Small habits and strategies we can weave into our day-to-day lives can play an important role in managing stress and anxiety – and good news, many of them don’t cost a thing.
When money is mega tight, it can feel like yet another thing to worry about. But having to tighten your budget doesn’t mean you can’t still take steps to look after your mental wellbeing.
Remember, if you are struggling and concerned about your mental health, contact your GP – that’s what they’re there for. In the meantime, here are six ways to help ease stress and anxiety that are totally free…
1. Visualise your way to calm
“Visualisation is where we imagine certain images, scenes, pictures in our minds that help us relax,” says clinical psychologist Dr Kirren Schnack (drschnack.com), who shares lots of free tips on Instagram. “It also helps move our mind away from worry, so we are not giving it as much attention.”
An exercise using your senses can be super-soothing. “Choose a scene/place/memory that you find comforting. Once you’ve pictured this, use each of your senses to go into as much detail as you can about it, as if you were there again,” says Schnack. “Start by looking all around and note in detail everything you see. What can you hear? What smells do you notice? Find something to touch – what does it feel like? Is there anything you can taste?”
Visualising a time you coped with a previous challenging situation can also be helpful. It’s easy to forget just how resilient and equipped we can be when we’re overwhelmed. “Start by getting into a comfortable position and take some slow, deep breaths. Then recall a situation you dealt with that was stressful or difficult, think about how you felt, the things you might have told yourself about whether you’d cope. Then recount in as much detail as you can what you did to cope with and manage that problem, how it turned out, how you then felt,” says Schnack.
2. Sing or hum
Anyone in a choir knows singing makes you feel great – and there’s real science behind it, as it floods the brain with feel-good chemicals. The vibrations in your throat and ears stimulate the vagus nerve, a key player in the parasympathetic nervous system (this controls vital processes our bodies do without us having to think about them, like heartbeats) which triggers the release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that brings on a relaxing effect.
How about carving out time for a singing break? And if you don’t fancy belting out tunes or that’s not practical, humming can have the same effect. Try sitting down somewhere peaceful and closing your eyes while you hum for 10 minutes or so.
3. Write down your thoughts
Getting your thoughts ‘out’ and onto paper can be extremely effective – especially if they’re tumbling around on loop before bed. Think of it as a “thought dump”, says Sophie Robinson-Matthews, therapist and Counselling Directory member (counselling-directory.org.uk).
“Free-write anything that pops into your head, let things flow without judgement or censorship (spelling and grammar don’t matter),” says Robinson-Matthews. “You can do this whenever you feel your head is ‘cluttered’, or as a daily practice. Seeing things in text (or hearing them said back to you) can in itself help shrink worries, because when they’re in our head they can feel a lot bigger.” Using a pen and notebook has been found to be most effective, she adds, but if that really doesn’t appeal, try recording yourself on your phone instead.
4. Make use of mantras
Rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism, mantras often feature in meditation practice – but many people find it helpful to come up with their own personal ones. “Mantras are an easy and effective way for people to alter their feelings in a given moment or help alter their perspective on something that would in the past have been anxiety-inducing,” says Robinson-Matthews.
“Have a think about situations where you can try a mantra, and then come up with at least one you can say during each of those situations,” she suggests.
You could also come up with a mantra to use as a daily affirmation. “The trick is to really feel into the words you’re saying (or thinking, if you can’t say it aloud) and allow them to fill you with whatever emotion it is you’re desiring, such as calm or courage,” says Robinson-Matthews.
5. Strike a yoga pose
Lots of yoga poses are said to help foster a sense of calm, and you don’t need to do a full class to tap into the benefits. Next time your head’s spinning with stress and anxious thoughts, try taking a break to do a few simple poses. A popular one for anxiety is ‘legs up the wall’ (Viparita Karani). Simply lie on your back on the floor with your bum near the wall, then raise your legs so they’re leaning vertically against the wall. Close your eyes and just breathe for five to 15 minutes or so.
6. Walk with purpose
Walking is one of the simplest wellbeing saviours going. But if you’re finding it particularly hard to switch off those whirring worries, giving your walk an extra purpose could provide a welcome dose of distraction. This could be a nature walk, where you head out with the aim to really tune into the trees, scenery and wildlife around you. Schnack also suggests a photography walk. “Take your phone or a camera and take photographs of anything beautiful you see,” she says. “Or weather permitting, see if you can find a spot on your walk to see the sunset.”