Christie Uipi, LCSW, is a psychotherapist—and Ashley’s therapist!—as well as the executive director of The Better Mind Project. Here, she shares practical advice for lowering anxiety—with some easy-to-follow options to help you achieve a calmer state of being.
If you’ve ever felt the discomfort of anxiety, you might be curious (or even desperate!) to know the “right” way to combat it. What’s the right amount of time to meditate? What’s the right journaling prompt? What’s the right type of exercise? I hate to break it to you, but, in my opinion, there is no one right way to reduce anxiety.
I’d like to offer you more of a framework, and less of an instruction manual, on anxiety reduction—and that framework is built on developing your internal safety compass. On any given day, helping yourself feel safer might mean meditating for 10 minutes, taking a walk, or drawing yourself a bubble bath. I want you to practice attending to your specific, ever-changing needs in real time. What might feel good to me might feel bad to you. What might feel calming to you today might feel agitating to you tomorrow. The more you practice relying on your internal compass to guide your choices, the more you grow your mental flexibility, which will ultimately lessen the pressure to do everything “right.”
With this framework in mind, I’d like to offer you five sets of tips to reduce your anxiety, each providing you with room for personal preference. The choices are all yours!
Be Still vs. Get Moving
Be Still: Find a comfortable, quiet place to soften your internal frenzy. Let your eyes and mind wander while allowing your body to rest. Don’t worry if you feel bored or restless; most of us are not used to the act of stillness. With repetition, we can teach our busy brains that resting can feel nourishing and restorative.
Get Moving: Anxiety activates the nervous system into a state of “fight or flight.” When we exercise, we release some of our body’s extra stress hormones. Take a walk, go dancing, or sign up for a boxing class—and kick that extra cortisol to the curb.
Quiet the Mind vs. Calm the Body
Quiet the Mind: When irrational thoughts are racing, don’t exhaust yourself trying to chase them down. Hold your ground by closing your eyes and repeating a short, simple message to yourself such as, “You’re safe and supported.” Return to this mantra each time your anxious brain invites you down a rabbit hole.
Calm the Body: Slowing the breath helps regulate the nervous system. Try a technique called Box Breathing. Inhale to the count of four, hold your breath to the count of four at the top of the inhale, exhale to the count of four, and then hold your breath to the count of four at the bottom of the exhale. Repeat to yourself, “In, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four.” Repeat for 2-3 minutes.
Go it Alone vs. Connect With Others
Go it Alone: The hustle and noise of day-to-day life can drown out our ability to connect with ourselves and our needs. Sometimes anxiety activates because the brain is alerting you to a signal you are missing. Take some time on your own to “free write.” Set a timer and put pen to paper for 10 minutes, without judgment or expectation. Let yourself explore the feelings or topics that need some time and attention.
Connect With Others: Connection is a basic human need. Whether you need to call a friend and ask for their listening ear or establish a supportive relationship with a licensed professional, a little one-on-one guidance can go a long way. Asking for help is a commitment to your well-being.
Lean In vs. Check Out
Lean In: Anxiety can create uncomfortable feelings in your body, like tightness in your chest or jitters down your arms or legs. The natural human response is to avoid or ignore these sensations. But avoidance actually increases anxiety levels! Instead, practice a few seconds of moving towards these sensations. Close your eyes and allow your awareness to move from the top of your head down to the tips of your toes. Along the way, take time to give soft attention to the sensations you notice. The simple act of connecting to these feelings in your body helps regulate your nervous system.
Check Out: Sometimes the best way to reduce a wave of anxiety is simply to allow for time to pass until you’ve washed up on shore again. Read a book, catch up on your favorite Netflix show, or even take a nap. Give yourself a temporary break from “figuring it out.”
Practice Positivity vs. Embrace What Hurts
Practice Positivity: When you find yourself flooded with negative thoughts, practice generating some positivity. Ask yourself, “What are three things I feel good about right now?” The act of asking yourself this mood-boosting question can help teach your brain to respond to stress with resilience.
Embrace What Hurts: Silver linings can often feel very invalidating. Sometimes the nervous system activates if you are straining to fight off your emotions, instead of simply allowing them to pass through you. Let yourself sink into your feelings, even if they seem dark or upsetting. You will likely feel much lighter afterwards.
Trusting yourself can be uncomfortable at first. Anxiety wants to tell us that there is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things, and it can be hard to find your footing in gray areas. But breaking free from mental rigidity and trusting your internal compass is a major step toward healing, and can lead to lasting anxiety reduction. With practice, I trust that you will find both comfort and empowerment in this middle way.