Anxiety is a pervasive problem that seems to be continually growing in today’s society. Men and women, young and old, people from all walks of life struggle with anxiety. Sometimes it is just an anxious thought here or there. Other times, stress can get overwhelming and anxiety can begin to feel paralyzing or debilitating.
Anxiety can appear on its own or in relation to another health problem such as panic attacks, depression. While it is always wise to talk to your doctor about anxiety if you struggle with any of these mental health conditions, some milder difficulties can be managed with helpful behavior modifications and mindfulness exercises.
Mindfulness and Anxiety
Anxiety is often caused by the fact that the world seems to be going at such a fast pace and it is difficult to keep up. Past experiences of abuse, neglect, fear, trauma, stress, hormones, and even environmental conditions may contribute to anxious thoughts and feelings.
For many people, anxiety is an emotional or mental condition experienced with physical symptoms. These may include heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea, sleeplessness, shallow breathing, headache, shaking and other physical symptoms.
When anxious thoughts and feelings are met with mindfulness, they are often able to be slowed or even stopped so that the person is able to feel calm again and the panic is abated. Practicing mindfulness exercises allows a person to focus their minds on the present moment, becoming less overwhelmed by fear or worry that takes them into the past or the future. Remaining in the present provides a person with the ability to gain control over the moment, corralling their fears and experiencing personal victories in their lives.
Mindfulness Techniques for Anxiety
These activities and exercises are useful for bringing your mind into the present moment in order to stop the spinning anxiety of thoughts and emotions.
Mindfulness Activity: Object of Focus
One simple introductory mindfulness exercise uses only a raisin (or any object, really, but a raisin is an easy one).
- Consider the raisin as if you’ve never encountered one before.
- What does it look like?
- What does it feel like?
- What does it smell like?
- How does it react when you manipulate or move it?
- What does it taste like?
Focusing on one single object that is right in front of you allows you to remove the temptation to expend excess energy in worry or rumination over other parts of life. This allows for grounding opportunities based on one tiny object—a raisin.
Mindfulness Activity: Objective Vision
This simple exercise only requires a window to look out of with some sort of view.
- Find a comfortable space to look out the window.
- As you look outside, consider what there is to see.
- Avoid labeling items with words, but simply notice the way that things look without considering their names.
- Pay special attention to colors, textures, patterns, or other interesting factors.
- Notice movements of leaves in the breeze.
- Pay attention to the way shapes are arranged.
- Try noticing things as someone who has never look through a window before, with a fresh perspective of observation. Perhaps like a child.
- Afterwards, consider how are you feeling? Does this mindfulness help to calm you?
Mindfulness Activity: Mini-Mindfulness Technique
This short little exercise is easy to perform almost anywhere and helps to bring you back into balance in a short amount of time. Find a comfortable position in which you can press the “pause” button on your life for a moment.
- First, take yourself off of auto-pilot for a moment and just stop everything. Be aware of what you are thinking, sensing, and doing in the very moment at hand. Don’t ignore your feelings but also don’t give them any weight. If you have feelings, simply acknowledge them and let them move on. Focus on who you are in the current moment.
- Second, focus on your breathing. For just a minute, be aware of how your body breathes, how it moves with each breath, how your lungs feel. Consider your breath patterns and how this can act as an anchor for you.
- Third, open up your awareness from your breathing to your body. Consider the sensations you are experiencing such as pains, tightness, or tingling. Keep in mind your body as a whole being made up of smaller parts that all work together as a vessel for your inner self.
- Fourth, expand your awareness to the environment around you. Notice what is in front of you. Colors, patterns, textures, shapes of the things that you can see. Be present and aware of the current moment, of your surroundings, of the here and the now.
Now take with you the current mindfulness and focus you have established into whatever activity you are doing next.
Mindfulness Activity: Three Minutes of Breathing Space
This activity is easy to perform just about anywhere and works well as a quick time to rebalance the mind after a stressful situation:
- Breathe deeply for one minute while asking the question: How Am I Doing Right Now? Focus on the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that come up. Without judgment, try to give words to these emotions or thoughts.
- For the second minute, focus completely on the awareness of your deep breaths.
- For the third minute, expand the attention from the breath into the way the body is affected by your breathing in and out.
- If distracting thoughts pop into the mind during breathing, simply acknowledge them and allow them to leave again just as they came. Observe without allowing them to have any impact on your present moment.
Mindfulness exercises for anxiety can be useful for all types of people in all kinds of situations and struggles. Sometimes taking three minutes out for breathing space between stressful meetings in the work day can make all the difference between coping and feeling overwhelmed and unsuccessful.
Getting your mind away from spinning, stressful thoughts and back on track is not always easy, but can be accomplished with mindfulness exercises used as tools, alongside of counseling, behavioral therapy, family support and proper medical care when needed. Using all of these together will help to draw you away from your anxiety and back into the healthy, happy person you were created to be.