Mindfulness 101 for Anxiety
So you’re reading this on your laptop. Or phone. Or watch (I don’t know, is that a thing?) Cool. Welcome to Mindfulness 101: the Anxiety edition. So to dive right into the practice as we go over some details, please go ahead and notice the sole of your foot. Feel the temperature at the sole of your foot. Don’t change anything that your foot is doing, just bring your attention to it and just let it be your foot.
Part of a quote by Lao Tzu states that “…Anxiety is when you are living in the future.” This is a lot of the mindset part of anxiety; regardless of what anxiety disorder you have, you worry and become overwhelming anxious about avoiding or preventing events in the future that could make us uncomfortable or bring us harm. As people with anxious mindsets, we develop this way of cognitive thinking from stressing or traumatic events in our past, and this mindset develops into how we cautiously approach our every day and futures. Now, bring your attention to any parts of your body that you are currently tensing as you think of stress. Take a deep breath in. Take a moment to relax that part of your body. You don’t need to carry that stress right now, you are just breathing and reading right now. Notice how the area changes as you let the tension go.
Mindfulness is a tool to bring our attention back to the present moment and work from that space. It is a widely growing tool used in psychotherapy to combat the anxiety- to re-train the brain away from automatic anxious responses to stimuli and anxious self-talk, and to teach us how to use our natural problem-solving skills in a “what can I do for myself in the present moment?” way (Desrosiers et al, 2013). It also teaches us to be more conscientious and non-judgemental of our emotions, thoughts, body sensations and whatever else we can bring into our awareness. Like your nose. Just the feeling of your nose on your face. Or the feeling of your breath in your chest. Is your chest area tight or open as you breathe in? Are you breathing in all the way, from your chest or belly? Just take a moment to follow your breath as it enters and leaves your body.
Mindfulness is a great way to learn to become more conscientious of your emotional and environmental factors- instead of running off of unconscious habits or anxious patterns. It allows us to become more aware of ourselves as individuals. We also take more of a perspective- view of our emotions and thoughts instead of becoming so tied up in them. In a qualitative study on how Mindfulness affects wellbeing and anxiety symptoms in women with chronic illness, mindfulness was shown to raise overall quality of life, and decrease anxiety and depressive symptoms along with negative thoughts and emotions in patients who used mindfulness techniques for an 8-week period (Stefanak et al, 2015).
Take a moment to check in on yourself. What is your current emotional state? Don’t try to alter or pick at it. Don’t judge yourself for your emotions or label them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They are there, they are your emotions. Just notice where you are at right now. Breathe into that feeling. It’s ok. It’s just a feeling. Let them be. Let yourself Be.
It also gives us a pause to recognize what is truly happening in the moment- around us and inside of us- and gives us the power to choose how we feel we want to act instead. Sometimes anxiety has us so overloaded or completely shut down we do not even realize we have a choice on how we would like to handle a situation instead. Mindful pause and reflection gives us the chance to do that for ourselves, and to plug us back into our lives to handle life as we choose. It gives us the power back. Notice how the inside of your mouth feels. Focus on the qualities of that part of you- is it moist or dry? Hot? Did you just start salivating more?
There is no one ‘right way’ of practicing mindfulness. There are many, many different ways and exercises used to practice mindfulness. The key is just to use something that plugs you back into your moment and makes you feel strong. Here are a few examples, used in this article:
1.Breathing- focus all of our attention onto our breathing, and let the breathing fill our body. Deep breathing helps to and calm us and gives us something good to focus our attention onto.
2. Grounding- this technique is used specifically for grounding people in the middle of an anxiety/panic attack. Find 5 things you can hear, 4 things you can see, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you taste. Anxiety usually pulls focus away from these body functions during an anxiety attack, so to bring attention back to these basic body functions to pull you out of the anxiety attack.
3. Momentary awareness- pulling yourself from your mind to take in all the internal and external stimuli you can sense in the moment you are in. This helps to teach people how to leave their anxious thoughts and to be present in the moment and act from that space instead.
4. Heartfulness- taking a pause to feel into any and all emotions that come up within you, without judgement, and just allow them and yourself to be.
5. Sensory mindfulness- taking notice of the images, thoughts, body sensations and emotions you are having.
6. Choosing your thoughts- when thoughts seem to overwhelms us, we can learn to let go of thoughts that do not serve us or choose to think about things that do serve us instead. This teaches us to detach from our thoughts and to learn that our thoughts are not who we are and not reality.
We practice mindfulness not as a tool to escape out troubles or worries, or let it blind us to the reality of the situation. Stressful things will still happen. Anxiety will still come up. But, with tools like mindfulness, we learn (to not let our thoughts drain us but to refocus our energy). It ultimately teaches us to be accepting of our moment and of ourselves, to work with what we have, and to redirect our focus on the power and strength we all carry within.
So breathe in, and breathe out.
Desrosiers, A., Vine, V., Klemanski, D. H., & Nolen‐Hoeksema, S. (2013). Mindfulness and emotion regulation in depression and anxiety: Common and distinct mechanisms of action. Depression And Anxiety, 30(7), 654-661. doi:10.1002/da.22124
Stefanaki, C., Bacopoulou, F., Livadas, S., Kandaraki, A., Karachalios, A., Chrousos, G. P., & Diamanti-Kandarakis, E. (2015). Impact of a mindfulness stress management program on stress, anxiety, depression and quality of life in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. Stress: The International Journal On The Biology Of Stress, 18(1), 57-66. doi:10.3109/10253890.2014.974030