By Maura Lynch
“What does anxiety feel like?” It’s a question I’ve been asked a dozen times and always struggle to answer, because it’s a state that’s too familiar to me—especially after the last year and a half. (It’s like asking me how sweet tastes. Well, it tastes sweet.) The description that feels most spot-on, though, is that it’s like trying to locate yourself on Google Maps with spotty service. Because anxiety tries its damndest to discombobulate your internal GPS, to pull you into the past to mull over what was or the future to worry about what will. Because it can’t live here. It can only really exist there. (Seriously, think about it.) So what’s the antidote? Drop your pin.
There is a growing body of research showing that mindfulness, essentially just the act of being present, has a positive impact on your body and your mind: lower stress levels, better mood, less anxiety. (The list goes on.) And it doesn’t require grand overtures. Sure, a meditation retreat in Big Sur sounds lovely, but it isn’t necessary. The latest data indicates that short bursts of awareness provide a mental boost—even just 5 minutes. The trick to making this micro-mindfulness stick is to pair it with existing habits instead of trying to create new ones. Here’s three simple ideas to get you started:
Coffee With Calming Breaths
Why not make the most of the time you spend waiting for coffee in the morning? While it brews, take deep belly breaths: Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. This practice activates your parasympathetic nervous system—the body’s rest and digest mode—to kick off your day with calm and counter the edgy energy of caffeine.
Massage and Moisturize
Make your body lotion go a little deeper by adding a little massage to your daily application. While you blend it into your skin, cultivate allover attention with a mini body scan—focus on how you feel as you work in the lotion, section by section. Kneading away the physical tension, you’ll release the emotional too.
Brush Up On Gratitude
Gratitude has been linked with increased levels of happiness, optimism, and a slew of other markers of emotional wellbeing—but you have to actually practice it to reap the benefits. While brushing your teeth at the end of the day, use those 2 minutes to think about what you’re grateful for—even if you’re just thankful you’re about to crawl into bed.
Maura Lynch is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and content strategist. She previously served as the beauty & lifestyle director for Women's Health, and her work has appeared in Allure, ELLE, Marie Claire, Well + Good, and other leading lifestyle publications.