How to defeat anxiety with mindfulness
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders. Left untreated, it can result in a significantly lowered quality of life, reduced productivity, and even depression. Fortunately there are a number of self-help methods that can reduce anxiety. One of these is mindfulness.
In essence, to be mindful is to pay attention to your surroundings in such a way that you remain focused on the present. This provides immediate relief for those with anxiety, as much of the stress experienced by anxiety sufferers arises from a tendency to ruminate on past experiences, worry about the future, or both.
Three simple exercises to help you get started
Although the positive effects of mindfulness on anxiety are simple enough to understand, it can be difficult to know exactly how to apply this approach in everyday life. Below are three mindfulness exercises that can be used almost anywhere to help you slow down and center yourself in the present. They require no special equipment, can be learned quickly, and are even suitable for children and teenagers.
1. Grounding exercise
Stand up straight and maintain good posture without letting your back become stiff. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with your arms hanging loosely by your sides. If you are wearing high-heeled shoes, take them off and let your feet rest flat against the floor. Close your eyes. Take slow, deep breaths.
Once you have settled into a pattern of deep breathing, shift your attention to your body. Notice how your feet are set firmly against the floor. Flex your toes, noticing how it feels to contract your muscles. Imagine that you are being pulled towards the center of the earth. Notice how much calmer you feel.
2. Breathing exercise
Breathing exercises regulate the amount of carbon dioxide circulating in your blood, which can help overcome some common symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks such as hyperventilation. Sit, stand or lie down in a position that is comfortable for you. Close your eyes. Inhale, and as you do so, count to three. Exhale slowly, counting to four. Focus on the feeling of air entering your body, and the sound of your inner voice as you count.
3. Sensory noticing exercise
Sit down in a comfortable position with your eyes open. Take a few moments to register what you are seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing and feeling. Notice each piece of sensory information. When we feel anxious, we often miss that which is literally in front of our faces because we are so lost in negative thoughts and fears.
You can carry out this exercise wherever you are, but if you need more direction find a small object upon which to focus your attention. Something like an ornament or a kitchen implement works well. Turn the object over in your hands and notice how it feels. Take a close look at it. What color is it? Does it make a noise when you tap it? Making this kind of careful investigation in a mindful manner will help calm internal chatter and ground you.
When to practice your new mindfulness skills
Once you have learned these three simple mindfulness tips, you need never be overwhelmed by panic or anxiety again. When you begin to feel overwhelmed in a situation, pick one of these exercises and carry it out. If you find these techniques difficult in the beginning, know that this is normal. It may take a while before you can focus your attention on the present moment. Give yourself time to master the art of mindfulness and rest assured that your efforts will pay off in the long run.