3 Soothing Rituals to Calm the Toughest Anxieties
Worries are so pesky. The more we try to fight them, the more we struggle.
I often equate anxiety to quicksand. If you try to fight it, it will quickly pull you down. To survive quicksand, you actually have to surrender to it. Anxiety is similar. We need to accept the feelings of anxiety and stop fighting them in order to feel some relief.
Most people try to avoid anxiety, but fighting, resisting, and avoiding makes anxiety worse. One way to cope with anxiety is to use soothing rituals. A soothing ritual is a calming routine to use when you feel anxious. Soothing rituals are all about increasing your ability to get through a challenging time without making the situation worse by avoiding or fighting anxiety.
Here are three soothing rituals to calm even the toughest anxieties.
When we’re anxious, we breathe more shallowly and use our chest muscles, which actually exacerbates anxiety. To calm ourselves, we want to instead activate the parasympathetic nervous system by using diaphragmatic breathing and slow exhales. There are several techniques used to do this, but my favorite is synced breathing.
In synced breathing, you sync your breathing to a shape that expands (gets bigger) and shrinks at a specific pace. As you watch the shape expand, you breathe in (just like your belly expands in diaphragmatic breathing), and as you watch the shape shrink, your belly falls. Check out this video here.
This is a great exercise — the rhythm is soothing and it gives you something external to focus on (rather than your worries).
If you like breathing exercises, you can also try paced breathing or boxed breathing.
Change your body temperature
This ritual is not necessarily soothing in the typical sense of being calming, zen, or easy. But it IS soothing in that it provides a distraction when emotions are high.
Use cold to your advantage. Hold an ice cube in your hand until it melts. You can also place a cold pack on the back of your neck or forehead. Focus your mind on the sensation of the cold. If worries come into your mind, just acknowledge them, and then redirect your focus to the sensation of cold. Remember, the goal is not to get cold burn, so if the cold is too intense and you need to take a break, do so.
Alternatively, you can also use heat to soothe your body. Place a heating pad on your abdomen or lower back. Use a heated blanket and snuggle in. Place the warmth where you need it the most, and relax into the calm.
Soothing hand massage
Almost everyone overworks their hands. This ritual is a wonderful way to stop, take a breath, and give your hands some much-needed attention through a soothing lotion hand massage. Take your favorite lotion (bonus points for nice smells), dab it on your hands, and then massage in circular motions. Spend extra time on any place you feel the most tension; for many, the soft pad between the thumb and forefinger is an area that experiences strain. I personally like to massage my knuckles on the palm side of my hand.
As you massage, pay attention to the sensations. Let your mind notice how the lotion feels on your skin, the rhythmic motions of the massage, and your breath. If you have a soothing-smelling lotion, pay attention to that too.
The purpose of a soothing hand massage is not necessarily to work out the knots in your muscles (although it’s an added benefit!). The function is to slow down and soothe a part of your body that is often overworked.
When you’re experiencing pesky anxious thoughts or physical sensations, soothing rituals can help get you through the moment. Relax your nervous system by syncing your breathing, changing your body temperature, or engaging in a relaxing hand massage with your favorite lotion or oil.
Your soothing ritual doesn’t have to be limited to these ideas. The possibilities are endless. You can try anything that feels soothing to your mind and body or activates your five senses. Try out a few different tactics and see what works best for you. The trick is to lean into the anxiety instead of trying to escape it or suppress it. Use your ritual to get through the discomfort by soothing your mind, body, and spirit.