If some combination of domestic, social, or work-related stress has you feeling anxious, you’re not alone. In fact, a 2020 Gallup poll found that 60 percent of American adults reported regular feelings of anxiety, worry, and stress. Gallup called this surge in anxiety “unprecedented,” and it’s likely been exacerbated in large part by the ongoing pandemic and the constant churn of negative news. Anxiety is no fun but fortunately there are a few quick, scientifically-backed tricks you can try to ease racing thoughts and give you a sense of peace. Even better, these tricks are all free and can be done at any time.
Squeeze a Pillow
If you wake up worried about all the things you need to tick off your to-do list, try this: Grab your plumpest pillow and give it a bear hug for 30 seconds while imagining your anxious energy flowing out of your mind and into the cushion. British research found the act of squeezing a pillow slows breathing, which calms stress centers of the brain. Meanwhile, Harvard University research suggests that mindfulness techniques, like visualizing your tension flowing out of your body, calm your “fight or flight” response, letting you get on with your day free from cares.
Put Your Hand Here
It may sound strange, but placing your right hand over your heart as though you’re reciting the Pledge of Allegiance for one minute is one of the most effective ways to lower anxiety anytime, anywhere. Feeling the beating of your heart (a simple yet highly effective form of meditation) pulls you out of a worry loop by reconnecting your mind and body. Indeed, Wake Forest School of Medicine investigators reporting in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience suggest that simple mindfulness activities like this have the power to significantly lower anxiety. Bonus: Focusing on your heartbeat before bed can also help you doze off faster and sleep deeper.
Throw This Away
Have a worry that keeps coming back? Write it down on a slip of paper, then use both hands to tear it up and toss it in the trash. The act of jotting down worries “offloads” them from your thoughts, Michigan State University researchers report. A Harvard study suggests that this “expressive writing” can “free up mental resources” to help you focus, and the ritual of physically tearing up the paper can have a cathartic effect and ease anxiety.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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