Using Rituals to Tame Anxiety

Many athletes are superstitious. For example, Serena Williams wears the same pair of socks throughout a single tournament run. Former Boston Redsocks third baseman Wade Boggs would eat chicken before every game. Michael Jordan always wore his North Carolina college shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform. While it may seem silly, science backs up the use of these types of rituals to calm the athlete’s nerves and focus their mind.

In addition to helping athletes calm their nerves and succeed, research shows that rituals can be useful for soothing anxiety. This is important because stress, and the anxiety that comes with it, can hamper your performance.

The Good and Bad About Rituals

Research has found that some rituals, like knocking on wood, wishing on a star, or flipping coins can help you to feel more in control. However, you may want to choose rituals that carry more meaning and deliver positive side effect because these repetitive actions can cause new troubles if they become excessive.

A great example of how rituals can lead to problems was the TV series, Monk. In the series the main character, Adrian Monk, played by Tony Shalhoub, developed ritualistic methods of dealing with stress and anxiety. These rituals turn into an obsessive–compulsive disorder, which become huge challenges for him and constant frustration for those around him.  

While having a ritual like knocking on wood won’t have much affect on your life, you certainly wouldn’t want your rituals to cause you to pick up the quirkiness of someone like Monk. So today, let’s examine how you can create your own safe and effective rituals. Rituals that can empower you.

A Few Rituals to Relieve Anxiety

1.    Clear away the clutter around you.

There are a couple of great reasons to clean up your surroundings. The first is moving around will make you feel calmer. The second is a tidy desk and kitchen will help you feel more peaceful.

2.    Do some housework.

If you have energy and time after cleaning your surroundings, move on to dusting and mopping. Rhythmic activities that you can focus your thoughts on are especially comforting. You may find that you can even save a little money by doing your own chores instead of hiring a housekeeper.

3.    Listen to music that calms you.

A great way to do this is to create playlists that work for you. Choose the type of music that fits your style. For example, you may prefer piano sonatas or country music. If you are alone, singing and dancing can also help.

4.    Play with your pet.

Studies have found that playing or interacting with a pet raises your serotonin and dopamine levels, which can calm your mind and help you feel less anxious and stressed. It also promotes healing while lowering your blood pressure. If you don’t have a pet, volunteer to walk your neighbor’s dog or cat sit for a day.

5. Get up from your desk.

According to the Mayo Clinic, sitting at a desk for too long can be bad for your health. In addition to obesity, it can also cause “increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels.”  If you slump over your keyboard, it can also deprive you of vital oxygen which can increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Adopt the ritual of getting up for ten minutes every hour. Take a deep breath and stand up straight. This will help your body to relax while boosting your circulation.

6.    Dress up.

In many rituals around the world people dress up or put on special clothing to celebrate. You can make yourself feel better and more successful by adopting this ritual. You may want to wear some fancy suspenders or a special blouse or dress.

Practical Activities You Can Utilize for Anxiety

Eating chicken or wearing your college shorts underneath won’t carry you to victory unless you know how to play baseball or basketball in the first place. This is why it’s best to use rituals in moderation and then combine them with practical action.


Here are some activities that can help you to take positive action:

1.    Name your feelings.

Holding in your emotions are bad for your health and your relationships. Instead of suppressing them, ask yourself, “what am I feeling right now?” and accept those feelings for what they are. For example, allowing yourself to feel nervous or confused.

2.    Reframe your thinking.

Reframing simply means examining your thoughts from a different perspective. For example, many people get nervous or frightened when thinking about certain events, such as speaking in public. To shift your mindset while still validating your feelings, imagine that you’re excited rather than anxious. You can use reframing to look for the positive aspects within any challenge.

3.    Take care of yourself.

Taking care of your mental and physical health will make you stronger and more resilient. Take the time to prepare and eat a nutritious diet. Exercise regularly (see #4). Set aside enough time for sleep. Research different methods to manage stress.

4.    Practice some type of physical activity.

One of the best ways to deal with stress is to do something physically active. Working out is especially constructive for dealing with anxiety. Visit your local fitness center or set up a home gym. Start taking yoga or martial arts lessons. Work out in the garden. Vacuum the house.

If you have a busy day in front of you, schedule a morning run or swim. If you have to deal with a cranky customer, do a few pushups or walk for a few minutes afterwards.

5.    Make time for reflection and meditation.

When you take time to reflect and meditate you are getting in touch with your deeper self. Connecting with your spiritual self can help you transform the obstacles that come up in your life into opportunities for personal growth. Find poems and scriptures inspire you. Read personal development books and take a few moments to meditate on what you’ve read. Read and reflect on quotations, such as this one from Confucius, “To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.

6.    Keep a journal.

Use a journal to figure out and process your feelings. Use it to identify patterns that you want to change. You can also use writing, drawing, and other creative activities to help you handle tension. You might consider exploring other arts and crafts as well.

7.    Consider therapy or counseling.

Sometimes events can happen, like Monk’s loss of his wife, that can cause anxiety to become so severe that you begin to depend on your rituals. What do you do when they start to interfere with your daily life? This is when you might consider professional help. Talk therapy and medication may help you treat your symptoms and enjoy life more.

Put Rituals to Work in Your Life

Hopefully by now you have a much better idea on how you can use rituals to deal with anxiety. Put the rituals in this article to work for you when you’re dealing with an uncertain or challenging situation. Used wisely, they can restore your peace of mind and help you achieve the results you desire.

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