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Practice Mental Yoga for Anxiety: Psychological Flexibility

December 12, 2019 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Practicing mental yoga can help reduce anxiety because it builds psychological flexibility. Mental yoga isn't a formal practice with certain poses and movements; instead, it's a way of thinking, feeling, and behaving--a way of being, of living. Just as yoga increases physical flexibility (among other things), mental yoga increases psychological flexibility. As you practice, you can free yourself from anxiety.

Psychological Flexibility Is Needed to Counter Anxiety's Rigid Ways

Anxiety is life-limiting. It can cause us to avoid people, places, and activities that we wish we could enjoy. Anxiety distorts our thoughts and manipulates our emotions. It colors how we view and interpret ourselves and others. When we see our world through anxiety's lens, our lives become rigid and imbalanced. Worries, fears, and panic overpower wonder, enjoyment, and serenity. Struggling against anxiety can get us nowhere because anxiety's grip is too tight. But when we become more psychologically flexible, we can bend rather than break when facing anxiety. 

Simply put, psychological flexibility is the ability to take different perspectives, consider multiple options. add new thoughts, and expand your responses to all situations, even bothersome, anxiety-provoking ones. It's a skill that anyone can develop, and there are specific ways to do it. Together, the things you do to develop psychological flexibility can be conceptualized as mental yoga. 

Bend Rather Than Break: Mental Yoga, Psychological Flexibility Shrink Anxiety

The strongest trees are those that are pliable and can bend slightly in even forceful winds. The ones that are hard and rigid, even though they appear big and strong, are the ones at risk of breaking in storms. The same is true for people. Living with anxiety is much like standing in a powerful, never-ending storm. To avoid being knocked down or broken, we need to be able to bend. Practicing mental yoga is what will develop the flexibility we need to make anxiety blow right past us. 

These mental yoga exercises will help you change how anxiety affects your life.

  • Cultivate awareness. Get to know yourself and your anxiety. Practice becoming still and simply noticing your anxious thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. The more in tune you are with your personal anxiety, the easier you'll be able to identify it and address it. 
  • Develop openness. Be open to all possibilities with the "Yep. And what else?" exercise. When social anxiety causes you to want to avoid a situation out of fear of imagined negative outcomes, practice openness. What else might happen other than what you fear? If you're worried about something bad happening to yourself or a loved one, think, "Yep. And what else could happen instead?" Openness lets you think of different ideas and possibilities to bend away from anxiety.  
  • Expand your perspective. Anxiety narrows our thoughts and interpretations of events and people and makes us believe that everything is about us. In reality, though, so much of life is about things and people other than ourselves. If your boss is short with you and you're worried that he or she wants to fire you, expand your perspective. Could something be going on with your boss? Brainstorm possible reasons why your boss might have been short. They might not be correct. Just like your original worry might not be correct. 
  • Count. When anxiety is high, our thoughts and emotions are also anxious. By extension, our behavior is largely an anxious reaction to whatever situation we are in at the moment. This usually makes things worse. It's important to put some space between your true self and your anxiety. Activities like counting in your head, mentally listing things such as animals that start with "c," or other repetitive, neutral items shift your thoughts so you can be present in the moment
  • Breathe. Deep breathing in physical yoga relaxes the body and delivers needed oxygen to the muscles and organs. Likewise, taking slow, deep breaths in mental yoga provides valuable oxygen to the brain so it can function properly. 

Mental yoga for psychological flexibility isn't about getting rid of anxiety completely and quickly. Instead, it's about nourishing who you are and developing new ways of thinking so you don't have to worry about breaking during anxiety's storms. Then, you'll be able to keep working on reducing the intensity of those storms. 

Tags: mental yoga

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, December 12). Practice Mental Yoga for Anxiety: Psychological Flexibility, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, June 6 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2019/12/practice-mental-yoga-for-anxiety-psychological-flexibility-0



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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