How Ritualizing Your Self-Care May Be the Key to Keeping Anxiety at Bay

Nowadays, there are a lot of things to get anxious about. With complex information about our social circles and the world constantly flooding in, it’s not surprising that feeling stressed is increasingly common. And while some people experience relatively manageable stress levels, others undergo chronic anxiety that can become debilitating.

Fortunately, there are ways to handle your anxiety and keep it manageable. Of course, treatment and therapy are great options — but ritualizing your self-care can keep your mood up in between office visits. By taking time to put yourself first and take care of yourself, especially as a ritual, you can help yourself feel more grounded, safe, and calm.

Here’s how turning your self-care into a ritual can help keep your anxiety at bay.

What Is Self-Care?

First, it’s important to understand what self-care is before you can put it into practice. In essence, self-care is when someone engages in activities that improves or preserves their mental and/or physical well being. In other words, making healthy lifestyle choices and making yourself feel happy and secure all play into self-care, and it looks different for any given person.

On a basic level, self-care involves eating well, getting regular sleep, exercising, and avoiding alcohol and drugs to maintain good health. However, it also involves mental health, emotional wellbeing, social engagement, and other more holistic concepts. Self-care is all about taking care of yourself, inside and out — which is why it’s unfortunate that only 6.6% of Americans aged 25 and older engage in self-care each day.

Do Rituals Really Work?

3 million people struggle with an anxiety disorder in the United States alone, many of whom use self-care rituals to help manage it. In fact, rituals have been shown to improve people’s wellbeing by multiple scientific studies.

When you think about it, we have rituals in nearly every aspect of our lives. Sometimes they involve religious ceremonies, getting ready for bed, or participating in a holiday. Rituals can be performed alone or with other people with the intention of a wide variety of outcomes — from boosting confidence to making it rain outside. Despite the superstitious reputation of rituals, research has suggested that they’re actually pretty rational and effective — even to people who believe they don’t work. While some have shown that rituals alleviate grief after loss, others have supported the idea that rituals also reduce anxiety and increase confidence.

For instance, a recent study explored how rituals affect performance anxiety. Researchers discovered that people who performed rituals before doing something anxiety-provoking (like taking a test or giving a memorized speech) improved their performance, displayed less physiological stress, and reported less anxiety than people who did not perform rituals. Although we can’t necessarily say that a ritual will cause something to happen — after all, doing a dance or knocking on wood most likely doesn’t bring rain — many everyday rituals have been shown to be surprisingly effective.

Some researchers have suggested this link because it brings the mind and body to something familiar, which helps the person feel calm. In other words, just doing something you’re familiar with — especially when it involves self-care — can alleviate anxiety.

Rituals to Try

There are quite a few self-care rituals you can try out to help manage your anxiety. Here are a few options:

Mindfulness and Meditation Exercises

Research has shown that practicing mindfulness — the act of bringing your mind and body into the present moment to process thoughts, feelings, and your environment — and meditation helps the mind and body in more ways than one, including alleviating anxiety. In fact, regular meditation and mindfulness exercises have been shown to reduce anxiety ratings by as much as 39%.

To get started practicing mindfulness and meditation, you may want to consider exploring the Headspace app, which provides guided meditations so that you aren’t entering the world of measured breathing and thought awareness alone.

Somatic Experiencing

Another ritual you can implement is called somatic experiencing, which is a type of therapy that was originally created for patients working through PTSD. However, it’s applicable to anxiety of practically any type.

Somatic experiencing involves training yourself to focus on the physical discomfort of your anxiety — like your heartbeat racing, fingers trembling, or stomach clenching — to calm those symptoms. To ritualize this, you can practice placing your hands over your heart every day and lying there for a few minutes to sit with your physical sensations, good and bad. Over time, you will often start to feel more tolerance for these physical stressors, and ultimately feel less anxiety.

No matter what self-care rituals you work on, you can make solid strides towards alleviating your feelings of anxiety. With the guidance of professionals and your own research, you can be well on your way to a calmer, happier lifestyle.

What are some rituals you do to lower stress?