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Can’t Relax Because of Anxiety? Get Repetitive.

Activities that require repetitive action help you calm down when you're feeling extremely restless. Check out these repetitive activities and calm anxiety now.

Have you ever experienced a restlessness that goes beyond restlessness? Perhaps you’ve felt at times as though you were going to explode out of your own skin. Maybe your anxiety has sometimes completely prevented you from relaxing no matter what you do to bring a sense of tranquillity. When calming activities agitate rather than soothe, do the opposite: take action, repetitively.

It has become an undisputed truth that physical exercise is good for us. It’s good for physical health. It’s good for mental health. Equally beneficial, especially for anxiety, are activities that involve repetition.

What Benefits Do Repetitive Actions Bring to Anxiety?

Engaging in repetitious diversions balances the mind and the body. None of the activities in the list require much thought, yet they offer physical movements upon which to concentrate. As such, the mind can let go of its anxieties and worries (or at least decrease their intensity) because it can get lost in the sheer, soothing repetition of the action.

This concentrating on “something but nothing” leads to relaxation. As we relax, we begin to unwind. The physical tension dissipates, whether we literally kick it out with a ball and a wall or squeeze it out via clay. As this happens, the anxiety-induced restlessness is reduced.

Also, these activities simply provide a break from the stress of life. This is crucial in reducing anxiety. Like a soothing, cleansing rain, the sound of which is repetitive, repetitive actions calm us and help us stay in our skin.

What Activities Involve Repetition?

The below list includes some examples. All involve actions of some sort, because when you feel like you’re going to jump out of your skin, you need to move your body. All involve doing the same motion again and again. All are beneficial in reducing anxiety. And all are activities I’ve used and were suggested by both professionals and peers.

  1. Kick a ball against a wall over and over and over.
  2. Hit a tennis ball against a backboard, wall, or garage door again and again and again.
  3. When anxiety causes extreme restlessness, it can be hard to calm down. Sometimes the best thing to do is to engage in activities that require repetitive action.Squeeze and squish clay or Play Doh, oozing it and feeling the sensation.
  4. Make a sandcastle. Smash it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  5. Jump rope. Count as you jump. When you trip, start over again.
  6. Swim laps. Count the strokes.
  7. Squeeze a stress ball. You can make one with a balloon and sand.
  8. Finger paint. Swirl your fingers around repetitively.
  9. Color. The purpose isn’t the picture; it’s the process, the repetitive stroke of the crayon.

Have you discovered an activity that helps you when your anxiety has you agitated?

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges as well as a self-help book on acceptance and commitment therapy. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

10 thoughts on “Can’t Relax Because of Anxiety? Get Repetitive.”

  1. Late to the party… but swinging (in a hammock, or on a swingset) or rocking in a chair is my favorite destresser! Very repetitive and calming.

    1. Exactly! Music can have the added bonus of affecting not just levels of anxiety but mood, too (which often go hand-in-hand). Hopefully you also get a feeling of satisfaction, too, that accompanies housecleaning. Cleaning house is something that works for me, too.

  2. I find that crochet or stringing beads is very calming. I love being creative, focusing on the color and the activity, until I am totally relaxed.

  3. I will try doing this. The only thing that prohibits me from enjoying exercise is that it seems when my adrenaline gets going, like it does during weight training, it triggers my anxiety. It’s almost like I can’t stop for very long or even have one thought come into my mind or else it gets triggered.

  4. I *love* this post! I have never come across any research that discusses it, but I can tell you from personal experience—as someone who suffers from mild-but-persistent anxiety—repetitive actions are very, very calming.

    I liked your suggestion about the tennis ball. I try to incorporate repetitive motion in my exercise, and have found that cardio workouts (particularly ones that involve dance, martial arts, or aerobics) are really helpful.

    Anyway, thank you again for posting!

    Matthew

    1. I’m so glad you commented, Matthew. It’s great that you found activities that help with anxiety. Repetitive actions definitely are helpful to me, and I, too, find cardio workouts to be beneficial (non-cardio repetition helps me, too, but cardio offers the added bonuses of increased bloodflow, release of endorphins, etc.) I noticed you mentioned martial arts (very repetitive!). Years ago, I trained because it worked for anxiety reduction, but a head injury (car accident) forced me to stop. I did find other things, including many of the things on the list.

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