Anxiety…. so many of us live with a level of anxiety that is less than helpful and that often times can be pretty difficult to manage. Interrupting our lives, goals, experiences, etc. The other challenge is that when we are experiencing anxiety, it’s easy to mistake our thoughts for facts, instead of recognizing that this is our anxiety or anxious thoughts “taking over.” During these moments, we can also develop physical reactions to the anxiety, such as an increased heart rate, faster and shallower breath, headaches, lightheadedness, stomach pains, nausea and of course many other symptoms.
Mindfulness involves the practice of fully paying attention to our current experiences. This helps us pay attention to daily life and the things we typically rush through. Bringing your attention to the present moment can help you do the opposite of being stuck in your anxious mind, by using your senses to take in the world around you, rather than your anxious thoughts and feelings.
Using some mindfulness techniques during our days can be helpful. In therapy, your therapist can help you explore different ways to help manage your anxiety. It can be very helpful to have some “go to” tools to use, based on how your anxiety is effecting your life on a daily basis.
Here are 3 Mindfulness exercises:
Focusing the mind on our breathing helps connect us to the present moment. How can a simple task like breathing help in this way? Well, focusing on the present moment offers our minds a break from being preoccupied.
Here are some examples of breathing exercises:
1. 4-7-8 Breathing
Use these numbers to guide your breathing. The idea is that you breathe in slowly for 4 counts, then you hold that breath for 7 counts and finally exhale for 8 counts.
2. Finger breathing
Hold one hand out in front of you. With the index finger of your other hand, trace up the outside length of your thumb while you breath in, pausing at the top of your thumb and then trace it down the other side while you breath out. That’s one breath. Trace up the side of the next finger while you breathe in, again pause at the top, and then trace down the other side of that finger while you breathe out. That’s two breaths. Keep going, tracing along each finger as you count each breath. When you get the end of the last finger, come back up that finger and do it in reverse.
Here is an example of Sensation Exercises:
3. Mindful Walk
The “good old mental health walk” is a good one to mention. I chuckle a bit as I type this because of course I have seen the social media posts and TikToks about someone begrudgingly going on a mental health walk because their therapist said it could help. Movement is helpful in reducing anxiety. Doing it mindfully can have added benefit! At the current moment in the Midwest, where I live, the weather outside is in full fall mode which can mean a warm day, or a very cold day with some snow flurries. It’s important to note that at any time of year, you can engage in a mindful walk indoors by removing your shoes and concentrating on the feel of your feet on the floor. You don’t have to wait for that “perfect” weather day to walk outside. You can still note textures and temperature inside. Tune in to the sensation of movement throughout your body. See how it feels to move very slowly for several minutes. You can also take a mindful walk outdoors, turning your attention to the world around you. What do you see, hear, smell and feel? What does the air feel like against your skin? What does the ground feel like as you walk. Even with shoes on, you can still take inventory of sensations under your feet, such as leaves crunching under your feet, wet or dry pavement or grass, etc. When anxious thoughts intrude, notice them and then return to being mindful of your activity.
Of course I need to add here that this post and very short list is not meant to be taken as medical advice nor as a substitute for therapy! It is meant to help start answering some curiosity you may have about mindfulness and how it can possibly be helpful with managing anxiety. There are many more tips and tricks on ways to bring mindfulness into your daily life and so many more exercises to share. In therapy sessions, your therapist can help guide you towards finding and incorporating specific tools and exercises into your life that can help minimize anxiety. Feel free to ask your therapist for ways that mindfulness may help!