Ahh, yoga teachers: Those zen, ethereal creatures who wear tie-dyed clothes, ooze calm, never have the shadow of a single anxious thought cloud their days and certainly never lay awake at night worrying about dying in a fiery plane crash (or reliving some mortifying social blunder).
Yeah—these some of the many reasons I assumed I could NEVER be a yoga teacher.
Truth: I’ve often described myself as an anxiety-riddled, chronic worrier and I’ve spent many nights lying awake mentally fretting about all sorts of things (plane crashes, social blunders and much, much more). The truth is, sometimes I still do. But most of the time I’ve successfully conquered my anxiety. It’s been a long road to get here, but here are some of my favorite tools that have helped me overcome my former worrying ways.
5 Powerful Tools to Help Conquer Anxiety
1. Create Space Between Identity and Experience
It’s easy to get caught up in your experience (“I’m feeling anxious”) as your identity (“I AM anxious!”). However, differentiating them is a powerful key to moving forward. If you get stuck thinking, “I’m an anxious person,” on repeat, you’re not only reinforcing that belief with every repetition, but you’re disempowering yourself from making a change—after all, what can you do if that’s “just the way you are”?
Yoga and meditation helped to create some separation for me between my experience of anxiety and my identity as an innately calm, centered person. Creating that differentiation was a very powerful shift. I encourage you to give it a try.
Takeaway: You are YOU. Anxiety is a temporary experience that can take you away from your inner truth as a calm, centered, happy person. Yoga and meditation are tools to bring you back.
2. Slowing Down to Be Well
Anxiety, by definition, is going fast—racing thoughts about a slew of worries, spiraling up into doomsday, worst-case scenarios. Whether it’s worrying about that new job, bad boss or being single, you can quickly spiral up to fears about being trapped in that job, the bad boss ruining every aspect of your career, or dying single and alone.
Super-slow yoga was a tool for me to learn how to slow down—literally. I may tend to want to go fast, but I made myself practice super slowly. At first, I experienced it as PAINFULLY slow. But I was literally re-training my body and brain to run at a calmer, slower speed. And that slower option is what allows me to catch myself now when I start to spiral up.
I can then go back to point #1 and differentiate my experience. “Oops—I slipped back to feeling anxious again,” instead of just spiraling up into pure panic. Then I remind myself that’s just a temporary experience (NOT my identity) and come back to my choice to be calm, centered and grounded.
Takeaway: If you too default to the fast lane, notice where else you like to go fast (Do you think fast? Talk fast? Drive fast? Leap to conclusions? What about worries?). Then challenge yourself to go sloooooow. Notice how that feels and what effect it has. Not a yogi? No prob. Try walking slowly instead—REAL REAL SLOWLY. Challenge yourself to feel every part of your foot articulate to the earth. Connect downward. Ground yourself—literally.
3. Cleansing Breath
When I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and I catch myself, I stop what I’m doing and practice this: I close my eyes and ground my feet to the floor. I notice what’s making me feel anxious. Then I inhale through my nose and release it on a sigh. Repeat twice more (for a total of three times).
Takeaway: Breathwork is not just for yoga class, my friends.
The firepoint is one of my favorite ways to relax. Take the tip of your tongue behind your top two front teeth and press against that little mound. You will feel your forehead, jaw, and around your eyes release and relax. Repeat as often as you like throughout the day.
Takeaway: You hold stress in your body (often your jaw). When you release that part, you release the stress. And bonus: You can do this anywhere.
5. You CAN Change
Different cells in your body are turning over and regenerating every single day—so doesn’t this by default mean that you have the chance to be a new version of yourself every single day? So when you catch yourself thinking (or telling someone else!), “I’m an anxious person,” remember that may be who you were yesterday, but today you have some new cells and the chance to be a new you. You have the choice to set a conscious intention to be a calmer, more centered version of yourself.
Takeaway: Just because that’s “how you’ve always been” doesn’t mean that’s who you’ll always be. You’re changing every day. You have the power to create a new experience. Embrace it.
Meditation not your thing? Check out our ways to be mindful without meditating.