Think of this small practice as a way to hit the reset button. “It can be as simple as listening to a favorite song, laughing, taking a warm shower, or listening to the birds singing. Or maybe just going out and being part of nature for a few minutes,” she explains. “As a daily practice, this is a very effective way to lower anxiety.”
Feel and move your body.
One way to lower anxiety is to, quite literally, move your body or at least reposition your physical self, according to Dr. Fu. That might be as basic as getting up from your chair and moving around the room or taking a brief walk outside in the middle of the day, or as intense as working out at the gym or going for a run. “It’s really about movement—any physical movement—because that helps calm the mind,” Dr. Fu says. “But avoid doing any intense physical activity within a few hours of going to bed, as that can make it hard to get to sleep.”
Dr. Londoño-McConnell also suggests letting your body relax, completely, wherever you are, and then engaging in a mindful minute. “The idea is to just focus on what is, right now, for one full minute,” she explains.
Start by focusing on one body part or muscle group at a time—your neck, your jaw and face, your shoulders, your breathing functions, your gut, and your hips, for example. Then intentionally release any physical tension you feel in each area, one at a time. Simply dropping your shoulders or unclenching your jaw can begin the relaxation process. (These relaxing exercises are also a helpful place to start.)
Embrace your inner child.
One of the supreme benefits of play, particularly physical play, is that it can help you get out of your swirling, anxious head, the experts we spoke to say. For some people playing an evening game of Words With Friends might be just the ticket. For others it might be ritualizing a family activity—whether that’s preparing dinner together, taking a quick sprint through the neighborhood, or making time a few nights a week for a short, spirited card game.
Since the pandemic began, Dr. Applewhite and her children have begun scheduling a five-minute dance party in the kitchen around dinnertime. “It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to do something together that benefits our mental well-being. We need to remember that we’re all under a tremendous amount of stress—our children included—and to look for opportunities to reduce that stress,” she says.
“It’s helpful to try to have a childlike approach to play,” Dr. Fu agrees. Find inspiration in things that you enjoyed when you were younger; whether that be frolicking outside in the rain or snow, drawing pictures (no artistic talent required!), or even walking barefoot in the grass.
Reach out to people you care about.
Meaningfully connecting with others has been challenging during these isolated times. Some people have found social, non-work-related Zoom gatherings helpful. Others have benefited from joining online interest group gatherings, even if they’re only participating “in a fringe-y way,” Dr. Fu says. “Even the most introverted person needs to feel validated.” That means most of us need to have our experiences, thoughts, and, ideally, our values and beliefs acknowledged by other people.