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Tips to calm your mind – from psychologists

So, let’s start by saying it’s very normal if you’re feeling stressed or anxious at the moment. Anxiety itself is characterised by a feeling of vulnerability in the world – and it’s only normal that we feel vulnerable right now. 

In many ways, anxiety can actually be beneficial in moments like this. It’s what spurs us on to take the necessary precautions that help stop the spread of the virus – washing our hands regularly, limiting social contact etc.

However, if you’re someone who already suffers with anxiety day-to-day, you might be finding this to be an especially triggering time. Anxiety has a habit of finding “hooks” or triggers to cling onto, and the current frenzy offers that tenfold. 

In light of this, we wanted to share some tips for grounding and calming the mind. You can use these techniques in any moments you feel overwhelmed or you find yourself spiralling into negative thoughts.

A grounding exercise

The great thing about grounding exercises is that you can do them anywhere, and at any time. You may want to try doing this exercise when you wake up in the morning too – just to make sure you start your day on the right footing. 

The exercise below is known as the “54321 Game”, and you can use it whenever you feel anxious or ungrounded. Here’s what to do:

  1. Describe 5 things you can see in the room.
  2. Name 4 things you can feel (e.g. “my back against the sheets”)
  3. Name 3 things you can hear (e.g. “the birds outside my window”)
  4. Name 2 things you can smell
  5. Name 1 thing good about yourself.

Notice and call out catastrophizing thoughts.

In times like this, it can be easy to spiral into catastrophic thinking (ruminating about irrational or worst case outcomes). If you notice that you’re having a catastrophic thought, remind yourself it’s just that – a thought – and that it’s just something your mind does when you feel a certain way. 

Deep breathing

It might seem simple but slow, deep breathing can be a really powerful way of giving your parasympathetic nervous system a jump-start (promoting a sense of calm in the mind and body). During deep breathing the diaphragm penetrates the vagus nerve, moving from sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation. Try the following breathing exercise:

  1. Breathe in for 4 secs
  2. Hold your breath for 7 secs
  3. Exhale breath for 8 secs
  4. Repeat several times

Self-soothing talk

Instead of all the doom and gloom we’re reading about in the media which is likely to make us feel afraid, try talking to yourself in a comforting, soothing way. Remind yourself of all the good things in your life. You can even try writing these on cards and carrying them around with you so you can read them whenever you feel anxious. These words can be anything that works for you but the aim should be to make you feel strong, positive and aware of being here, in the present moment. You might want to try saying some of the following, for example:

“These feelings will pass”

“I am here and I am OK”

“I am strong and I will get through this”

“I am here for you”

Maintain connection as much as possible

As human beings, we need connection and it’s really important that we keep this up as much as we can – particularly if we’re self-isolating. If you’re not able to meet up in-person, keep up communication with friends and family by video, calls and messaging as much as possible. This will help keep spirits up.

Go to your imaginary “safe place”

Visual imagery can be a powerful tool to bring us back to the present moment. Try thinking of your own “safe space”. This might be an actual place you’ve visited (e.g. your favourite beach or walk) or it could be an imaginary place (e.g. a fantasy castle) – whatever works best for you.

For this exercise, close your eyes and imagine this “safe space”. You want to be creating an image that’s really clear so be as detailed as you can.

  1. What can you see around you? Are you on your own or are you with someone? Is there anyone you’d like to be there with you? A partner, a friend or perhaps even a pet.
  2. What are you doing there? Perhaps you’re not doing anything at all, you’re just “being”. 
  3. Can you hear anything? Perhaps you can hear the sounds of nature (waves lapping, bird singing…) or maybe you can hear people talking or laughing.
  4. What temperature is it? Is it warm or is it cold? Can you feel it against your skin?

Be as specific as you can. The more detail you can draw into your visualisation, the greater your sense of security will be. And remember that you can come back to this “safe space” whenever you need to.

Practice becoming more mindful in everyday life

Whenever you feel your mind veering off, make a conscious effort to come back to whatever activity you’re doing. So, for instance, if you’re making a cup of tea, bring your attention to all the different sounds, tastes, smells and sensations e.g. the sound of the kettle, the smell of the tea, the heat of the mug against your skin, the feeling of warm liquid as it moves down your throat…

If you’re prone to anxiety, you might want to start limiting the amount of time you’re spending on social media and the news – both can be triggering and anxiety-provoking. Remember that it is a form of self-care to acknowledge that something is causing you harm and to take action against it.

Try watching and reading about subjects that are not immediately connected to what’s happening at the moment. So maybe that means learning a new topic or watching something funny or engaging that distracts your attention.

We hope you find some of these techniques helpful – but if you’re really struggling, please reach out. A therapist can work with you to develop and build on some of these techniques and create a tailor-made “self-soothing kit”.

And more than anything, remind yourself that everything passes – feelings, thoughts and experiences. We’re all in this together – and this too shall pass.