When you’re scared or uncertain, your mind can spin knots with your thoughts.

Here are some ways to get peace into your head and your body.

Our minds are not always our helpful, supportive friends.

Scientists reckon we have up to 60,000 thoughts per day, and about 80% of them are negative. We spend most of our waking hours worrying about the future, criticizing ourselves, criticizing others, feeling resentful or angry, fretting about the people we love, feeling down about the state of the world… and more.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to change the channel and get soothing, loving thoughts instead?

Being the boss of your thoughts can be challenging at the best of times, but it can be done, and it’s worth it for the peace it brings your mind and your body. We just aren’t designed to stay in flight-or-fight, adrenaline-and-cortisol-surging mode for more than a few moments at a time. We are then meant to recalibrate, after we have escaped an imminent threat.

If you struggle with anxiety or negative thinking, either because of something that’s recently happened or because it’s become a habit, here are some helpful ideas. I can vouch for all of them, having used them to manage the mental challenge of living with a scary illness.

Distraction

To give your mind a mini break from worry, give it something else to do for a while. I used this with unhappy toddlers, and it works with my brain, too: give it something interesting to play with for a while. Games, puzzles, reading, engrossing TV or movies, comedy, a craft project, TikTok, gardening, chatting to a friend (but not about your worries) – so many things can work. Do what you enjoy.

Sink and bounce

This strategy is like the life-saving practice of sinking to the bottom of a pool so you can bounce back up and take a breath. Instead of trying to push your thoughts away—the equivalent of floundering around between the surface and the bottom of the pool—let one of them fill your mind for a moment. Mentally sink into the idea, and even feel it in your body. Then, come up for air – literally. Take a deep breath and let the thought dissipate and your body relax. Take another deep breath or two and move or shake your body to release your stress hormones.

Shake

Speaking of shaking, have you ever seen what dogs do after a fireworks display? They shake all over, which gets rid of their stress hormones—and then they usually prance off or lie down, freed of the fear. (Dogs are generally great role models for living in the moment.)

You can get the same kind of relief by doing something physical, from actual shaking—get your whole body into it—to dancing, running, jumping rope or any other energetic activity. Bonus: if you do this long enough, your body will release feel-good endorphins.

Sense-drench

A quick and easy way to calm yourself is to focus on each of your senses and what they’re experiencing right now. The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a great technique:

  • What FIVE things do you see?
  • What FOUR things can you physically feel/touch?
  • What THREE things can you hear?
  • What TWO things can you smell?
  • What ONE thing can you taste?

Personally, I like to end with sensing my ‘spirit side’—the sixth-sensory part of me that feels connected to the universe / the divine / eternity / god, or whatever you want to call it.

Sense-drenching really calms me down, especially if I am outdoors and can see and smell nature around me.

Schedule time to fret

Treat your worry like a dedicated but pestering employee—tell it you’ll tend to its concerns at a designated time and put that time in your schedule. This nagging ninny means well, but doesn’t have to interrupt you all day long! Start a list where you can write down the worrying thoughts that come to mind, and assure them that you will give them attention later.

Then, give yourself 20 minutes or so to go through your list. Decide whether there is anything you can do about each one, make a plan if you can, and then move on.

I have a spot in my daily planner for “What’s really bothering me right now?” It allows me to capture the negative thoughts and somehow, that seems to calm them down. It’s like they have a life of their own, and I have given them a place to settle.

Get help

If these strategies don’t work or if you still feel uncomfortably anxious and filled with dire thoughts, reach out for help. Many types of therapists, physicians and alternative health practitioners offer support for anxiety and additional ideas to the ones I’ve offered here.

Living with negative thoughts is rough. I hope these ideas help give you a little relief.

Wishing you peace of mind and body,