Singing is easier than trying to talk yourself out of being anxious. It releases endorphins (really!), and it also causes you to do deep-breathing, giving extra oxygen to your stressed brain. Singing may seem awkward when you are already tense, so just do it! Sing along with your iPod or a capella, pop, blues, rock, or children's songs. Whether you have a voice like an angel or a frog, give it free rein.
2. Focus on others
When you say hello, follow it with a personal comment or question, and then actually listen to the response. Engage your thoughts on someone other than your problem or mood. Your brain can only handle one task at a time, so let it focus on something else for a while.
3. Take a brain break
While you work, especially at cognitive tasks, you build stress - both mental and physical which build on each other. Break the cycle. Stand up from your desk (that computer) at least once an hour and move your body to a different location, down the hall or outside. Getting your heart pumping and using your muscles a little will reinvigorate and de-stress. Engage in one of the other activities above for an even greater break.
4. Morning Tempo
When you wake up at the last possible minute, you are almost guaranteed to create a frantic rush to get it all done before heading out the door. The more you hurry, the more likely you will be to forget to get your lunch, or eat breakfast, or find your keys. If you wake up with a leisurely schedule in mind, you will have time to feel relaxed and ready for the day. The snooze button is not your friend.
5. Plan to Laugh
Laughing, like singing and exercise, releases endorphins to make you feel just so darned good. Find a good source of comedic material, read a bit for a break in the day...and laugh out loud. A funny movie or stand-up routine will work when you have the time. Laugh at your mistakes. You can't feel stressed when you're laughing.
6. Challenge Yourself
Think of the little things that cause you discomfort during the day: talking to someone who has caught your fancy? Driving over a bridge? Speaking in public? Now challenge yourself to do just that. Facing your fears can give you a tremendous sense of elation.
7. Shake It Up
Stress can accumulate with a boring routine. Try doing something different to add a little spark. Take the scenic route to work. Sample a new food. Call someone who wouldn't expect it. Be creative. It takes some focus to be creative, and focusing on something besides your mood can often change it.
8. Be Grateful
I've written often about how gratitude can shift our focus from what's wrong in our lives to the good things we have. If you find that a difficult project to start, consider what it would be like to live without_____...you fill in the blank: music, your car, your health, tools, your spouse, pets, your job, sunshine. Attitudes can shift quickly from negative to positive with an awareness of the good things in life.
I can't tell you how many people I talk to who suffer from anxiety who also do not eat regularly or healthfully. I am always amazed that they think their brains can function optimally on nothing,...or on caffeine, or fried, processed foods. We fuel our brains with nutritious foods or we starve them. A body starved for “real” food send alerts to the brain that there is a threat to which it must respond. It slows or shuts down the higher executive functioning of the brain so it can deal with the threat, sometimes with irritability, a greater startle reflex, an inability to concentrate. Be kind to your brain and your mood. Eat good food.
10. Invest in Friends
Spending time with friends boosts our self-esteem, provides us with emotional support, keeps depression and loneliness at bay, lowers our blood pressure, and even decreases our physical pain. Distraction plays a role, here, but so does oxytocin, a natural “feel good” chemical we produce when we enjoy the people we are with.
Spend 5 to 10 minutes without distraction, focusing on your breathing, on your relaxing muscles. Your heart rate and breathing will slow down, your blood pressure will normalize, oxygen will reach your muscles and brain, all producing a physical and mental calm. And it's free. (Can;t figure out how to do it? Here are some resources.)
12. Reframe Negative Thoughts
Negative thinking becomes a debilitating habit (“I'll never finish this in time” and “Everyone is going to see I'm a fraud”) that we can change to a positive habit. Notice your negative thoughts, challenge them, then replace them with a positive spin. This is where your therapist who uses cognitive-behavioral therapy becomes invaluable (yes, a shameless plug).