Strengthening your mind is a great way to fight off anxiety and reduce depression.
Both anxiety and depression are very treatable, and it can start with you taking a few minutes each day to focus on your mindset.
It can seem like either one (or both) of these things is taking over your life. Believe me, I get it. I've had times where my anxiety prevented me from wanting to go outside, and my depression prevented me from wanting to get up in the mornings.
The goods news is it's possible to reduce the power either of these holds over you.
10 Mental Exercises to Help Reduce Anxiety & Depression
If you're finding that you can't bring yourself to do these exercises, or you aren't sure if they will work, I'd suggest looking into finding a counselor.
Our minds can get so wrapped up in a tangled web, it's almost impossible to unravel it all by yourself.
These mental exercises will help if you feel like you're anxiety is manageable enough for you to do it on your own.
Otherwise, I'd suggest taking a look into BetterHelp, an online counseling platform. You can get matched with a therapist who will help you unravel all of those thoughts in your head.
And they will give you the right tools you'll need to learn how to fight off anxiety and depression.
How Mental Exercises Can Improve Your Anxiety
Working on your mindset is a great way to retrain your brain to focus on the positives in your life. It will take work on your part.
If you want to reduce the anxiety in your life, you’ll need to take time every day to focus on it. Just like working out or eating healthy, it requires some discipline.
Mental exercises will clear your mind and give you a better outlook on your life. Practicing these techniques frequently will build your mental strength.
You’ll feel more confident in yourself because you’ll be able to unravel those anxious thoughts. Feeling overwhelmed and burnt out causes stress. When we’re stressed, we develop bad habits to try and cope with our feelings.
This weakens our mindset and makes us vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Instead of using unhealthy coping techniques, you can try these mental exercises and work on improving your mindset.
1. Start by Identifying Your Fear
Figure out what is the cause of your anxiety. Determine what this is first, then you can work on retraining your brain.
Write down the things that trigger anxiety for you.
These things can sometimes be hard to admit. We don’t like to dig deep and think about what triggers us to feel uncomfortable.
Anxiety feels like it just happens out of nowhere sometimes.
In reality, though, you have a fear that triggers anxiety for you.
So dig deep and figure out what it is for you.
2. Practice Staying Present in the Moment
Once anxiety starts, keeping a grasp on reality is tough. Your mind feels like it’s going 100 miles per hour.
A good way to slow it down is by focusing on this moment, right now. Start by taking a time out from everything.
Something that really helps me is (if it’s nice enough outside) going outside sans phone or any technology. The weather plays a big role in my own anxiety, and I am aware of this.
Warmth makes my anxiety manageable and gloomy days make it sometimes unbearable. What is something that makes you feel calm? Some people love the sound of crowds.
Others love the sound of rain. Think about what clicks with you. Try to find that space, then practice using your senses to be more present in the moment.
This can help train your brain to focus on what is right in front of you in the moment. Instead of letting your mind take you away into anxietyland.
3. Let Go of the Value You Give to Your Thoughts
When anxiety floods in, you might allow it take over your thoughts. It makes sense, we worry over things that we believe have a big impact on our lives.
But, think back to 6 months ago when anxiety took over and made you feel terrible. Can you remember back to 6 months ago?
That’s kind of my point. We often get so focused on the moment right now we forget that we’ve made it through before.
We place a lot of value on what controls our thoughts. In reality, they are just thoughts. Our thoughts don’t make our reality.
Think about a dollar. We give it value, because it’s money. The truth is, it’s a piece of paper. So, what’s the difference between a dollar bill and a piece of paper we use to print off movie tickets? Just the value we give it.
What’s the difference between the worries in your head and the reality that you’re in? The value you give to your worries. After you learn to stop giving those thoughts so much power, you’ll learn that your anxiety has only as much value as you give it.
4. Work on Breathing Techniques
A lot of the times I don’t breathe enough. I actually have a weird issue where I need to take in deep breaths often, or else I feel like my lungs will collapse on me.
And I believe this is because I hold my breath a lot. And when I’m trying to sleep, I wake up with a strong pain in my chest because I have sleep apnea. Knowing how to breathe properly is super important, and yet not a lot of people know how to do it.
Which is crazy, right? Breathing is a requirement to survive but we still suck at it. Breathing is how you connect your body with your mind, so it makes sense that it’s an important mental exercise.
I don’t care how stupid it may sound, you need to pay more attention to your own breathing. A very simple and effective way to practice breathing correctly is:
- Inhale deeply for 7 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 5 seconds.
- Exhale deeply (where you have no oxygen left) for 7 seconds.
- Repeat 5 times
Do this 3 times a day. I would suggest setting reminders for yourself. Because it’s all to easy to forget to set aside time to breathe.
If you can work on this consistently for a few weeks, you’ll feel calmer and your anxiety won’t seem so extreme.
5. Ask Yourself “What's the Worst That Can Happen?”
If you're feeling extra anxious, take a step back and think about the worst case scenario. Let's say you messed up at work and now you're worried you'll get fired.
The worst-case scenario is you get fired from your job. Now, focus on two things, the reality of the situation and what would happen if you did get fired.
The reality is, you won't get fired. And deep down, you know this. The fears you create in your mind aren't real.
The worst-case scenario for you is the extreme. Getting fired usually requires you doing a lot of things wrong, even then some companies will still keep you around.
And then think about what were to happen if you did get fired. You'd be ok. You'd push yourself to look for a new job, work hard at filling out applications, and move onto the next thing.
You can do this with any scenario that is made up in your head. Think of the worst that could happen, then work back from there.
6. Ground Yourself
Grounding techniques will bring you out of your thoughts and back into the present moment. You can start to reduce stress and feel more confident with your abilities.
Think about connecting your body to the earth below you. Visualize grounding yourself. Pay attention to the sights, smells, and sounds around you.
Practice staying grounded for 10-15 minutes a day. It can truly help you become more centered with yourself and feel at peace with your anxiety.
Learn a new skill today
7. Write Out all of Your Thoughts on Paper
Have you ever tried to solve a long division problem all in your head? If you have, you know how complicated it is.
Writing it out on a piece of paper is much easier and it helps clear your mind. The same goes for all of the other thoughts going on in your head.
Don't expect yourself to work through your thoughts just by keeping stirring them in your head. Especially if you know you aren't getting very far by doing that.
Writing down everything you're feeling, how your day is going, and what is causing your anxiety or depression can help clear your cluttered brain.
This will allow you to get a different perspective, and feel a little lighter.
8. Use Visualization
Visualization is personally one of my favorite mental exercises to do. You can get away from your thoughts for a little bit and focus on something you truly enjoy.
Visualization is when you think about a safe place during the moments you feel anxious or depressed. This can calm you down and help deal better with what is going on.
You can practice visualization by:
- Thinking of your safe, relaxing place
- Relaxing your body
- Letting go of the stresses by imagining they are dissolving whenever they enter your safe place
- Working on it every day
This gives you a healthy distraction, and I find it useful when I can't fully get myself to relax with meditation.
Sometimes, in the middle of a stressful situation, I have to use visualization to distance myself from it until I am looking at it from a bird's eye view.
9. Remove the Negative Thoughts
Stop trying so hard to hold onto all of the negative thoughts floating in your head. Negativity feeds on itself, so you have to put an end to the cycle.
That starts with being mentally aware of when you're negative thoughts are creeping in. They can sometimes be hard to pick out, because a lot of your thoughts are negative, so you're used to it. But, think about how you're thoughts make you feel.
- Hold you back from trying new things?
- Tell you that you're not good enough?
- Convince you to avoid uncomfortable situations?
- Make up excuses as to why something wouldn't work out?
Any time you hear thoughts similar to these, make a mental note. This will make you more aware of how many negative thoughts you are having.
Then, practice replacing a negative thought with a positive one. If you think “I shouldn't go to the party because I'll look stupid.”
Think, “I'm going to the party because I want to, and I'm curious to see what happens.” This will bring you back to neutral thinking, and will give you a more optimistic outlook on things.
10. Count Backwards
If all else fails during the moments when you feel really anxious or depressed, come up with a number in your head and focus on counting backwards.
But, you have to focus all of your attention on counting. It can't be mindless. The second you feel your thoughts drifting off to something else, start over counting.
Just focus on the numbers. If it helps, start with a really large number that takes a lot of focus to count back from.
10 Mental Exercises to Help Reduce Anxiety & Depression – Conclusion
I understand that reducing anxious and depressing thoughts isn't easy. Especially if you've never practiced any of these mental exercises before. Trust me, I've been there!
But, it always helps to just start somewhere.
Being more aware of the thoughts in your head brings you closer to knowing how to control them. And once you take control of your thoughts, you take away the power of anxiety and depression.
The only way anxiety and depression can completely take over is if you sit by and let them. There are always ways to overcome both anxiety and depression. And, at one point I didn't believe that.
I now know after going to therapy and learning about these mental exercises, these things aren't permanent. It is possible to live a calm and happy life. Where you see your purpose and are excited for what comes next into your life.
That’s why I always recommend using BetterHelp.
BetterHelp matches you with a licensed therapist who has professional experience in teaching you how to get through social anxiety.
The cool part is you can connect with your therapist any time you need to. If you have any questions throughout the week, you can just shoot them an email or a message, and they usually get back to you within a day or two.
When I used to go to in-person therapy, it was only once a week, which sucked when I really needed to talk to someone.
I would also sometimes forget what I needed to talk about, and end up remembering later and would have to wait another week to talk about it again. If you’re interested in learning more about BetterHelp, you can click here.