What is mindfulness and how can it help your anxiety?

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What is mindfulness and how can it help your anxiety?

Mindfulness is a strategy that allows for present thinking. Focusing on the present moment improves the ability to calmly accept (and understand) one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness is often used as a helpful strategy in therapy, but it can also be done outside of those therapy appointments. The benefit of learning mindfulness techniques is being able to access these tools whenever and wherever you need!

So, let’s take a look at some helpful tools to kickstart your journey into mindfulness:

  • Mindful Breathing: Start by standing, laying or sitting comfortably. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Now, take a deep breath in through your nose. As you breathe in, notice which hand is rising. If the hand on your chest is rising, you aren’t taking a full, deep breath. Allow the air to pass down through the lungs and into your stomach. Then, empty your lungs by breathing out through your mouth. Feel the rise and fall of your hand on your stomach with each breath. Purposely notice your breath and the sensations you feel. Is the air you’re breathing in cold or warm? Is your breath fast or slow? Now, let go of your thoughts and simply allow yourself to be one with your breath and these sensations.
  • Body Scan: This exercise can be done on your own, or through the guidance of a meditation video. The body scan runs through each part of your body, systematically moving from your feet to your head. The benefit of the body scan is that it requires very little props or tools, so it’s a great resource to use when you’re laying in bed at night. To begin, start by lying on your back with your palms facing up and your feet slightly apart (you are also welcome to sit comfortably in a chair). Now, bring your awareness to your breath and begin to calm your mind. Start with your feet, all you need to do is guide your attention to how that part of the body feels (e.g. the texture of your socks against your skin, the tightness of your muscles, how your body part feels against the surface). Stay with this body part for a few breath cycles. If you notice yourself becoming distracted, guide yourself back to the exercise and continue from where you left off. Systematically move upwards as follows:
    1. Feet
    2. Lower legs
    3. Knees
    4. Thighs
    5. Buttocks/pelvis
    6. Stomach
    7. Chest
    8. Back (upper and lower)
    9. Hands
    10. Arms
    11. Neck
    12. Face and head
  • Mindful Appreciation: The purpose of this exercise is to help you improve your gratitude for present interactions. Using a piece of paper, identify 5 people, places or things you are grateful for. Your identified items can even be basic things we regularly overlook throughout our day (e.g. electricity, vehicles, limbs, nature sounds or even the dishwasher!) Once you’ve identified your list, allow yourself to properly acknowledge the importance of these things. Have you ever considered what your life would be like without these people, places or things? Have you ever acknowledged the benefits of these people, places or things? Make it your daily purpose to truly appreciate these by acknowledging their support in your life.
  • Mindful Eating: We all eat to survive, but are we actually paying attention to what and how we’re eating? Mindful eating allows your focus to be on the food and the sensation of eating, rather than excessive and ruminating anxious thoughts. Next time you eat something, notice the way the food looks, how it feels, its smell and finally its taste. Pay careful attention to the sensation of eating and notice your food items in ways you never have. Also, recognize how your body feels after eating this food. Do you feel fueled? Do you feel bloated or gassy? How has this food affected your body? Using this exercise will help you focus more on what’s in front of you, rather than on other (potentially unhealthy) thoughts.

These are great tools to help ground you in the present moment. If you find your mind wandering during any of the above activities, gently guide it back to the exercise and the present moment. And, as with any new exercise, it takes time and practice. Be kind to you, give yourself the chance to practice these skills regularly. If you’re interested in learning more about these skills or other ways to manage anxiety or depression, contact our office today to schedule an appointment with our Licensed Counselor!