I've been worrying. This isn't too unusual for me, because I spent the better part of my life as a super-worrier. I could worry about just about anything, allowing it to keep me awake for hours at night, or leading me to gnaw at my fingernails until they were raw. I have made great headway on calming the worry in recent years, so this recent case has been irritating. I have decided to revisit some of my favorite ways to settle an anxious and worried mind, in the hopes of reminding myself how to tone down the mental drama.
1. Mental distraction. This works well if you are worrying during your daily activities. When the wheels start spinning, find something else to do. I like to read an entertaining but not particularly heavy book. Chick lit or a good thriller works well. Crossword or Sudoku puzzles can also give the brain another bone to chew on.
2. Physical activity. You already know, I turn to yoga. My style is Vinyasa flow, so the movement between poses combined with the breath really quiets the mind. If you aren't into yoga, taking a walk or lifting weights can serve the same purpose. I also learned a bounce technique from a Qi Gong master that I thought was amazing: simply stand with your knees and body soft and bounce up and down in place gently. Let your hands flop at your sides, your head loll from side to side, relax the spine and just bounce softly, breathing quietly. Try it for a few minutes, I think you'll be amazed at how relaxing this super-simple exercise can be!
3. Journaling. Set aside a specific period of time to write about your worries. When the time is up, close the journal and put it away. This allows the worry, but there is an endpoint. I find this most helpful before bed. I like to finish with something to change the tone, either a gratitude practice or listing 5 things that were good about the day, anything you choose to put the mind back onto something positive.
4. Mantra meditation. Simply sitting down and expecting to go into a meditative place when you're already keyed up and worried is a set-up for failure. Instead, give the mind something to focus on. You can use any phrase, it doesn't have to be Sanskrit or handed down by a guru or anything. I like So Hum, which means "I am that." It's simple but has more than one syllable, so I can easily pace it with the breath. But you can try "Peaceful" or anything that has meaning for you. Then just sit quietly and breathe in and out, thinking the mantra. If you are really unfocused and agitated, even try saying it aloud. If thoughts stray, simply come back to the words.
5. Evaluate the worries. This is another technique that doesn't try to stop the thoughts, but rather focuses on classifying them and deciding if they're worthwhile or not. So, if I'm laying there at night worried that I will forget to write a note to my child's teacher the next day, I can evaluate that thought. Is this a valid worry? Sure, I often forget things in the morning rush. Can I do anything about this worry right now? Absolutely. I can get up and write the note now and put it in her backpack. Done. Back to sleep. Alternatively, I'm worried about my health. Is this a valid worry? Sure, anyone can get sick anytime. Can I do anything about this right now? No. I can schedule my routine doctor appointment in the morning, but not at 11pm. This technique can at least allow me to "triage" my worries into things I can fix now, things I can fix later, and things that are out of my control completely and not worth getting worked up about.
Worrying hits all of us at one time or another. I find I worry less if I'm consistent with meditation and yoga, but they can't cure everything. When I get anxious, one or more of these techniques helps me to find my center again, and I've found it helpful tonight to reassess my tool box. I'm hopeful that a peaceful sleep will be my reward!