Appropriately enough, anxiety is a frightening experience.
In addition to whatever combination of circumstances is making you anxious, comes the anxiety of being out of control. You can’t think straight. You nerves feel fried. You worry that this feeling will never end. You’re anxious about being anxious.
And if anxiety can feel like a natural response to be overwhelmed by a stressful situation, that doesn’t mean it should be tolerated. If you feel like this all the time, you may have general anxiety disorder (GAD). Anxious feelings can also be symptomatic of other conditions, including panic disorder, phobias (like agoraphobia or claustrophobia), post-traumatic stress disorder, or social anxiety disorder.
If it’s causing you distress, you should see a doctor.
If GAD is your issue, they may suggest cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or even medication. But whether you consult your doctor or not, it’s also helpful to take steps to manage anxiety in your daily life. Hint: exercise good, coffee bad.
But in addition to lifestyle changes come pro-active anxiety-zapping techniques. Meditation is one of the most famous ones, and it’s proven to work – but what you might not know is that meditation can take many forms.
One of the most powerful forms of meditation is to use visualization techniques. You don’t need to take the lotus position for these. You can do them with your mind.
Visualization techniques can help you achieve anything from shutting out your nagging inner voice, to calming your nerves, to achieving Olympic excellence! For now, let’s just think about soothing your anxiety with these seven techniques to calm your mind.
1. The double-paned window
Anxious thoughts can seem loudest when all else is quiet: at bedtime.
And sleepless nights brought on by anxiety just make the matter worse. Tired, your nerves on edge, anxiety breeds anxiety.
For this visualization, imagine there’s an open, double-paned window in your room and a group of people chatting noisily outside.
Simply picture closing both windows at once and hushing the chatter to silence.
2. The serene beach
This one’s particularly useful when you’re on a plane, but you can use it any time that your physical position is adding to your anxiety – on a crowded train, a supermarket queue, the doctor’s waiting room.
Begin by imagining the visuals. Close your eyes: you’re lying on a perfect sandy beach. The water is clear and blue. The sky is cloudless.
Add in the sound: waves lapping on the shore.
And then relax your shoulders. Imagine you’re lying back in your beach chair. Imagine the feeling of pushing your feet into the warm sand.
Make sure your eyes are relaxed, not scrunched. Breathe in time to the waves. You’re on the beach.
3. The stop sign
Sometimes anxiety comes in the form of one insistent thought. Once you’ve realized that thought is haunting you, it’s even tougher to put it out of your mind.
That’s when you need the stop sign.
Close your eyes and picture a big shiny stop sign on an empty road. The sun is shining.
Look at the sign. Repeat to yourself, firmly but gently: stop, stop, stop…
4. The blender
When work or your home life becomes stressful, it can get harder and harder to see a way out. Your tasks are piling up and you’ve nowhere to turn.
Close your eyes. Picture a food blender. It spins loudly, groaning as it chomps through big lumps of solid food. It gets louder and louder, and then –
You switch it off.
5. The ball of yarn
Your anxiety can build up inside you like a furball. A big ball of negative energy you carry around in your stomach. A long, hard day at work will do this for you.
When you get home – or on the way home, if you’re not driving – picture that anxiety as a ball of yarn.
Imagine looking for the tip of the yarn and pulling it from the ball. As you continue to unravel the yarn, your anxiety unravels also.
Hold on to the tip, and roll the ball away from you. Let it keep rolling until the ball is gone.
Pro-tip: start by imagining you’re at the top of a hill.
6. The blue light
Light has a big part to play in the way we feel. Some of it is psychological (we feel calm and happy when the sun’s out and the shadows are short) and some of it is chemical (without enough of the right kind of light, your serotonin levels falter and depression beckons – hence the need for a SAD light).
You can use the psychological aspect to help you relax after completing a stressful task.
Picture yourself floating in a glowing orb of blue light. Breathe the light in so it fills your head and picks up all the gray-colored doom from your mind.
Breathe it out as gray smoke.
Repeat until your whole body is clean and transparent.
7. Quiet as a liquid
This one is a bit psychedelic.
But it’s a great way to quiet your nagging mind.
Imagine that quietness is a thick, clear, pleasant liquid.
It starts as a small drop of quiet in your mind. The drop slowly expands, hushing everything it touches. It pours down through your body. If you’re warm, imagine it’s cooling. If you’re cold, imagine the quiet is warm.
You’re now full of quiet liquid. Breathe. Hold that feeling. The anxiety has hushed.