Updated: May 19, 2020
Reducing anxious thoughts is never easy and when I was at my worst, it seemed near on impossible to achieve. It just becomes easier to be in the cycle of excuses that comes along with the condition. Fighting is exhausting because after all, you are fighting with yourself from the moment you wake up, till the moment you go to sleep. I want to share with you some top activities that have kept me happily distracted and enhanced my recovery for many years now…
Most of the things I’ll mention involve committing yourself to the task for a certain amount of time, but there is a method to my madness. I found that my problem with anxious thoughts stem from times in the day where I am not occupied, my brain needs a certain amount of freedom to be allowed to let in those doubts but if I am physically or mentally focusing on something else, those thoughts just can’t get through!
Art therapy has always been used to encourage negative thoughts to come out on paper. It’s great for those who struggle to write and it’s also great for trying to remember your dreams. I’ve always loved to draw so for me, picking up the pencils again was easy and enjoyable. You can get lost in drawing very quickly, hours may pass before your eyes and suddenly your heart rate is way down and you can’t even remember why you were anxious in the first place. You don’t have to have a great big art set with you at all times or collections of pencils and paints all over your house. A simple notebook or tiny sketch pad and pencil will do, and that way you can take it out and start doodling away whenever the mood strikes you!
People are not set into 2 boxes – Reader and non-reader. I always thought I was a non-reader, it just wasn’t my cup of tea, I actually didn’t pick up a book until I was in university and that was only because I couldn’t afford the audiotapes, so I got the Harry Potter book set for Christmas. It turns out all I needed was a quiet room to get going. I spent a lot of time alone working so my anxiety was rife but reading really is a great outlet, because once you get started you really are transported into a different world or different scenario from your own, your brain is spending so much time trying to engage with the text and create imagery in your mind, your anxiety just drifts away cause there is no more room for it.
Keeping a journal can be hugely beneficial as a way to get into the routine and practice of keeping in touch with yourself on a daily basis. By checking in with yourself in this way you are not only opening up a communication with yourself and how you are feeling but you are also doing something physical and practical that will keep your mind busy, engaged and distracted. Everything you are feeling suddenly becomes less overwhelming and much more manageable once you can see your feelings written down on the page in front of you. The Discovery Journal and can you make sense and fun of starting a journal, by filling in sections at your own page instead of free writing.
Now, like me, you might be bored of people blabbing on about the benefits of yoga. I’m a go-go-go person, I need to be moving and doing stuff all the time, sometimes I think it’s just who I am and sometimes it’s to keep negative thoughts away, so naturally, when I work out I like to at least get a sweat on and feel like I’ve achieved something. I only recently started yoga so I’m certainly no guru but there is something very pleasant and soothing about it all. I’m not at the stage yet where I’m gagging to do it every day or signing up for escapism holidays or hot yoga classes, but I can certainly feel the benefit when I’m having a particularly full-on day. Yoga engages your body and your brain, and because you aren’t idol and the following direction you aren’t alone with your thoughts.
When I was younger, I struggled a bit with my social awkwardness and speaking to people on an emotive level. The ability to actually express emotion didn’t and still doesn’t come all that naturally to me (let’s just say I’m more of a hand-shaker than a hugger) but I seemed to be able to write quite easily, I wrote songs and poems which I then read to my friends and family, of course by doing this I could make them as cryptic as I liked and I felt a sense of pride for my accomplishment. I also kept a diary, which became a staple hobby for me, because it was like speaking to a friend about my troubles and yet this friend never tried to offer me unwanted advice or judgement. (Have a look at my previous blog "Journals For Mental Health")
Now this one is a bit dicey for me, but I know it works well for others. Committing to hours of television is not something I would advise as a way to reduce anxiety, primarily because even though it engaging your brain it’s mainly a distraction rather than an accomplishment. If the program does get you hooked you may drift into thought again or messing around on your phone and screen time really isn’t all its cracked up to be. I use television as a reward, if there is a program, I want to see I’ll usually allow myself to watch it as a treat, but after I’ve completed what I wanted that day, that way I’m associating television positively. Another one is creating a positive playlist. Listening to music and singing along can be very releasing and soothing but some songs may bring up some bad connotations for you or memories that you’d rather not stir up (I know they do for me) and when you are in an anxious state these are not thoughts you want creeping in. Creating a playlist of uplifting, positive songs you associate with happy times will do the trick and singing or humming will certainly distract you for the immediate feeling of stress and hold off an anxiety attack.
Everyone will have different experiences and techniques to keep their anxiety at an arm’s length. These are just some of the ones that work for me and they differ as to when I use them, some as a long-term approach to settling my nervousness and some I need to implement if I’m getting sweats from an oncoming attack. Adapt techniques to suit your way of life and what you like doing and most importantly, find time to do those things (I know it’s hard!)
Try my previous blog "What Is An Anxiety Disorder" if you liked this one!