How to Self-Soothe When Coping with Anxiety

5 Effective Techniques to Try Anywhere, Anytime

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The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 31% of U.S. adults may experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. The upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic has only added fuel to that fire.

While stress and anxiety might be inevitable as we navigate the natural ebb and flow of life, there are effective ways you can self-soothe and manage your anxiety. We’re outlining a few exercises below. 

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the feeling of worry, dread, or unease about an event with an uncertain outcome. It can be accompanied by a variety of physical manifestations. Although anxiety is a natural response to many situations, it can become excessive.

“Common cognitive symptoms of anxiety include having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, feeling on edge, irritable, or restless; and becoming easily tired or weak,” says Katelyn Anderson, a licensed independent clinical social worker. “Common physical symptoms of anxiety include muscle tension, increased heart rate, hyperventilating, sweating, trembling, and gastrointestinal (GI) problems.”

Self-Soothing Techniques to Help With Anxiety

If you allow your anxiety to spiral without adequately dealing with it, the above symptoms can become even more severe. In addition, it can impact your relationships with your partner, family, friends and interfere with your work. To help address anxiety, try one or more of the following self-soothing exercises.  

The Worry Jar

Excessive worry is a symptom of anxiety. The worry jar exercise helps to move on from worrying by acknowledging your thoughts then giving distance to them,” explains Anderson. Close your eyes and envision the following: 

  • Write your worries on a piece of paper
  • Fold the paper several times
  • Put the folded paper in your worry jar.
  • Put the lid on the jar and put the jar away

This exercise can be done with guided imagery or with a pen, paper, and a recycled jar. Physically placing the closed jar of worries aside and out of the way is symbolic of controlling your response to them and letting them go.

Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are short, powerful statements that help you to challenge your negative thoughts. Affirmations boost our self-confidence and help us to focus on the positives versus dwelling on the negatives. It takes practice, but over time you will notice a shift. Start by choosing an affirmation you’d like to focus on, such as:

  • I feel grounded at this moment. 
  • I am not my thoughts.
  • I will focus on today, one thing at a time.
  • I am worthy of love.
  • I trust myself.
  • I give myself permission to take a break.
  • I let go of toxic and negative thoughts.

Repeat your affirmation slowly five to 10 times, allowing yourself to truly feel and absorb the message. Breathe deeply between each repetition to further connect to your body during the moment. 

Journaling 

“Journaling can help you process your thoughts and feelings, as well as allow you to see them from a new point of view,” explains Anderson. “Whether you're jotting down a to-do list for the next day or writing a lengthy reflection, journaling helps us slow down, calm down, and put challenges into perspective.” 

There are different ways to format a journal entry. Try experimenting with the following, and allow yourself to change your journaling approach as necessary to help maintain motivation. 

  • Make a list
  • Write down gratitudes 
  • Create a poem or song
  • Incorporate images to express how you feel or what's on your mind
  • Write a letter to someone
  • Write a letter to your future or former self
  • Write a story with you as the main character
  • Make a bullet journal
  • Use prompts

Physical Grounding 

This self-soothing technique is especially effective in the moment when you feel your stress and anxiety rising or spiraling. Here are a few ways you can physically ground yourself

  • Pick up an object and make observations about it. How heavy or light is it? Is it soft or hard, smooth or rough? What’s the texture like? Does it have edges? A scent?
  • Focus on feeling whatever is touching your body. If you are standing, what does the ground beneath your toes and feet feel like? If you’re in a chair, is it soft, firm, or cozy? What do the clothes feel like that you’re wearing? 
  • Place your hands under running water. Notice how the fluid feels moving over your palms and between your fingers. Is it warm or cold? A light trickle or a heavy flow?
  • Breathe in a favorite scent. Observe the notes. Maybe it is a candle, an article of clothing, a fresh flower, or a perfume. 

Breathing Exercises

Under anxiety, our breathing tends to become quick and shallow, depriving our body of essential oxygen. This can create a cyclical effect, where we feel anxious, take shallow breaths, get more anxious, and then breathe even more poorly.

Breathing exercises give us control over our breath in the moment, which can help us feel better physically and mentally. 

Box breathing is a simple breathing exercise you can do at any time. It gets its name because it involves four equal parts: an exhale while counting to four, holding lungs empty for four counts, inhaling for four counts, holding air for four counts, then exhaling again before repeating. 

A Word From Verywell

If you're experiencing ongoing anxiety, you're not alone. The above coping strategies can help curb excessive worry, but if you find yourself unable to manage your anxiety then we recommend seeking help from a therapist. Together, you'll be able to identify some of your common anxiety triggers and develop healthy pathways to handle ongoing anxiety.

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