The Genesis Health Blog
Mindfulness and Anxiety: 5 Practices to Help Reduce Your Symptoms
Mindfulness is an ancient spiritual practice that has become a buzzword in the world of psychology over the past several years. Most people know that mindfulness can help you calm down and feel less stressed; what you may not have known is that mindfulness can actually help you with your symptoms if you have an anxiety diagnosis.
Mindfulness and anxiety are related in that anxiousness makes you very aware of what’s going on inside your head, whereas mindfulness is the practice of becoming more aware of your physical body. Knowing how these two sensations can play off one another can help you deal with your anxiety symptoms more effectively.
Here are some mindfulness practices to get you started.
5 Mindfulness Practices for Anxiety
So how can you start incorporating the wonderful practice of mindfulness into your life?
Today, we’re introducing 5 different mindfulness practices that can empower you to work on your anxiety recovery. Most of these are based on the structured mindfulness program created by Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR has been found to be very effective in helping people reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Many people start practicing mindfulness by using a mindful breathing exercise. To practice mindfulness, you need to learn how to stay in the present moment. But most people find it difficult to simply “stay present”. Focusing on the breath can give you an anchor for your awareness; it’s something constant and natural that you can stay connected to in each moment.
To practice mindful breathing, start by sitting in a comfortable seated position. You don’t need to be on a meditation cushion; you can practice this at any time, even at your desk at work. If you’d like to, close your eyes.
Now, simply become aware of your breath. As you breathe in, silently say to yourself: “I am breathing in.” As you breathe out, silently say to yourself: “I am breathing out.” You don’t need to control or change your breath in any way; just notice it and stay with it. Is the air hot or cold? Is your breath naturally deep, or naturally shallow?
When you feel your mind wandering, just gently bring it back to your breath, without any judgment for yourself. Since the breath is so constant, many people find it helpful to start their mindfulness journey with this practice.
Remember mindfulness and anxiety are two states of mind that you can choose. As you breathe in and out, choose to mindfully give your attention to the exercise rather than to your anxious thoughts.
You can take every meal as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Mindful eating is taught in MBSR as a way to find peace as you’re eating and be more conscious of what you’re consuming.
The next time you eat a meal, sit down and look at it first. What colors does your meal include? Next, inhale the aroma of your food. Try to differentiate between different scents. Notice how your body feels as you experience your food in this way. How hungry do you feel?
When it’s time to take a bite, be completely aware of your food as it enters your mouth. Put down your fork. Chew slowly, and savor every bite. What flavors can you distinguish? Don’t just swallow your food immediately; chew it many times. How does the flavor of the food change as it breaks down more and more?
Finally, after you’ve swallowed your first bite, pick your fork up for your second. Complete the process again. Be present with every mouthful. Pause and notice how full you’re feeling after every bite you take. When you feel satisfied, stop eating.
Mindful eating allows you to enjoy your food much more than mindlessly munching on snacks. With this practice, you can bring mindfulness and peace into every meal.
Some people think that you need to be seated in a cross-legged position to meditate. That’s a misconception! You don’t have to be seated at all to practice mindfulness meditation. A mindfulness practice called walking meditation allows you to be fully present with each step you take.
To practice this mindfulness technique, figure out where you’re going to walk. It doesn’t really matter where you decide to do this practice. You can walk in circles around a small room, or walk on a long trail in the forest. Once you’ve decided your route, take three breaths in and three breaths out to center yourself.
Then, begin walking. Walk slowly, and feel each corner of your foot as it meets the ground. Feel the Earth supporting you beneath your feet. You may also choose to pair your steps with your breaths. For example, perhaps you take two steps for each in-breath, and three steps for each out-breath. Or, if you need to walk more quickly, you can take four steps for each in-breath, and 6 breaths for each out-breath. You can find a rhythm that works for you.
If you notice your thoughts are wandering away from your steps, that’s okay. Simply notice that you’re lost in thought, and bring your awareness back to each moment — to each step.
You can practice walking meditation every time you need to get anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether you’re walking quickly or slowly — the idea is to be aware of every step. As Zen mindfulness master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
To complete the body scan mindfulness activity, it’s best to find a comfortable lying-down position (although you can also do this exercise sitting up if that’s more comfortable for you). The idea behind the body scan exercise is to notice every single part of your body, including the parts of your body that you may have been neglecting.
Start with the top of your head, and work down towards the tips of your toes. Notice any sensations or tension in every part of your body. For example, start with your head and face. What do you notice there? Are you clenching your jaw? Are your eyebrows relaxed? Once you notice tension, let it go. Completely relax that part of your body.
After you “scan” your face, move down towards your neck and shoulders, and repeat the exercise. What tension or sensations do you feel here?
Do this with each body part until you reach the tips of your toes. This mindfulness practice can make you more aware of your body and all the weight it may be carrying.
Mindful stretching or movement
Lastly, here’s another mindful activity to connect with your body: mindful stretching or mindful movement. Exercise has been found to be extremely helpful for depression and anxiety. The next time you exercise, bring a layer of mindfulness to your movements.
Begin your workouts by practicing mindful stretching. You can be mindful of any type of stretches, but you can also practice a gentle form of yoga if you’d prefer something more structured and guided. As you stretch, be aware of how your body supports you. Feel each muscle group stretching and being elongated. How does it feel? Where in your body feels tight or stiff?
Bring this awareness further into your workout. Try to be present with each movement you make. Instead of ruminating or planning about the past or future during your workout, just be present. At this moment, you are giving your body the movement it needs. Being mindful while you exercise will help you be present and notice how your body feels, which may make it less likely that you injure yourself.
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Mindfulness is one of those things that we all know we should do — but we rarely take the time to stop and actually do it. Hopefully, with these 5 mindfulness exercises added to your belt, you have the tools necessary to slow down, manage your anxiety, and cultivate feelings of peace.
Mindfulness and anxiety can be mastered if you’re willing to learn, and we are happy to support you as you try new techniques and manage your symptoms.
For more information about our comprehensive mental health clinic, mindfulness, and anxiety be sure to give our office a call today.