As someone with an anxiety disorder I was fortunate enough to learn some great mindfulness exercises that I hope you can benefit from too. Especially if you’re stuck in the cold that is blasting most of the U.S. you may be itching for activities to keep an anxious mind calm. One of the many things we can do as anxious people are mindfulness exercises that I will cover below. But first, what is “mindfulness?”
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When we are mindful, we carefully observe our thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.
Being in a state of mindfulness helps those of us withanxiety because it allows us to recognize our thoughts as being just that –thoughts. Thoughts are not facts! So if we’re feeling anxious, it doesn’t meanwe are anxious – we’re just experiencing those anxious thoughts at this pointin time only.
When practicing mindfulness it is important to not use it todistract yourself if you’re experiencing anxiety. As in the definition above wemust learn to live with our anxious thoughts and accept them which is thecornerstone of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Practicing mindfulness as part of daily life has helped meand countless others get grounded in our thoughts and accept them. Below are acouple mindfulness exercises of many that I have found helpful:
Throw on the headphones, relax and tune into any of the hundreds of available audio recordings. I used a series of recordings by Portland Psychotherapy in my outpatient therapy program and really like these two in particular:
Body Scan focuses on the mindfulness of bodily sensations, typically done sitting or lying down. It gradually draws your attention from the tips of your toes to the crown of your head. This is a great one for falling asleep!
Leaves on a Stream takes you into a serene place, leaves floating down a stream, where our worries and fears are leaves and the stream is us. We can’t control what falls and floats down on us, we are the stream that keeps flowing. A bit existential but a great exercise nonetheless J
One of my personal favorites to stay mindful is to color! Adult coloring books allow you to keep your hands busy and staying focused on the detail of what you are doing. There is no “right” way to approach coloring but I like to color mandalas with soft coloring pencils though you can use a variety of markers too. Definitely get books with perforated pages so you can rip them out, make a collage or throw ‘em on the fridge. A sense of tangible accomplishment can really help an anxious mind if we’re beating ourselves up for our condition.
Really listen to the sound of the pencil gliding across thepaper, focus on how close you can get the pencil to the edge of the line, experimentwith different levels of pressure to shade. Challenge yourself to see if youcan color a whole page with one pencil and make it look like it was done withseveral pencils!
When coloring I also find listening to music helps calm me,whether Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck or yoga music. It really helps me stayfocused and relax while in whatever state of anxiety we’re in that moment.
If you can brave the cold and make it to the gym, it is well worth the effort as exercise has proven to be a great tool to manage anxiety. As one therapist told me, if my anxiety reaches a high level then go for a run, flat-out as long as you can. You’ll be too exhausted to feel anxious!
Physiologically, exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
I hope these mindfulness tools help you too and if you have any others please comment below!