Mindfulness Exercises for Anxiety
Mindfulness exercises for anxiety are becoming a popular therapeutic technique among millennials, middle age and the elderly. There are many reasons for it’s popularity.
- It can be done by yourself anywhere or everywhere without the aid of a therapist or professional
- It does not require you to take any form of medication
- It’s inexpensive and most importantly it helps one gain control over their mind and relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
More than often I find anxiety originates in my mind when I start thinking negatively. Our thoughts are extremely powerful and have a great impact on the way we feel, believe and act. Negative thoughts reinforce negative emotions which lead to negative behavior that further causes the individual to succumb to negative thoughts.
When we think negatively it becomes a continuous cycle which causes an us to sink further into depression and anxiety. Mindfulness exercises for anxiety help stop this cycle by helping you take your focus away from negative thinking and channelize this awareness to your breathing and bodily sensations.
Mindfulness exercises for anxiety can be defined as an act of intensely focusing or being aware of what you are is sensing, feeling or experiencing.
I try not to judge or rationalize my actions. I let go of the thoughts that pass through my mind when practicing this act. Initially, it may be difficult to not pay attention to your thoughts.
Continuing to practice and making an effort, I’ve learned it gets better at practicing mindfulness exercises.
According to Steven F. Hick, mindfulness activities can be classified into two types.
- Formal and informal meditation practices
- Nonmeditation-based exercises.
He describes, formal meditation as the practice of sustaining attention on one’s body, breath or sensations, or whatever arises in each moment.
Informal mindfulness, he says is the application of mindful attention in everyday life activities. Nonmeditation-based exercises according to Hick are specifically used in dialectical behavior therapy and in acceptance and commitment therapy.
Mindfulness exercises for anxiety help relieve symptoms by altering your physical, emotional and cognitive responses. They are explained below and can prove to be very helpful when practiced regularly.
This exercise requires you to focus on your breathing and be aware of the way you inhale and exhale your breath. Focusing on your breathing helps take the attention away from troubled thoughts and worries.
According to experts, slow controlled and mindful breathing helps calm the mind and suppress emotional disturbance and panic attacks. Described below are the ways you can practice this exercise.
- Find a place or room which is silent and free of distractions.
- Position yourself comfortably, you can either sit either on a chair or on the floor with your legs crossed.
- Make sure you are not slouching and have your back straight.
- Next, begin to be aware of the breath going in and out of your body.
- Begin to breathe in and out slowly, with each breath cycle lasting about 6-8 seconds.
- If your mind begins to wander during the exercise, gently guide it back to your breathing. Thoughts are bound to pass across the mind, do not suppress them.
- Pay attention to your breathing and how air passes in and out of your body.
- Gradually begin to extend the duration of practicing this exercise. With practice and persistence, you will get better at it.
Breathing exercises are a great mindfulness exercise for anxiety and this exercise greatly helps ward off panic attacks, manage stressful emotions and helps calm and clear your mind.
Meditation is a well-known mindfulness exercises for anxiety practice that helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
By meditating you will achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state by focusing your mind on a particular object, thought or activity.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, meditation plays a fundamental role in reducing emotional effects of anxiety, stress and depression.
Also, extensive surveys were conducted on individuals who suffered from anxiety and practiced meditation. The results from the survey stated:
- 60% of anxiety-prone people showed marked improvements in anxiety levels after 6-9 months
Meditation also helps relieve stress and worries, it is an art that can be practiced by one and all. It is a very simple art and, in most cases, requires a quiet room and a comfortable position. Meditation can be done in different ways which are described below.
- Focusing on one’s breathing: This meditation is very similar to mindful breathing that has been explained above.
- Repeating a chant/mantra: In this meditation you meditate on a word or chant till they completely silence their mind and enter an emotionally calm state. The word “Om” is often used in chanting during this meditation.
- Concentrating on a visual object: In this practice, you meditate by focusing all their attention on an object till they attain a sense of calm and serenity. The object can either be the flame of a candle, a flower, a crystal or images of divine beings like Buddha etc. The object should be placed at eye level and the person should be seated comfortably.
- Body Scan: As the name suggests, in this meditational practice try to focus on each part of your body. You need to lie down comfortably and mentally focus and guide each body part to relax. The relaxation process can begin either from one’s head and move down to the toes or begin from one’s toes and move upwards to their head.
- Visualization: This meditation practice involves imagining being in a safe and secure place that is your sanctuary. It can be a house or a beach or a garden, the place should be personalized and specific to you. Doing so you’ll find calm and peace by imagining yourself being present in their sanctuary and exploring it.
- Walking Meditation: This meditation practice involves walking and is useful for individuals who cannot sit still for a long time. This practice requires the individual to observe and concentrate on the movement of one’s feet and experience the connection with the earth. One is required to walk bare feet in a quiet place and experience the calmness that arises from the walking movement.
- Heart Chakra Meditation: This meditation requires one to get in touch with the heart chakra which is located in the center of the chest and symbolizes feelings of love, peace, compassion and acceptance. Through heart chakra meditation the individual gets in touch with these feelings and sends them out in the world. This meditation is done by rubbing one’s hands and placing them on one’s heart, while doing this you need to take deep breaths and chant the word “Yam”. More information about this meditation technique is given here.
This meditational practice is extremely simple yet powerful and calming. In this practice, it is required to focus on an object which is within your sight. It can be a picture, a stone, a vase or a chair. Try to put all your focus and attention on the object and look at it as though you are seeing it for the very first time.
Even if your mind wanders, you need to gently draw your attention and observe every aspect of the object. The color, the shape, the details, its formations etc. Allowing yourself to be consumed by its presence will help you connect to its energy and experience a sense of peace and calm.
Mindful Awareness is an extremely simple exercise that will remind you to be grateful for the daily blessings in your life. It requires one to stop and think before engaging in an activity and be grateful for it.
Just before bathing, stop to think how lucky you are. You have water and soap to bathe with, as this luxury is not available to millions out in the world.
Another example is stopping to think before dressing up. Millions of people in the third world who don’t have clothes to wear.
Bring to mind the many small blessings which we take for granted brings a sense of gratefulness, joy, and peace. Being mindful helps overcome thoughts of anxiety and depression.
Sometimes certain sounds are linked with painful memories and can be a source of anxiety and depression.
The idea of this mindful practice is to experience these sounds from a non-judgmental perspective. Release the negative power it has over you.
For example, a particular song may be associated with painful memories of a known person who is either deceased or is not in contact with you.
Playing a song and listening to it as though hearing it the first time. Concentrating on the voice of the singer, the different instruments being played, the ranges of the sound etc. can help minimize the emotional effect it has over you.
Mindful Immersion helps look at everyday tasks with a new and refreshing perspective.
Daily chores like cleaning, cooking, and dish washing which are boring and considered as sources of anxiety and worry are turned into opportunities for peace, calm and relaxation.
This exercise will require you to completely focus on the everyday task. Observe the various actions associated with it.
For example, when washing the dishes, notice the way your hands move, feel your muscles, smell the scent from the cleaning liquid, feel the wetness of the sponge. Hear the soothing flow of the water. Instead of rushing through the task, take your time and become aware of the task and immerse yourself in the process.
Rushing from one task to another can cause a lot of anxiety and cause one to panic and experience depressing thoughts. This practice of mindful immersion helps you move through tasks calmly and peacefully.
An anchor is a device that is lowered down into the sea in order to stabilize a ship or a boat in rough weather.
Similarly, this meditational practice calms anxious thoughts and feelings by drawing one’s attention to the lower part of their body. Beginning with the toes, focus and pay attention to the various sensations you experience in your feet, lower legs and upper legs.
Identify the various feelings i.e. if you are hot or cold, heavy or light, if your muscles in the legs are relaxed or strained etc. Finally, put all of your focus on breathing and relax with every breath taken.
You can do this exercise while sitting, standing or walking. Anchoring can be done with your eyes open, anywhere or everywhere.
This is a great meditational mindfulness exercises for anxiety practice that can be used when one is unable to deeply focus.
This involves the use of our hands and helps keep one visually and kinesthetically engaged, giving you something to focus on when very anxious or stressed.
Finger breathing is so simple that it can also be taught to children. In doing so, teaching them to calm themselves down when stressed or anxious.
For this exercise, stretch the palm of one hand out and using the index finger of the other hand. Continue to breathe in as you trace down the length of your thumb finger.
Once you reach the end of the finger you need to pause and move your index finger to the inside of the thumb. While tracing up against the thumb finger you need to breathe out.
This needs to be done on the rest of the fingers and one should continue to do it till you feel calm and relaxed.
Yoga is an ancient art that includes physical exercises, meditation practices, and breathing exercises.
Practicing yoga will help strengthen the body as well relieve symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. Practicing yoga, according to this study, helps one attain a sense of peace and a feeling of oneness with the environment.
Another research conducted by Georgia University found that yoga was extremely effective in reducing worry, which is a primary symptom of anxiety.
Here’s 11 Quick and Easy Yoga Exercises to Relieve Anxiety that I’ve learned and put into an easy to read post for you to learn as well.
Journaling is a great way to vent out emotions and record one’s thoughts and feelings.
It is also a great mindful practice as it helps one honestly express what is in their heart and mind. According to Jeff Krasno “Journaling is the act of tapping into your stream of consciousness – where there is no right or wrong – just finding your flow.” Lifehack.org states that writing a mindful journal has several benefits, it helps one be grateful, make better decisions, be better organized, assign meaning to their emotions and reduce symptoms of anxiety.
The above-mentioned mindfulness exercises for anxiety can be used by anyone and everyone. They need not be limited to individuals suffering from anxiety and depression. These exercises can be used by all to nurture themselves and improve their well-being.