Anxiety is a mental health disorder that affects millions across the globe. While feeling anxious from time to time is a normal part of the human experience, continuous anxiety can prevent someone from enjoying life to the fullest. With a wide range of options available to manage symptoms and find relief, mindfulness exercises for anxiety provide methods that are accessible, free, and immediate.
What is Mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is attention on the present. Only when we are present can we be observant of our experiences and keep our perspective on what is rather than what might be. Mindfulness helps us observe our thoughts and feelings with curiosity, compassion, and without judgment.
Mindfulness Exercises for Anxiety
When anxiety causes us to become preoccupied with concern for future events, we begin to worry about all the things that could go wrong. This often creates more anxiety. Mindfulness exercises allow us to break free from this pattern of thinking and actively refocus on the present moment. Practicing one or multiple of the following exercises on a consistent basis can help them become second nature.
Checking in with your doctor is always the first step to creating a treatment plan, but we hope these mindfulness exercises for anxiety provide you additional support in staying centered throughout your day.
- Ground in the Present. Anxiety can cause a preoccupation with unknown future outcomes. For this reason, taking a moment to ground yourself in the present can be a calming exercise. The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a useful and easy tool to add to your routine:
- Describe 5 things you see in the room.
- Name 4 things you can feel (ex. “my feet on the floor” or “the air in my nose”).
- Name 3 things you hear right now (ex. “traffic outside”).
- Name 2 things you can smell right now (or 2 smells you like).
- Name 1 good thing about yourself.
By utilizing your senses and naming what is happening around you, your focus comes back to your current experience.
- Keep a Thought Diary. Turning to the pages of a thought diary can be a cathartic way to process the many thoughts that consume an anxious mind. Documenting your thoughts and bodily sensations as they happen can provide insights to your patterns and habits. An added benefit of a thought diary is that you are able to identify and work through feelings and emotions that you might not be comfortable sharing with someone else. A private space to self-reflect can help you be more honest and open. Writing down your anxious thoughts gives them a place to go so that your mind is better able to get back in the moment. To create your thought diary, create 3 headings at the top of any notebook:
- Thoughts/What am I telling myself?
- How anxious do I feel?
Leave space to record your thoughts whenever you experience noticeable anxiety or physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking, or chest pain. Over time, look for patterns in the way you react in certain situations. This insight provides the foundation from which to work with your thoughts more productively.
- Breathe. One of the most natural and underused tools at our disposal is breath. Anxious breath is shallow and rapid. A focus on deep and rhythmic breathing can shift the entire state of mind to a calmer state. Apps like Stop, Breathe, and Think and Calm provide short, guided breath practice that can be useful when on-the-go. Or, a simple exercise to get started is to breathe from the diaphragm and count to yourself so that the exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation. Breathing is an entirely automatic process, and yet a naturally mindful practice: we are never focused on the breaths we took yesterday, or the breaths we will take two hours from now. There is only the breath we are currently taking.
- Practice Restorative Yoga. Practices such as Yin Yoga are especially helpful in calming and soothing the mind and body. The long holds of postures anchors you in the present. There is no need to think ahead to the next pose. As you are still for a longer duration, you will feel your body start to slowly open and relax. These subtle sensations allow you to tune into your physical body in a way that can be difficult to do in the rush of our daily lives. Marinate is a great plan that combines the benefits of both Yin Yoga and meditation to give you the mind-body connection that is so essential in staying centered.
While no two cases are alike, mindfulness exercises for anxiety can be effective tools to help navigate the challenges the day might bring. Mindfulness provides many benefits to our everyday lives, allowing us to live with more intention and awaken to each moment as it comes.