imagine the cord being tethered to the center of the Earth with a big anchor. Feel the connection between your body and the Earth. As you breathe in and out, imagine your breath traveling up and down the cord, connecting you to the Earth.

You can also ground yourself by imagining being in a peaceful or relaxing place—the beach, a cabin in the woods, etc. It’s especially helpful if you’ve taken some time to imagine these scenes in detail at other times; then it’s easier to call upon the feelings of relaxation and comfort later on.

4. Say the words you most need to hear.

Using a nurturing tone of voice, say to yourself (either silently or aloud) the words you most need to hear right now. Don't worry if you're not sure of the exact words; in time, you’ll get better at figuring it out.

Here are some examples:

  • I can trust myself.
  • I am not alone. I can ask for help.
  • I can do things that I don't want to do.
  • This is not the hardest thing I will ever do.
  • It will not always be this way. Things will become easier.
  • I will remember that everyone has problems.
  • I accept myself as I am today.
  • I am OK exactly as I am.

By saying these gentle phrases, you're practicing self-compassion and self-care, the best ways to cope with anxiety anytime, day or night.

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