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How to Soothe Anxiety

There’s almost always something we can get anxious about: mountains of to-do’s, stressful relationships with people who push our buttons, the ordinary stress of life. Whether it’s work, family, politics, inequality, racism and oppression, or the environment, whether it’s general anxiety, performance anxiety, or the increased prevalence of teen anxiety—anxiety is everywhere.

We can get so used to being anxious that it can feel like we should be worrying about something even when we’re feeling okay!

Here’s the good news: relief is possible. I suffered from anxiety for years as a teenager into my twenties. Through the tools of meditation, we can understand anxiety, work to transform its causes, and learn tools to mitigate its effects personally, physiologically, and socially.

Anxiety is usually triggered by a stressful external event—a conversation, a piece of news, an upcoming event. However, that external event quickly begins to stimulate thoughts. We then begin reacting to the thoughts with more anxiety, and the two begin to feed each other in a vicious cycle.

Over time, this cycle between thought and emotion can develop into a habitual pattern. You may find yourself feeling anxiety without even knowing what you’re anxious about. It’s as if the feeling is looking for something to get anxious about. The emotional and psychological energy have anxiety has become so familiar, that your mind begins to go there by default even without an explicit reason.


Mindfulness meditation provides a range of tools to ease and soothe anxiety—or at least prevent it from snowballing out of control. Personally, over the years of practice, meditation has helped me not only to manage my anxiety but to shift the underlying mental and emotional patterns that create it in the first place.


Naming an emotion is the first step in being mindful of it. This activates our prefrontal cortex and can begin to bring more balance and self-regulation by creating a relationship with the experience. As soon as you notice that you are beginning to feel anxious, try to pause for a moment. Label the emotion, saying silently to yourself, “This is anxiety.”

As you label it, see if you can bring some understanding to bear on the experience. It’s just an unpleasant feeling, and it’s temporary. It wasn’t here before, and won’t last forever. The more you can see feelings for what they are—waves of sensation passing through—the less caught up you will get.

FEEL YOUR BREATHING. Our breath is a bridge between the body and mind and can help to calm and regulate our nervous system. When we are distressed, anxious, or upset, our breathing changes, becoming more rapid, shallow, or tight.

To soothe anxiety, try taking a few slow, deep breaths. Focus all of your attention on breathing out long and slow through your mouth. As you exhale, notice any feelings of ease, relaxation or settling, however subtle. Then let your breathing return to normal, continuing to give more attention to the out-breath. With each out-breath, imagine any sensations of anxiety or tension in your body could slowly dissolve and melt away.


How we relate to anxiety can make it worse, increasing our agitation and distress, or allow it to subside. As you breathe, notice how you are relating to your thoughts and emotional sensations of anxiety.

Are you afraid of the anxiety? Do you want it to go away? Are you feeling consumed by it? Do you judge yourself for feeling it? “Why I am I feeling anxious? There must be something wrong with me…”

Acknowledge whatever reaction you notice. Instead of trying to fight it, fix it or change it, see if you can bring a kind and balanced awareness of your experience. You could even name or label the reaction: “Resistance. Worrying.” Can you find any degree of softening or acceptance?

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