Life can be an emotional rollercoaster and sometimes it’s hard to escape that flutter in your stomach as you face the feeling of plunging into anxiety. We are all anxious at times and trying to pretend those feelings of anxiety don’t exist can exasperate the problem. It can be a more helpful approach to accept those anxious moments rather than battle with it, and to find small tiny rituals that can help you to feel like you have a plan in place for when you feel overwhelmed. Anxiety is mostly your brain trying to keep you safe, but when our brain overreacts, the body can follow suit. The aim of these gentle relaxation rituals is to slow down the fast flow of cortisol, to untangle tight muscles, and to redirect the mind and body into a kinder place where you can feel safe and practice self-soothing techniques.
Here are four relaxation rituals I use regularly to ease anxiety:
The Tea Ritual
The practice of a tea ritual is much more than simply tossing a tea bag into hot water. It’s a ceremonial practice rooted in custom and tradition predominantly in Japan & China. A tea ritual is a ceremonial way of preparing and drinking tea that encourages presence and mindfulness.
This can be particularly nourishing in Winter, where we are naturally drawn to warmth and comfort. It can be a time to pause, breathe and turn the attention inwards.It can also accompany relaxing activities such as stretching, meditating, reading or any form of gentle yoga. Take some time to pick a tea that suits your mood, feel the warmth of the steam against your skin and savour each sip.
The Breath Ritual
Taking a big deep breath can change the way you feel in instantly. When our anxiety is high, taking a minute to practice a short session of light breath-work can help you to regulate your nerves and reduce the amount of cortisol coursing through your body. The best thing about the breath ritual is it can be done anytime, anyplace.
You can try box breathing - inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4.
Or 1:1 breathing (Samma Vritti), where you inhale for the same amount if time as you exhale (e.g. inhale for 5 and exhale for 5 etc.)
Or 1:2 breathing, where you elongate the exhale breath (e.g. inhale for 4 and exhale for 8).
Below I take you through a pranayama (breath control technique) to calm your mind.
The Cosy Ritual
One of the easiest and low key ways of welcoming a relaxation ritual is to bring a little coziness into your corner. Slip into something soft and warm – your comfy pyjamas, a fluffy jumper, and your fave fuzzy socks. Grab a blanket and some pillows and curl up on the sofa with a warm drink. You can even light candles and play soft soothing music to amp up the cozy homely feel. There’s something about being warm and feeling safe that helps the stress melt away.
The Self-Massage Ritual
Massage has so many benefits: it eases tense muscles, helps to relieve stress, encourages the nervous system to re-set into the relaxed parasympathetic state and out of the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ sympathetic state. However, when going to see a massage therapist is not an option, the next best thing is self massage. Self- massage shares many of the same benefits, and when done mindfully is extremely valuable in helping us to maintain a relaxed body and mind. Below are some basic facial massage techniques I use often:
Temples and forehead: Place your thumbs high on your cheekbones, holding your head near your ears. Apply pressure with your fingertips, making circular motions across your temples and forehead until your fingers meet in the middle of your forehead.
Scalp: Place the heel of your palms on either side of your head. Push your scalp upward, holding for a few seconds before releasing. Repeat across your scalp until you’ve massaged your entire head.
Eyebrows: Push your thumbs into either side of the bridge of your nose. Hold for 10 seconds before releasing. Continue moving your thumbs outward across your eyebrow bone, pressing and holding in sections until you’ve reached your temples.
The Restorative Yoga Ritual
Restorative yoga is a style of yoga that encourages physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. Appropriate for all levels, restorative yoga is practiced at a slow pace, focusing on long holds, stillness, and deep breathing. Unlike more active yoga styles such as vinyasa, you can expect to hold a pose for 5 minutes or more, only performing a handful of poses in one restorative yoga session. Restorative yoga allows us to relearn the art of relaxation while developing the skills and abilities to self-soothe. It enhances our healing capacity through helping us regulate the stress response and re-balance the nervous system.
You don't need to carve out a whole hour to practice either - although that would be amazing if you have the time and space to do so. Just one restorative posture held for 15-20 minutes is enough to experience the benefits of this calming practise.
What are your favourite rituals for stepping off the anxiety ledge? Share with me in the comments :)