What is Mindfulness?
Do you tend to think about where you are going and what you will be doing? Does your mind wander off and perhaps dwell on events in the past, or worry about the future? That is actually quite common, and for many, takes learned skills to do otherwise. Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment. It is acknowledging where you are, what is happening, how you are feeling—as well as how each of these components relate to each other. Among many benefits, you can use mindfulness for anxiety and stress reduction. This article explains how.
Mindfulness has many benefits. Practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress by changing how you react in certain situations. Think of it like retraining the brain. Mindfulness can help you observe your thoughts and feelings from a different standpoint, so that you feel less attached to your emotions and more in control of them.
You can use mindfulness as a tool to get to know yourself. Learn to understand how your inner thoughts and feelings tend to react to situations and stressors around you. Know yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses. Navigating through life’s challenges from a position of knowledge and mindfulness ensures you are in control.
I am a very empathetic person and sensitive to the feelings and needs of others, and would experience other’s feelings so intensely that they might as well have been my own, which would cause a disconnect from myself and my own needs and feelings. I started practicing mindfulness with a 5-minute body scanning exercise each day. My initial goal was to quiet my brain from overthinking and to become more aware of my own needs and feelings. Mindfulness helps bring the focus back to me in these moments of intensity and gives me the ability to recognize how I feel. Learning how to practice mindfulness also helped me develop a better sense of body awareness. I can recognize when anxiety is starting to build, which helps me manage it better.
– Ron Tamir Nehr
Ways to Practice Mindfulness
When you think mindfulness, you might think meditation mindfulness. Sure, meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness (and both mindfulness and meditation can find its roots in Buddhism) but it’s certainly not the only way to practice mindfulness.
First things first
If you’re hoping mindfulness can help you reduce stress or anxiety, then you’re making the right choice. But before you begin, ensure you’re starting from a place of calmness. Choose a time to practice when things are not chaotic, nor are you in the midst of a stressful situation. This could be before you get to bed in the evening or during your lunch break at work. Choose a time that works best for you.
Once you have mindfulness down, it will become a lot easier to use in the thick of things.
1. Stop and breathe
Breathing in and of itself is a good mindfulness routine for your practice. Take time out of each day to focus on breathing—even if it’s just for 30 seconds after you park your car at work. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to.
Pause and focus on breathing. Counting can help: Inhale deeply for 4 seconds, hold 2 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. Focus on how breathing feels and notice the sensation of your chest moving up and down as you inhale and exhale. How does it feel against your clothing? How is the temperature of the air? What sounds do you hear while inhaling and exhaling? Be present in the moment.
2. Ground yourself in the moment
Choose an activity. It can be any activity; preferably one that gives you the opportunity to be still and can be done without needing your attention, such as standing on a bus or sitting on a couch (avoid trying this while driving).
Pay attention to the sounds around you. What do you hear? Are there birds chirping or children laughing? Do you hear rumbling of heavy machinery, or cars rushing over the pavement? If there is music, how does the song make you feel?
When your mind wanders, focus on sensations. How does your clothing feel against your skin? How does the ground feel against your feet? Is your hair moving in the wind? Are there any sensations related to the sounds you hear, like thumping of the bass notes in a song, or vibrations from cars? Your mind may wander.
What do you smell? Does the environment smell clean, or dusty? Are there floral smells, or something putrid? Is anyone around you wearing perfume?
When your mind wanders, come back by counting the colors around you. Look at each object and name its color and identify its unique texture. Notice patterns in color and light. Think about the materials from which things are made.
3. Practice daily on a routine activity
The breathing activity focuses on being introspective while being grounded focuses on being aware of the environment around you. This activity ties it all together.
If you’re learning a musical instrument or how to hold a yoga pose, you’re going to have to practice regularly. The same thing holds true for mindfulness: mindfulness is a skill, and it takes practice to learn. Choose an activity you do each day, such as getting into bed or putting on makeup. Work practice into your daily routine.
When doing this activity, pay attention to what you’re doing. Be in the moment. Focus on your breathing, and how your chest moves up and down as you inhale and exhale, and how your clothing feels against your skin. Focus on how you’re feeling when you do this activity: Relaxed? Anxious? Confident? Pay attention to what you are doing, and how that feels. Do you hear any sounds while doing it? How does the ground feel under your feet? If your mind wanders, that’s okay! Just be sure to get back to focusing on what you’re doing and how you’re feeling.
Mindfulness and Anxiety
Mindfulness and anxiety go hand in hand: your state of mind can directly impact your levels of anxiety and stress. You can use mindfulness for anxiety treatment (more below) by altering your state of mind, and subsequently your reaction, in any given situation. This can reduce anxiety and stress.
How anxiety works
Anxiety is a physical and emotional response to fear, or perceived fear, that the mind experiences. Anxiety is a natural response that helps you cope in dangerous situations: imagine our ancestors running from a predator! In the modern world, we don’t have big cats chasing us, but we do have fears and experience anxiety just the same.
Driven by both real and perceived fears (note that perception can be different for each person), anxiety has a sensational effect on your mind and body. Everyone experiences it differently, but it is common to feel hopeless, angry, and experience an inability to think clearly. You might even notice physical effects like trembling and loss of appetite.
You can experience anxiety from stressful events, such as being stuck in traffic or getting yelled at by a boss. The sensation of anxiety can also be triggered by an imagined event, such as when watching a scary movie. Additionally, anxiety can also occur on behalf of others—like if you’re worried what will happen if your son doesn’t get into his choice college, or you might feel it while learning news of a terrorist attack.
Anxiety can happen from real fears, or association of current events to negative events of the past. Whatever the reason, anxiety is normal and natural. There are tools we can use, such as mindfulness, that can help us cope with and better work through anxiety.
Practicing Mindfulness for Anxiety
Mindfulness for anxiety is about changing your reaction to anxiety triggers. It has been found to be successful in reducing depression for people with social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, so it really does work! You can use mindfulness as a tool in day to day situations to reduce anxiety and the negative feelings associated with it. Here are some examples:
Mindfulness at work
Being grounded and present in the moment can help you focus on your tasks at work, improving productivity and reducing stress or feelings of chaos. You can practice the breathing exercise described above between tasks. When typing, focus on how the keys feel under your fingers. Listen to the sounds at work. Do you hear the sounds of lights buzzing, or cars outside of the building?
Improving your environment at work can also help with mindfulness. Place an object that brings you joy on your desk at work, such as a photo frame of loved ones or a knick knack you got on a fun vacation. Focus on this object when you feel overwhelmed and use it to help ground you in the moment. Changing the lighting can be helpful for some people, too. If your desk is away from natural lighting, try bringing in a warm light lamp or Himalayan salt lamp to simulate natural light. Bring in fresh cut flowers at the beginning of each week.
Mindfulness at home
Just like at work, employing mindfulness techniques at home can help reduce stress in the home. You can practice mindfulness to help you through frustrating or overwhelming tasks. When doing chores, focus on thing at a time and try not to be distracted by other things on your to-do list. Focus on what you’re doing, and how that feels. How does the water feel on your hands when you’re doing dishes? When you’re putting your child to bed, feel the warmth of her skin and the sound of her breathing.
You can improve your environment in the home, too. Decorate your home with objects that make you happy. Clutter can be overstimulating and make it hard to ground yourself in the moment, so try to reduce unnecessary objects, or organize them with intention.
Mindfulness in relationships
Practicing mindfulness can enhance your relationships. Being grounded in the moment and experiencing that with another person bolsters a strong bond. Focus on how it feels to hold hands. Focus on how it feels to be physically close. Listen to the sounds of breathing and smell the scents around you. Distractions can certainly occur, but as much as possible, be there in the moment with that person.
Try to reduce distractions by improving the environment around you. Dim the lights so less distractions are visible. Light a candle with a scent you both love. If you’re going out to dinner, make a promise not to talk about whatever is stressing you—work, kids, family—and just be there in the moment with your special person.
Mindfulness Based Therapy
Mindfulness based therapy uses the tenets of mindfulness to help improve psychological ailments such as anxiety. Those with anxiety disorders may be treated with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, but it is applicable within the realm of lice coaching as well. Life coaches can apply mindfulness to cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help build skills to combat anxiety, stress and fear, as well as to improve confidence.
Anxiety Help Online
Did you know you can access mindfulness based therapy and social anxiety help online? I offer online life coaching program that you can do from the comfort of your own home. I’ll help you through the mindfulness based therapy described in this article, as well as show you how you can use mindfulness as a tool to help you through challenging situations in your life. Life coaching is completely confidential, and unlike traditional therapy, approaches treatment from a mentorship/friendship point of view, with support not limited to appointment times. Dare to be your best self by mastering mindfulness.