How mindfulness can help with anxiety: skills to use in the present
Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
Mindfulness is a word we hear a lot these days, and for good reason. With all the distractions, to-do lists, mental pressures, and stresses we face mindfulness offers us a reprieve. Mindfulness is the act of becoming aware of the present moment, without judgment.
For many, mindfulness may conjure up images of people sitting cross legged on mountain tops with their eyes closed, face turned up towards the sun, while the sound of singing bowls plays in the background. That can be mindfulness. Going for a walk in your neighborhood or listening to a favorite song can be mindfulness too.
For people who experience anxiety, the mind typically focuses on future moments or labels the present moment with judgement. Research studies have shown that mindfulness is a way to reduce anxiety because it teaches how to respond to the present moment, rather than reacting without awareness. Mindfulness involves observing, describing, and participating nonjudgmentally in the present reality.
The mindfulness practice of observing involves noticing sensations, paying attention to the present, and observing both your internal world and external circumstances.
Describing involves naming an experience or feeling, acknowledging only the facts of an experience, and describing it through language connected to your five senses.
Participating involves being completely attentive to your current activity, responding after considering both the emotional and logical information, and allowing for change or spontaneity.
Here are some skills to try as you begin or deepen your mindfulness practice:
Wherever you are, check in with each of your five senses. What do you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste? Recognize the information your senses share with you and just notice it – do not label or try to explain the information.
Observe your thoughts as if they were on a conveyor belt, or as if they were leaves floating down a stream. Notice them without judgment, allowing each thought to present and then move along.
Wherever you are, describe in full detail the things you see or notice around you. Use descriptive language without placing value or judgment on what you describe (example: There is a blue velvet chair to my right, my left sock is purple and fuzzy, there is a brown and tan bird outside my window in that tree with dry leaves).
Describe the feelings and thoughts you experience as they present (example: I feel happy, and my thoughts are ‘I am excited to be here’ and ‘I have been looking forward to this’ or I feel sad, and my thoughts are “my feelings have been hurt.’)
Focus your attention on the place where your feet touch the floor. Become aware of the connection between your feet and the floor. Become aware of the feeling of your pants on your legs, and the feeling of your legs on the surface you are sitting on. Continue this process of becoming aware with each section of your body.
When listening to music or a podcast or someone talking, focus your attention fully on what you are hearing. Allow yourself to be an active participant of the sounds you are experiencing.
Participate in what your are doing fully, get lost in the moment.
If practicing mindfulness skills seems difficult at first, please know that mindfulness takes time and practice – just like any other skill you have learned. Some skills may come more naturally to you, but each skill takes practice to become a part of your mindfulness repertoire. And as Shauna Shapiro shared, “What you practice grows stronger.” Practice mindfulness and surprise yourself with how it becomes a natural response to difficult and anxiety inducing situations.