“Do not let your difficulties fill you with anxiety; after all it is only in the darkest nights that stars shine more brightly.” – Ali Ibn Abi Talib
It’s 3:00 am. I wake up and immediately get a hit of anxiety. It’s the free-floating kind and I find myself casting around to figure out what the anxiety is about.
I deal with some level of worry and anxiety almost every day, but I’ve learned I’m not alone with this.
According to the World Health Organization anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues worldwide.1
A recent survey conducted by AARP Foundation (the American Association of Retired Persons) found that two-thirds of adults are experiencing social isolation, 47% report feeling anxious and more than half (66%) are struggling with increasing anxiety.2
We all have worry from time to time but according to Anxiety Canada, anxiety becomes a problem when it stops you from doing important things that you want to do.3
From Anxiety to Serenity
I have been thinking about the opposite of anxiety. What is that exactly? I looked it up and here is one definition: Calmness and serenity. Aha. You may well have heard of the serenity prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
OK, I want some of that. Especially lately. But how to get there. There are hundreds of books and blogs written about reducing anxiety, suggesting different approaches – sitting meditation, body scans, deep breathing, mindful imagery, mindful eating.
All good things—for example, I’ve learned to meditate in the mornings to create a calmer day. However, if you are like me, it is hard to keep calm in place all day long.
I wanted a quick fix with results that I can use at any time throughout the day. So, I’ve put together 5 simple ways to enhancing serenity I use that you can also try on the go, at work, or at home. Pick and choose what works for you.
Seeking Serenity: 5 Easy Ways
1. The Five Senses Approach: Getting Present
Serenity can only exist in the present moment. There are many versions of this 5 senses approach and it is one of my favorites. It is a simple and fast way to return to the present moment. This can be done silently while sitting at your desk, while you are on a walk, or standing in line. Go through the five senses one at a time.
I see… (a candle, a tree, sunshine, rain)
I hear … (a bird, traffic, people talking, a plane, silence)
I touch… (the pen in my hands, my warm sweater)
I taste … (coffee, the clean mint of my toothpaste)
I smell …. (bread baking, the clean fresh air)
Then take a deep breath and repeat twice: “I have everything I need right now, and it is always right now”.
2. Saying Thank You (over and over)
This has been so helpful to me, especially when I’m hit with anxiety out of nowhere, as sometimes happens at night. I’ve learned that saying thank you, over and over and over and over, actually calms me down. I sometimes have to say it 20 or more times before I feel calmer and fall back asleep. It works like a charm.
Once I am calm enough, I add 3 specific people or things I am grateful for. For example, I say thank you for my sheepdog Molly whom I adore, the loving home I live in, and having a wonderful purpose in life.
3. Wishing Serenity for Others
Getting our attention off ourselves and onto others – that is, wishing serenity for others, is an instant fix for anxiety. Take a moment to think of three people in your life who may be struggling. Or it can be a group of people, such as in my case, my concern for residents living in care homes around the world.
Jot down the list if you can. Then take a deep breath and say out loud (or silently if that is not possible): “I send the light of my being to heal and comfort you now.”
4. The Five Finger Serenity Approach
My wonderful husband taught me this approach great for at night when one cannot fall asleep.
Try touching each finger while thinking of the following:
- thumb—this represents the (big) infinite universe, a Higher Power, God, Allah (whatever is comfortable for you). Contemplate the vastness, awe, and miracle of life.
- index finger—this represents those I may have a resentment against—who I tend to point my finger at. I think about the struggles they may have had in their journey. I try to put myself in their shoes and feel empathy for their situation.
- middle finger—this is the longest finger and therefore represents all the people in the world, especially those who may be suffering. I feel empathy for them and send healing and comfort.
- ring finger—this represents my family of choice and friends, and how fortunate I am to have them in my life. I am thankful and wish them well with whatever challenges they may be dealing with.
- little finger—if I’m still awake at this point, my little finger represents me and all that I’m grateful for. (Repeat until you fall asleep—voilà).
5. Five Serenity Affirmations
Affirmations are powerful. I use them all the time. Here are 5 favorites I have gathered from a wide variety of sources along the way. Pick and choose any you like, and/or of course, make up your own. Repeat 3 times.
“I am strong and courageous, and my best is good enough.”
“Slow down, calm down. Don’t worry, don’t hurry.”
“Just do the next part with all my heart.”
“I greet how I feel today, whatever that is, with awareness, loving kindness and compassion.”
“I have enough, I am enough.”
Staying stuck with anxiety tells us that the worst thing will happen. There are so many things we do not have control over and a world of worry without end. But I do believe we have control over where we put our thoughts, our energy, and our time.
What we focus on grows. You are not your anxiety and deserve to feel serenity and be at peace. That is my wish for you.
“Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Respectfully submitted by Dr. Kristine Theurer
1 The World Mental Health Survey Initiative: https://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/wmn/
2 The Pandemic Effect: A Social Isolation Report: The Pandemic Effect: A Social Isolation Report – Connect2Affect
3 When Does Anxiety Become a Problem? https://www.anxietycanada.com/articles/when-does-anxiety-become-a-problem-2/
DISCLAIMER: Information provided here is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.