5 Mindfulness Exercises for Anxiety to Help Calm Your Fearful Mind
Worrying can be so exhausting, and yet sometimes it seems like we’re protecting our future by worrying because we’re thinking of ways to prevent situations from happening before they happen. And it’s this exact reason why finding mindful exercises for anxiety is so important.
Because in truth, a lot of these situations we worry about don’t even happen. Or worse, we worry so much, we make emotion-based decisions to prevent something potentially great from happening, and it ends up creating a problem, instead of preventing a problem.
Trust me, I get it. I was one of the “professional worriers” in my family and my anxious energy drove people to anger, which of course, just made me more anxious. Today, I’m going to teach you how to stop, or at least, decrease the amounts of time you worry.
How Do I Stop Worry-Fueled Thoughts?
I know I’ve had my share of people that have said, ”Stop worrying” or “Think positively,” and it never was very helpful. For me and many people, it is rarely about not being able to think positively, but believing positive thoughts, and continuously thinking that way, rather than going back to subconsciously having negative thoughts plague the mind.
Luckily though, I’ve found mindfulness techniques for stress—from cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation—that help retrain the mind, and I’m going to share them today.
Mindfulness Defined and Explained
Before we get into mindfulness techniques, let’s talk about what mindfulness is. According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is shifting your mindset to actively focusing on the present moment, rather than thinking about the past or the future.
When we are mindful, we scan our physical sensations and thoughts without judgement of good or bad, and see our thoughts as falsifiable. This allows us to think objectively and logically about our experience, so we can stay calm and act rationally rather than become anxious and make decisions with an unclear mindset.
When one has anxiety on auto-pilot, it is difficult to retrain the mind by deciding to think positive thoughts, so this is why mindfulness is commonly being taught with various, structured practices.
5 Mindfulness Exercises For Anxiety
Let’s begin with the concept of thought recognition.
1) Thought Recognition
We have 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts running through our mind each day influencing your actions and feelings. Naturally, it would be impossible to recognize every thought. However, if you find yourself to feel an emotion you’re uncomfortable with, take a moment to recognize the thoughts that are currently appearing in your mind.
Are they thoughts that are bashing your character? Are they thoughts of hopelessness? Are they thoughts thinking ill about others? Whatever thoughts you are experiencing, do not judge them as good or bad; think neutrally about them. Next, ask yourself whether they are facts or emotion-based opinions.
Often times, you’ll find that they are untrue, which in that case, it is helpful to use cognitive behavioral therapy (I will describe this concept in the next bullet point). If the thoughts are facts and you’re feeling sad thinking about them, you’re now aware of what is bothering you, which is the first step to finding a solution.
2) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) uses problem solving as a way to change and challenge the thought patterns that cause mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Briefly mentioned above, cognitive behavioral therapy is helpful when you realize your thoughts are untrue statements repeating in your mind, because then you can actively change thoughts and rephrase them to be true.
For example, if someone has the repetitive thought, “My boss is going to fire me when I tell them I made a mistake” because their previous boss did, they can change that thought to, “I am an employee right now, and I am going to find a solution to this issue.” This puts us in focus on the current situation and replaces the anxiety of potential, future consequences and past, scary experiences. This way of thinking also prevents us from generalizing situations and people, based on previous experiences.
3) Mindful Observation Technique
Not only is this easy technique effective for reducing anxiety and stress, but it also helps one become more appreciative of beauty found in their environment. Take a moment now and look around you, wherever you are. Focus on one item at a time, whether it is a unique tree, a decorated cake, or a type of bird you see every day, and focus on that item.
Once you choose an item, recognize the color, the shape, the lines, the shades, and other parts of the item you never noticed before. Don’t rush through the process. Actively look for details. After doing this, you may notice that while you did this exercise, you stopped focusing on your other thoughts that were bothering you, and your body, if in “panic mode” before, has most likely calmed down.
If you choose this technique, try to do it every time you feel anxiety coming on, so that it becomes a habit. Who knows? Maybe you’ll gain an appreciation for art and pick up painting or photography as a side effect!
4) Three-Part Yogic Breath
One of my favorite yogic breath techniques is three-part breath. The reason I love it so much is because you’re mindfully feeling the breath go from your lower abdomen, to your stomach, to your chest, and expand in each area, which can be a strange and new experience if you haven’t done it before.
Also, if you tend to create shallow breaths naturally, or subconsciously hold your breath when you’re feeling anxiety, this type of breathing technique will increase your lung capacity and stretch the diaphragm, so it doesn’t hurt to take deep, oxygen-filling breaths.
For starters, get into a comfortable position. For pictures of pose options to do while doing this breath technique, view here.
Next, place your hands below your belly button. Inhale oxygen into your lower abs until you feel your lower abdominal muscles rise. Weird sensation, isn’t it? Hold the breath for 3 seconds and release the oxygen through your nose with your mouth closed, deflating the belly. Do this a couple more times.
After that, place your hands above your belly button, on your stomach. Again, inhale the air and this time, focus on letting the air collect at your stomach. Continue to inhale until you feel your upper abdominal muscles rise. Hold for 3 seconds and then exhale through the nose, mouth closed, and deflate the stomach. Do this a couple more times.
Lastly, place your hands on your chest, just below the hole where your collar bones meet in the middle. Inhale through your nose, and instead of the breath focusing at your stomach, let most of the breath warm the inside of your chest. Just like with the abdominal muscles, you will feel the muscles on your upper ribs rise once you inhale strongly enough. Hold for 3 seconds and then exhale through the nose, mouth closed and notice the air leave your chest. Do this a couple more times.
Once you are done, notice the difference in how you feel compared to when you first started.
5) Body Scan
Similar to the thought recognition technique, body scanning helps you become aware of the sensations within your physical body, rather than the thoughts in your mind. If nothing seems to be bothering you within your mind, it’s possible you’re feeling anxious because of a physical discomfort. For example, it may seem that your whole back aches, but if you really focus on your back, you may notice that it really is just one targeted pain around the top part of your shoulder blade and another targeted pain on your lower back.
We’re also able to notice more subtle physical sensations that we may be completely unaware of. For example, you may not notice that your feet are cold and the skin on your elbows are dry until you get in bed and you’re trying to sleep. Instead of waiting until then, you can body scan yourself before bedtime, and put lotion on your elbows and socks on your feet. For some, this may sound elementary, but for many, this is a wake up call because numerous people ignore their emotions and physical needs at work, so that they work harder or impress their employers. These people need to relearn this body awareness.
To do a body scan, lie on your back or sit up with legs out in front of you. Start focusing on your toes and slowly move your focus up the ankles, the calves, the thighs, the groin, the gluteus, the abdomen, the chest, the lower back, the upper back, the hands, the arms, the neck, the jaw, the cheeks, the nose, the eyes, the brow area, the forehead, and the crown of your skull. Recognize and take note of any discomfort. Use this body scan regularly to check in with how your physical body is feeling.
Make Mindfulness Part of Your Lifestyle
The exciting aspect of mindfulness is the fact that there is so many ways to achieve mindfulness, so you can never get bored practicing. Also, if there’s one form of mindfulness that doesn’t work for you, you can have the comfort of knowing there’s another one that will.
In this article, I made sure to explain methods that work well for auditory, visual, and kinetic learners, so if you process information better visually, you may prefer the Mindful Observation Technique and 3-Part Yogic Breath. The kinetic learner may thoroughly enjoy the Body Scan and 3-Part Yogic Breath, while the auditory learner may enjoy Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, verbally changing thoughts from one message to another, and Thought Recognition, speaking the thoughts as they enter the mind. Of course, I recommend trying all of them until you find the methods you enjoy, but I thought I’d give some suggestions.
Whichever techniques you decide on, be sure to practice mindfulness at different times of the day and in different places, so that it becomes a habit and a part of your lifestyle. By incorporating mindfulness into your everyday activities, you will find your mindset slowly transforming into a healthy state, which will allow you to live anxiety-free.
I wish you well on your gradual transformation through mindfulness. Until then, take care, and stay present.
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