Light Watkins is a Santa Monica–based meditation practitioner who has been teaching for the past eight years. This week, we’re sharing Watkins’ expert techniques for coping with anxiety and stress. To learn more, check out his mindbodygreen class, Meditation for Anxiety: Guided Sessions to Halt Panic Attacks & Feel Calmer Every Day.
Everyone is prone to feeling anxious when they experience certain trigger points.
My trigger points are densely packed crowds of people; loud, noisy places; and feeling overwhelmed with work. Yours may be flying, dogs, and public speaking. Someone else's may be relationship conflicts, a lack of control, and open water swimming.
Regardless of what our trigger points are, here are a handful of tactics for overcoming anxiety—or at the very least, coping with it:
1. Take 10 swimmer's breaths.
When swimming laps, in order to breathe in you have to breathe out completely. Anxiety sufferers forget to breathe out, and as a result it appears that they can't breathe in at all. It's a reflex of the body that can be overcome by keeping the attention on breathing out completely, and letting the in-breath take care of itself.
2. Do a 10-minute breathing meditation.
Find somewhere to sit comfortably and close your eyes. Don't mind the noise or the racing thoughts, and certainly don't expect the mind to slow down anytime soon.
Instead, allow your breathing (not your negative thoughts) to become the center of your attention.
Slowly begin to regulate your breath as your thoughts continue to race past. Breathe in deeper and breathe out more fully. If you can, pause at the bottom and top of your breath. Continue for about 10 minutes. Soon, your heartbeat will settle, and you'll feel more relaxed.
3. Be mindful of the moment.
While being stationary, begin to notice as many things in the moment as you can.
Notice the sensations in and around your body. Look up at the sky or down on the ground. See the light and the space in between.
Anxiety is mostly centered on the future or past, and this mindfulness exercise will help you quickly drop into the moment, become present and hopefully more relaxed.
4. Create trust triggers.
Take some time now to review two or three moments from your past that appeared bad at the time but turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to you.
Label these memories as "trust triggers," so the next time you feel anxious you have a point of reference for how seemingly bad things worked out for the best. Sometimes, all you need is a shift in perspective.
5. Pee your pants (in other words, laugh).
I find that standup comedy can turn a bad day around faster than almost anything else.
Depending on your tastes, find a comedian whose sense of humor you connect with (my current favorite is Bill Burr’s Monday morning podcast). When anxiety strikes, you may not find your friends or family all that funny. But I'm betting the professionals can draw out enough laughter to lift your mood and possibly even make you pee your pants.
As the proverb says, laughter is the best medicine.