How Simple Daily Rituals Can Help With Anxiety

Thursday 6 August 2020

There can’t be many people in the world who haven’t experienced some form of anxiety lately. 

The Covid-19 crisis has sent the world into freefall, and everyone has been struggling to cope with the seismic changes that happened, pretty much overnight. Suddenly, we became isolated from family and friends, many of us or our loved ones had serious health worries, and the economy went into freefall overnight. 

In many ways, life has felt like a dystopian nightmare since the start of the year, and things are still far from normal. We all had our own personal stress levels to contend with. 

I’m aware I’m fortunate to have suffered no serious hardships yet, but the build-up of stress over the last six months has been unrelenting. 

Immediately that lockdown was announced, the company I work for announced they would be making redundancies. I had only been there two months and was convinced I would be out the door. Although that didn’t happen in the end, we all had to agree to a pay cut in order to protect the company. 

We were still not complete on the huge renovation of our old Victorian home, so we had all the stress, dust, mess, noise and chaos of building work stopping and starting, being without basic amenities like running water downstairs during the start of lockdown. 

Both of us were working full time and also trying to care for two under fives that need constant attention and entertainment. We weren’t doing well at either our jobs or our parenting. And then I found out my mum - who lives at the other end of the country to me - has been diagnosed with cancer. So although things could definitely have been worse, we have been struggling. 

And that’s when my problems with anxiety began. I was exhausted all the time, but started waking up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. I would constantly feel sick and out of breath, feeling like an elephant was sat on my chest. My mind raced. I was either overworking or mired in procrastination, unable to focus on anything. I’m guessing you may have experienced some of these things too. 

I began to sink into a really negative spiral where I had no belief in myself or my abilities. I would dread ‘going to work’ each day, even though I was just sat at home. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right or keep my head straight. Things were getting worse and worse. 

That was when I came across the concept of the Power of Habit. There’s so much great reading you can and should do around this, but the basic idea is that the smallest of our daily rituals shape the direction of our life and create the mindset that we have. Everything flows from the basics of how we choose to shape our days. 

And the great thing is that forming better habits doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Just changing a few smaller factors can lead to huge differences in the way that you feel, think and behave. 

With that in mind, I took a close look at my own habits and daily routine, and really examined what gave me peace and helped to calm my anxiety. I’m sharing it here in case it can help you and make you think about what daily rituals could help you. 

Drink a bottle of water on waking 

I have real problems drinking enough water and staying hydrated during the day. When I don’t drink enough water, my focus is affected and I also overeat, so I really wanted to get better at it. 

What has helped me is taking my reusable Chilly’s water bottle up to bed with me at night, and drinking it down first thing in the morning. I’ve found that if I start the day off drinking water, then I drink more during the rest of the day, and it helps me to shake the morning brain fog off a little too. 

Breathing exercises 

Quite often, I was waking up feeling breathless and panicky, full of anxiety about the day ahead. Now I practice ‘box breathing’ when I wake up - inhaling deeply for a count of four, holding it for a count of four, then exhaling slowly for another count of four - four times. 

Apparently this technique is taught to members of the SAS as a physiological hack to help them lower levels of cortisol in highly stressful wartime situations. So you know it must work! Slowing it down first thing massively helps me to start the day off right. If I feel my anxiety levels rising during the day, I repeat it as needed. 

And while I do the breathing, I think about…. 

Daily affirmations  

Pre-lockdown anything like this is something I would probably have seen as way too new age to be for me, but lately I have needed a pep talk to set me up and give me the courage to start my day! 

While I do my breathing exercise, I think about some positive statements to give me the right energy. Things like ‘I will not let my thoughts control the way I feel’, ‘I will be positive and work on a solution’ and ‘I will allow myself to be happy no matter what’. 

It all feels a bit strange at first, but it does help in the long run, as you are literally reprogramming your thoughts. 

Plan my day while planking

It’s easy to start the day feeling overwhelmed before you’ve even begun when you have a fairly senior job and childcare to manage, so I like to take a moment to visualise and plan out what my priorities are for the day ahead. 

A funny tip is to do this while performing a one minute plank. This improves your core strength and distracts you from the exercise as well. 

Take time for your skincare

At 35, taking care of my skin is more and more important to me. Carving out five minutes before the day gets started to make sure I put my products on is calming and grounded, and it's doing something positive for myself before I get into serving others all day. 

I pretty much use all Beauty Pie with a couple of Nuxe products. I wash my face, splash on some of my favourite essence, moisturise with a hydrating serum, and add eye cream and a high-factor sunscreen to set me up for the day. 

Make the bed and tidy your room

This is one that I’ve pretty much always done, but I’m a very firm believer in leaving my bedroom spotless in the mornings before I leave it. 

My bedroom is my sanctuary, especially since we redid the third floor of our house into a master suite. I actively look forward to escaping up there at the end of the day. So leaving it beautifully tidy and ready is a part of that. At the end of a long day, I just want it to feel calm. 

So I always make the bed, take down any cups from the night before, and make sure any clothes, towels and other things are put away. 

Take your supplements

One of the first things I do when I’m dressed and ready is have more water and make coffee, and while I do that, I take my supplements. 

There’s a link between your gut microbiome and your mental and emotional state, and I know when I’m anxious I often get an upset stomach. So I take a daily multivitamin with added probiotics to help. I also make sure to take Vitamin D to give my immune system and energy levels a boost. 

In the past, I would buy supplements and keep them in my bedside drawer and forget to take them. Moving them to the cereal cupboard downstairs in the kitchen has helped enormously! 

Remember what you have to be grateful for

It’s a very simple thing, but just becoming aware of your own negative thoughts and consciously trying to replace them with a grateful one is a big thing for me. 

Often we get caught in our own little bubble when we’re experiencing stressful times. But I try and step back when I can feel myself spiralling and flip those thoughts to all the things I have to feel thankful for instead. 

It’s a really good way of resetting your mind and approaching things more positively.  

Write down your goals for the day

I had gotten into the cycle of a huge never-ending To Do List. It never shrank, I never felt like I had achieved anything, and just looking at it made me feel burnt-out. 

Then I realised that while it's fine to keep a master To Do List, which is basically just a brain dump of everything you need to do, ever, it's more helpful to also have a Daily Goals list, which is super focused. 

I limit it right down to a maximum of five tasks. This forces me to prioritise the really essential jobs and avoids me feeling overwhelmed. You also get the satisfaction of actually being able to completely tick off your list for once! 

Of course, if things are going well and you get everything covered off, you can go back and add in other things, but that just makes you feel like you’re really bossing it.  

Add in some yoga or pilates

I made a promise to myself that I would do one form of exercise every day, but honestly? I haven’t got the energy to cover off a 5k run or a HIIT workout every single day. I tend to do those every second day. 

On the days in between, I limit myself to some gentle and restorative yoga or pilates. There are so many great free videos on YouTube. I love the Blogilates series. I think of it more as something for my mind than my body, but physical movement is so important to my energy levels. 

16:8 Intermittent Fasting

I have long been a devotee of IF or Intermittent Fasting. I used the Fast 800 to shift my post-pregnancy weight, and I’ve done regular 5:2 on and off ever since. It's not just a tool to keep my weight healthy. I find it also has enormous mental benefits for me and helps with energy and overall health. 

Since trying to manage my anxiety, I’ve been doing 16:8 as a way of life. Basically, you have a daily fast of 16 hours, and an 8 hour window to eat. So I usually stop eating entirely by 7pm, and then don’t eat anything until 11am the next day. 

I also combine this with 5:2 sometimes (5 days a week you eat normally, 2 days you only eat 500 calories), and it all works to keep my mood and energy levels up. Giving your digestive system a break regularly is so good for your body. 

Spend an hour a day reading 

I’m the kind of person who needs some alone time, especially as we are all on top of each other in the house right now. I also adore reading - I’ve always been a bookworm, and it's my way to de-stress and mentally escape for a while. 

Getting lost in a book has become ever more important since the pandemic hit. I have made it a ritual to spend an hour each night after I’ve put the children to bed with a good book. Then I go and watch a boxset or something, but what I try not to do is immediately get sucked in by my phone or the TV without having that hour first.  

Run with a podcast 

I've never been one of life's natural born runners. In fact, I'm usually wincing every step of the way, but I love the benefits to my mental and physical health and since lockdown, running has been a lifeline for me. 

I live on the doorstep of a country park, so there are lots of beautiful routes around here. One trick that really works for me is listening to a podcast while I run. Somehow it distracts my brain far better than listening to music. 

I have a couple of favourite mind management podcasts that have really been helping with my anxiety. 'Unf*ck Your Brain' with Kara Lowentheil and 'The Mindset Mentor' by Rob Dial. Both are really great, no-nonsense, very practical guides to keeping your head together. 

I'll never be an elite runner, but I do my slow, trundle 5k and listen to my podcast and I finish up feeling like I've been to therapy, positive and set for the day - and all before 8.30. 

Clean down the kitchen before bed 

If I come downstairs in the morning, and the first thing I see is a load of mess, it just doesn't start the day off in the right way. So even if I'm tired, I make myself have a ten minute kitchen clean down before I go to bed at night - load the dishwasher, wipe down all the surfaces with a nice smelling disinfectant spray, sometimes put the cloths to soak and just generally make sure everything is clean and neat.  

Look after your body 

Another little ritual I love is using a dry body brush before I get into the shower to firm my skin, get my circulation going and exfoliate, followed by some beautiful body oil post shower to lock in the moisture. 

Then I follow up with my night time skincare routine - removing my makeup with a Face Halo reusable pad, followed by a double cleanse with a face wash - I like the Nuxe Foaming Micellar Wash - sometimes an exfoliating toner, and then a retinol night cream and sometimes the Pixi Rose Oil if my skin feels dry. 

Again, this little ritual of taking the day off feels like an important part of what keeps the world spinning on its axis for me. When I go to bed with a clean, cared for face the world just feels a little better.  

Those are the main pillars of managing my day. I don't always manage to do them all every single day - obviously, I live in the real world and sometimes things just come up and a day won't go according to plan. Learning to live with a little chaos is just as important as having a plan. 

But I do find that it makes a big difference to my mental state when I can do all or most of them.  Of course there are also weekly rituals I love - the deep Sunday bath with a face mask, the Saturday night movie with snacks and the weekend sit-down breakfast with nice china. But it really is the power of daily habits that can change your life.  

What daily rituals have you found that help you?  

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