Health & Nutrition Mindfulness

Therapy + Mindfulness-Based Anxiety Exercises to Help You Cope

I poured my heart and soul into creating this neat guide for everyone battling anxiety. I used years of my Psychology+Psychotherapy education and my love for all things mindfulness to provide different anxiety exercise options for you.

I hope they provide some anxiety relief to you – if you feel like you need more than that, please do not hesitate to schedule a session.

But first, let’s take it from the top.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is an irrational reaction to a potentially negative outcome of a situation. In simple terms – you think you may be rejected, look ridiculous, or that something bad will happen, and it starts devouring your mind.

Soon enough, it’s the only thing you can think about. You can’t focus on your everyday tasks, you can’t eat, sleep… It consumes your life, and it leads to nothing but negative consequences.

How to recognize it:

Physical symptomsPsychological symptoms
Changes in breathing (short, shallow, rapid)
Heart reactions (palpitations, racing, high blood pressure)
Skin and muscle reactions (flushed face, lump in the throat, sweating, shaking, tremors, rigidity, wobbly legs)
Intestinal issues (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite)
Changes in behavior (stuttering, fidgeting, insomnia, pacing, fainting)
Changes in thought patterns (hyper-focused, developing catastrophic scenarios)

Many think of anxiety as extreme worry, but in fact, the two have different qualities. Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) proposes that each (real or imagined) event can lead us into either:

  • rational thoughts, useful behavior, and healthy emotions, or
  • irrational thoughts, harmful behavior, and unhealthy emotions.

Here’s an example.

As someone who’s struggled with pregnancy anxiety ever since getting pregnant, it’s best I give you a personal example. Here’s how WORRY would differ from ANXIETY.

Idea: “There’s something wrong with my pregnancy.”ThoughtsBehavior
WORRYI have no reason to believe this. Just to be safe, I’ll talk to my OB/GYN about these worries.Follow my symptoms a rational amount, talk to my OB/GYN on my regular checkup to see if there’s any reason to worry. Ability to focus on regular tasks and not be consumed by it.
ANXIETYThere are so many things that could go wrong! What if this sensation isn’t normal? What if that measurement isn’t?I have to be constantly reassured that everything is fine or else I will fall apart!Googling symptoms + what can go wrong 24/7. Needing constant reassurance, but never getting it – because no matter how good the “proof”, anxiety remains. Calling/meeting up with the OB/GYN more often than necessary, demanding to have every little thing explained. Not being able to focus on any everyday task, as this anxiety is always sitting at the back of my mind.

You can see now that the differences are pretty stark. But how do you get from one to the other? Because that is the ultimate goal. Not being indifferent – when something means a lot to you, it’s not healthy nor expected to suddenly be indifferent toward it.

The goal is to start feeling a complimentary healthy emotion – worry – which will then allow you to act in a way that better serves your end goal.

After all, if you’re anxious about a date or a job interview, and show up to it all sweaty and unable to speak… No matter how well prepared or good-looking you are, chances are you’ll get nowhere.

REBT-Based Anxiety Exercise

Now it’s time to demonstrate two exercises regarding:

  • How to get to the core of your anxiety
  • How to turn it from anxiety to worry.

What Are You Anxious About?

This may seem like a stupid question, but the thing is – our thoughts can be so very layered. And the better you can pinpoint what exactly you are anxious about, the better you can later dispute it.

For me, the best and simplest way to get to the bottom of it is by using the “… And?” questions.

Start from the thought you pinpoint as the cause of your anxiety. For me, as mentioned, that would be “what if something is wrong with my pregnancy?” To you, this may seem like cause enough for anxiety, but this isn’t actually what I fully resonate with. I can sense there’s something deeper, and unless I got to it, my disputing wouldn’t have been entirely successful.

Here’s how it goes.

Okay, maybe there’s something wrong with my pregnancy. And?
And consequently, something could be wrong with the baby.
… And?
And that would make me incapable of doing what so many other women in my life have done.
… And?
And it would drive my husband and family to despise and pity me.

And boom – the moment I said that last sentence, something in me clicked, and I knew that’s the part that bothers me the most. If I had been working on the first thought I identified, it simply wouldn’t have been enough, because this deeper irrational belief would find other ways to cause anxiety.

So rather than solving every single anxiety stemming from it, you work on your deeper beliefs right away.

Take some time to do this with whatever is bothering you. It’s easier to do it with a therapist, for sure, as we have the knowledge and experience to guide you. Nonetheless, when you get to what that anxiety really means to you and where it really stems from – you’ll know it. And then you’ll be able to expand on it and cover it from all fronts.

Irrational thoughts like this one rarely come alone. What usually follows are adjoined thoughts which usually sound like:

I couldn’t stand it if insert irrational thought
It would be absolutely terrible if insert irrational thought
If this were to happen, it would make me worthless.

Be honest with yourself when deciding which of these also apply to you.

Then, you’ll be ready to start disputing it.

DISPUTING IRRATIONAL BELIEFS: GETTING FROM ANXIETY TO WORRY

REBT-based is among the rare proven anxiety relief methods. Here are the basics.

For the main irrational belief, there are three main sets of questions that will help you dispute it.

Logical.

Does it logically follow that because I want something, it must come true at all cost?
Where does it say it must be so?
Is there some sort of universal law that states that I, the special one, must receive everything I want?
Or is it just my desire that may or may not be fulfilled?

Rational.

What’s in favor of this belief?
What’s against it?

Utilitarian.

Where is this belief getting me? Closer to or farther away from my goals?
If I want to achieve my goal, should I continue thinking this way?
Why?

For the inability to stand a certain perceived outcome, the sets of questions are roughly the same:

Logical.

Is it really logical that because it’ll be hard, I won’t be able to stand it?
Will I disintegrate?
Will I cease to exist?
Then, what will actually happen?

Rational.

Have I been in similar situations before?
Have I disintegrated?
I must have survived them. So what does that mean?
How do I survive this one?

Utilitarian.

Where is this belief getting me? Closer to or farther away from my goals?
If I want to achieve my goal, should I continue thinking this way?
Why?

Bonus metaphor

Here’s one of REBT’s many metaphors that is desiged to show you the foolishness of our irrational thoughts.

Imagine someone had a gun to your head and said: if you really cannot stand this, I will have to shoot you and your entire family. Would you be able to stand it then? If so, then it means you can also stand it now, you simply need to work on getting there.

Thinking in Catastrophic Terms

When it comes to catastrophizing, you’ll want to draw a vertical line that runs from 1% to 99%. Based on your current feelings, how would you rate the catastrophic event you’re theorizing? If it were to pass, where would it fall on this scale of catastrophicness, where 1% is least catastrophic, and 99% is the most catastrophic there is?

Now draw another line like that. Put something that would be 95% catastrophic for you. For most people, it’s the death and illness of them and their family members. Then put something at 80% catastrophic. Then at 60%, 30%, 10%.

Now, look at what you wrote down. Compared to that, where does your feared outcome really belong? At what percentage? Most of the time, you’ll realize that your anxiety makes things seem a lot more catastrophic than they really are.

The final anxiety exercise when it comes to REBT is about the feelings of worthlessness. The sets of questions are roughly the same:

Logical.

Does it logically follow that if I fail at this one thing, my entire being is worthless?
Can I really conclude the worth of a whole based on one tiny piece of it? Is that logical?
If one apple in the basket is rotten, would it mean the entire basket is rotten?

Rational.

What’s in favor of this belief?
What’s against it?

Utilitarian.

Where is this belief getting me? Closer to or farther away from my goals?
If I want to achieve my goal, should I continue thinking this way?
Why?

Finally…

If it was a dear friend struggling with these thoughts, would I tell them they are worthless if they fail?
And if not, doesn’t that mean I’m holding double standards?
So, what would I tell them?

Now, based on all of these, what would be a more logical, rational, and useful way of thinking? In most cases, that would be something along the lines of:

My desire is valid, and I do really want this to happen. But just because I do, it doesn’t mean it absolutely has to. I’ll do my very best for it to happen, but if it doesn’t – I won’t disintegrate, won’t fall apart, and it’s not the end of the world. And as complex a human being as I am, with so many good and bad deeds behind me, I’m far from being entirely worthless based on this one potential failure.

Here is a printable of all these disputing techniques. You can print it out and fill it in with your own honest thoughts for every irrational, anxious belief that starts troubling you.

Anxiety Mindfulness Practices

There are two mindfulness practices that I find to be of huge help when anxiety hits. I find – both professionally and personally – that when used correctly, mindfulness helps anxiety a lot.

You Are Not Your Thoughts.

This is probably the best instant anxiety relief, although it takes repetition for long-term effects. The first is based on separating the thought from reality. We are deeply emotional beings, and we tend to equate our emotions – and thoughts – with physical reality. They’re not real in the same way that my hands typing this, or the laptop that’s in front of me are.

When you hit your toe on a piece of furniture, it’s going to hurt. But our thoughts don’t have to hurt – they only do so if we let them. They’re the product of our neurons, and as vivid and real as they seem, that’s all they are – transient neural signals.

This may sound like I’m downplaying the entire human experience, but one of the core principles of mindfulness is that we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts come and go, but we stay. Just think – how many thoughts have you had thus far in your life? And yet, they each passed to make room for the next one.

So what happens if we accept to live in the moment, and to treat each thought as precisely that – a thought? We would be able to enjoy life more fully and make more rational choices. That way, we get the most out of mindfulness for stress and anxiety.

The next time your anxiety hits, find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and decide to accept it as a neutral thought. Not good, not bad, just a passing, neutral thought. Notice it’s there, but do not dwell on it. You’ll notice thoughts will start appearing one after another, but without you entertaining them or digging deeper, the anxiety won’t last. Soon enough, you’ll notice your thoughts are becoming more versatile and less specific – and certainly far less anxiety-ridden. Practice this whenever you start feeling anxious, and the anxious thoughts will soon not have power over you anymore.

Affirmations

The final practice I’m offering in this article is all about affirmations. Our brains are wonderful things. And even if you don’t believe affirmations can attract what you need from the Universe, you better believe they can help create new neural pathways in your brain.

Positive thinking exercises for anxiety

Think of your brain as one giant snow-filled field. If you keep taking the same path (aka, thinking the same thoughts), it will soon become the default. Because why would you struggle through snow when you have a clear path in front of you, right?

Now imagine that clear field was dug through by anxious thoughts. One after another, they wired your brain into thinking a certain way.

Well, to change your mindset, you need to start thinking different thoughts. It won’t happen overnight, but eventually, your brain will start rewiring itself. The more positive thoughts you’re thinking, the more likely you are to start noticing things around you that confirm those thoughts. So, if you’re now thinking stuff like “I am able to deal with every problem life throws at me,”, you’ll start noticing even the smallest of victories – and in return, you’ll start believing that affirmation more.

The way you make the most of them is:

  • Repeat them daily (in the morning, evening, whenever works for you; although mornings are best to set the intention for the day)
  • Stand in front of the mirror as you’re saying them, or find another way to make them convincing (simply reading them out loud won’t help)
  • For some, playing motivational music (such as epic instrumentals) helps put them in the right mindset – one that lets you know you can do anything you set your mind to and provides immediate anxiety relief.

In this printable, you will find 11 affirmations for anxiety you can repeat to yourself daily.

I hope each and every anxiety exercise I provide is helpful for you – but it’s also okay if you find some work better than others.

4 Comments

  1. I love that you have a niche, but still have posts like this that apply across all areas of life, and not just pregnancy. Anxiety is a familiar friend to me, and the part about disputing irrational belief does remind me of the CBT techniques I’ve come across. What a comprehensive post. Thanks for sharing!

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