5 Ways to Quiet an Anxious Mind

February 17, 2016
walking_meditation_riversidepark

I’d be smelling the roses on this walking meditation–if there were roses, that is.

Should I have stayed for that vinyasa class it’s cold out and raining and gross I don’t feel that well eh, I’ll get over it soon just keep going I hope tomorrow isn’t insane at the office ugh, I can’t believe I have more reading does my hip hurt or is it just sore what does “sore” even mean at this point it hurts all the time what should I have for dinner what should I bring for a snack tomorrow do I have enough apples should I stop to get more apples will it be raining tomorrow maybe I could stop then I just want to go to sleep should I reactivate OkCupid or is it a waste probably a waste but maybe not something with tahini would be good what could I add tahini too well everything what a great food we’re such a wasteful country will we run out of water soon and clean air and maybe sunshine if the sun ever comes out again that is I need to remember my mask tonight and to clean my yoga mat Mary did a post on mat cleaner I should make some ooooh don’t slip on the ice hey that’s a cute dog…

These were the thoughts running through my head on my way home one night last week. Such a dialogue is fairly typical between my brain and me: a constant replay of worries large and small and medium-sized (the worst ones, the ones that you can’t put off and just stick in the grey matter like a thorn). I am admittedly a worry-wart and have even been unofficially diagnosed by one medical professional as having chronic anxiety. Basically, I always have some kind of problem that needs to be solved or fixed, and if there isn’t one immediately within reach I invent one.

Sounds awful, right? But maybe it sounds a little familiar to you, too. Anxiety affects nearly 20 percent of Americans today, a staggering statistic that has been linked to everything from the internet to too freely discussing those infamous and touchy literary classics. Even acknowledging these facts of our nonstop lives doesn’t help that much, because meeting a friend or coworker also stressed out by the day-to-day makes wanting to alleviate it seem like a weakness: our degree of stress is almost in direct proportion to our success in work, love, and life.

Quieting an anxious mind, however, requires much more strength than it seems, as anyone who’s tried meditation knows. And taking care of one’s own mental well-being is ultimately the key to increased productivity and thereby success. If you’re struggling with an inner voice that just won’t hush up, try these simple and easy tips to help it get the message–and thus be able to listen to your inner truth more carefully.

5 Ways to Quiet an Anxious Mind

1. Meditate: So I know I just said this is super hard, and it is. My meditation practice is very much a work in progress, but finding just one minute a day to sit quietly and comfortably can do wonders for the mind. Finding a comfortable way of sitting is key. Props like yoga bricks, blankets, and bolsters are all great, and you can never have too much propping! Lying down or sitting in  a chair also works well if that’s most comfortable for you. The most basic way to meditate is to focus on inhaling and exhaling deeply through the nose, saying “inhale” and “exhale” to yourself every time you do so. You can count your breaths, or you can link each one to a word–such as breathe in “let” and breathe out “go.” Phone apps can help those having trouble, but I’d suggest starting off sans technology. Alternatively, you may try walking meditation, which allows you to see and feel more of your surroundings as you move through space. I walk to my office every day, and I use the time to be calm in my mind (or try to), looking around at the buildings and people I’d miss if I were thinking too much. All you need to do is be conscious of each step, feeling your feet on the ground as you breathe.

2. Take a Walk, Without Your Phone: Building on the above, just getting out and walking aimlessly for a bit without your phone can be amazingly liberating. Smartphones are great, but the plethora of information that they place at our fingertips can increase our desire to tap in, to find out, to ask, to check in. Sometimes you need to check out, and not having the physical reminder of what you’re ostensibly “missing” can help you leave that created stress behind. As long as you don’t wander off anywhere dangerous, you shouldn’t have to worry about safety either. Just take in the sights and sounds around you.

3. Smell: The phrase “stop and smell the roses” is a cliche for the very fact that it’s kind of true. So often we’re caught up in business that sensual pleasures–whether they are olfactory or tactile–evade our intake. Surrounding yourself with soothing, relaxing smells especially at bedtime can help ease a troubled mind and cool the nervous system. Try making a DIY lavender body scrub, the smell of which will intensify in the heat of your shower or bath. I also love putting a few drops of this oil on my pillow when I go to bed. It will help you drift off to sleep in no time, no sheep counting (or any mental effort) required.lavender_body_scrub4. List It: I could make a list a mile long of all the reasons that lists are awesome. The number one reason, though, is that by writing down something you need to do, you don’t need to keep it stored in your brain anymore; you just look at the list and, voila, there it is! Unloading in whatever format works best for you–I’d recommend paper vs. electronically, unless the latter is really necessary, as the act of hand-writing is proven to help you retain information–will keep you organized and less inclined to go through a to-do list too long to keep in your head.work_todolist5. Just Do It: There’s a reason this slogan has worked for Nike. Instead of thinking about something over and over, would it be easier to just do it (unless it’s a big, life-change thing like moving to a new city or starting a new career)? You don’t know how many times I say to myself “I should wash the dishes” or “I should do a face mask” and even set everything up to follow-through but fail because I think I’m too busy. In the end, these little tasks take up no time at all and leave me feeling as good for doing the thing as checking it off my (mental or written) list. Then you are free to move on to the next thing, or just enjoy the silence in your mind…

What are some of your favorite ways to quiet mental chatter?

Also by Jennifer: 5 Things I Learned from Gwenyth Paltrow (and 2 Things I Didn’t)

More on mindfulness: 5 Ways to Practice Mindfulness for Happiness and Calm

How to Create a Mindful Morning Routine

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Photos: Jennifer Kurdyla

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Features Editor Jennifer Kurdyla is a New York City girl with Jersey roots and a propensity for getting lost in the urban jungle. An experienced publishing professional, yoga instructor, home chef, sometimes-runner, and writer, she adopted a vegetarian lifestyle in 2008 and became vegan in 2013. She has written for The Harvard Review Online, The Rumpus, and Music & Literature and maintains a wellness-based website, Be Nourished, which features original writing and recipes. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram @jenniferkurdyla, Twitter @jenniferkurdyla, and Pinterest.

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