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    8 Tiny (But Effective) Habits I Turn To When I'm Feeling Stressed Or Anxious

    Here's what works for me.

    Everything's been pretty overwhelming lately.


    And if you're feeling spikes in anxiety, depression, insomnia, or just ~emotions in general~ β€” you're definitely not alone.

    As someone who's generally kind of anxious, I've been feeling a lot of tension and unease lately. It's been tough to deal with.

    @ShalitaGrant / Via

    I'm lucky enough to have a caring, talented therapist who's helped me through it. With her help, I've been on a slow but steady path toward inner peace, or as I like to call it most days: Getting Through The Day Without Losing It.

    (You can read more about the beginning of my ~inner journey~ here. πŸ™)

    To ground myself, I've been turning to a few habits and tips that I've mostly picked up through trial and error.

    But before getting into them, I just want to say that if you're feeling guilty about allowing yourself some time for self-care right now, again, you're not alone.

    Remember that by taking care of your own mental health, you're helping all the other causes you're trying to pour yourself into right now, too.

    I know anxiety and fear can feel all-encompassing. But when you don't take care of your own mental health first, it can feel like you're climbing a never-ending hill, fighting multiple battles at the same time.

    Think of the safety message announced at the beginning of flights: Should an emergency occur, put on your own oxygen mask first before helping anyone else. Likewise, you can help others best when you've helped yourself first.

    With that in mind, here are eight ways I calm my emotions when I'm feeling overwhelmed:

    1. Write something β€” whether that's full-on journaling, jotting down half-thoughts, or penning a letter to a friend.

    Michelle No

    The first thing that happens when I try to let go of my negative thoughts is my anxiety will tell me that I shouldn't β€” that I need to to give each of my thoughts my full, undivided attention. But this would be exhausting!

    Instead, to calm down, I shut my screens off and journal. And I get my brain on paper. This helps me feel like I'm addressing all my thoughts, while actually diminishing their space in my head. Writing thoughts down helps me process them and ultimately makes me realize most don't hold water. Not sure where to start? Here are some prompts:

    β€’ Write down the positive sides of any unpleasant feelings. (For example, if you're feeling uncomfortable, you could note that discomfort can breed change.)

    β€’ Make a list of every single thought on your mind. Try and fill up at least a single page.

    β€’ Make a to-do list of small tasks you'd like to get done today or this week. (If you're anything like me, you might realize that you're only really worried about one or two big things on that list.)
    β€’ Write to a friend or partner. If the thought of journaling and writing into the abyss makes you feel silly, address it to someone. Up to you whether you actually send it!

    2. Do a five senses exercise.


    This is a popular mindfulness exercise that helps refocus your thoughts on external environment instead of internal thoughts. I'll do this one when I'm outside, in crowds, or in a stressful situation away from home. It's perfect because you don't need anything except your five senses. Here's the general idea:

    1. Notice 5 things you can see.
    2. Notice 4 things you can feel.
    3. Notice 3 things you can hear.
    4. Notice 2 things you can smell.
    5. Notice 1 thing you can taste.

    For all five steps, try and pick out things you don't usually notice right away. Read more about the exercise here.

    3. Splash your face with cold water or pop an ice cube in your mouth.


    For me, this is an effective strategy for stopping a spiral in its tracks. These extreme (but quick) temperature changes are like a friend gently but firmly bringing you back to reality. Just remember that you're not trying to punish yourself for your feelings. You're just trying to get yourself back to a level-headed state from which you can take things in more clearly.

    4. Change your environment β€” go for a walk, sit on the porch, or just move from the bed to the kitchen table.

    Studio Ghibli

    Everyone's heard of the mental and physical benefits of a bit of outdoor exercise. But personally, I find that the factor that makes the most instantaneous change in my mood is a change of scenery. If I've just spent an entire morning reading news headlines, my apartment starts feeling darker and smaller.

    Getting out of that space and into a new environment that's sunnier, windier, lumpier β€” anything! β€” helps me feel like I'm leaving my mood behind. The best part? By the time I'm back home, I'm feeling much better and my place feels like it's been restored to the sanctuary it usually is.

    5. Describe the objective facts of your current reality.


    I've had a lot of moments these past few weeks where I've caught myself staring off into space, paralyzed by both information and options for how to act on it. But labeling the objective facts of my reality β€” for example, that I'm trying to work during a quarantine, or that I'm feeling re-traumatized by some of the conversations around Black Lives Matter β€” legitimizes my feelings and helps me accept the situation. This, in turn, helps me (eventually, with time) figure out next steps that'll best serve me.

    6. Be kind to yourself β€” and define what that means for you.


    "Be kind to yourself," my therapist tells me on a regular basis. But I've always struggled with this. As someone who grew up as an immigrant and feeling like a second-class citizen, whose family nor environment nurtured feelings of self-worth or excused failure, self-compassion feels like a totally foreign concept.

    So, I've defined what being kind actually means in practice. For me, self-compassion means things like: letting myself be inconsistent with social communication β€” and letting go of perfectionism. Eating the same meal every day β€” and saving energy for other parts of my life. Spending the whole night talking about my feelings with my partner β€” and knowing I would do the same for him.

    The main point to keep in mind is that self-kindness takes many forms. What looks like selfishness or laziness to others might be life-giving to you. Own the feeling, because you, like everyone else, deserves to feel whole. I'll say it again: You deserve to be feel whole.

    7. Give your eyes (and screens) a break and listen to something instead β€” like an audio book or a podcast.

    Earwolf, Penguin Random House

    My favorite thing to do when I'm out for a walk or just feel like zoning out is to listen to Harry Potter at Home, where actors and other celebs read chapters of the book. My second go-to is Conan O'Brien's hilarious podcast. Both are a quick escape that I can plug into, get lost in, and give my mind and eyes a chance to take a breather.

    Read more: 27 Immersive Audiobooks That'll Take Your Mind Off Things For A While

    8. Figure out a day in the not-too-distant future when you know you'll feel better, and make it your light at the end of the tunnel.

    And if all these things feel like work on top of all the other emotional labor you're already doing? Remember that like the best lasagnas, the work is WORTH IT and will yield leftovers for days.

    One last thing? Just doing ONE of these things is OK.

    Qiaira Riley / @thegoodhoodwitch / Via Instagram: @thegoodhoodwitch

    If any one of these things feel good, then stay with it. Don't try and make this a sport, where checking off as many self-care tasks as possible gets you the biggest prize. Mental health has never worked like that for me. Like in meditation, peace for me comes from gentle, sustained focus on one thing that brings me joy.

    Do you have any favorite self-care tips for when you're feeling overwhelmed? Share them in the comments below.✨