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Mindfulness and Anxiety

Mindfulness and Anxiety

We are facing a lot of change, uncertainty, and new unexpected obstacles. The US Census Bureau reports that anxiety and depressive disorders have increased three times in the past year. Mental health therapists are busier than ever, and waitlists are increasing for people to get in to see someone for support. Now, more than ever before, it is important to build skills for ourselves to be able to manage the uncertainty that we are facing.

Mindfulness

Engaging in mindfulness is a way of life. Many people consider mindfulness as meditation however, meditation is a form of mindfulness. When we act in a mindful way, we are cultivating daily awareness and intention. We look at situations through a nonjudgmental lens, things are no longer good vs bad, and instead, they simply are what they are. This allows us the opportunity to simply address the problems in front of us.

Anxiety

Anxiety itself is a normal and healthy emotion. Our anxiety tells us when something has the potential to be dangerous or puts us at risk. What often makes our anxiety worse is when we get anxious about having anxiety. This tends to throw us quickly into a ruminating spiral in which we quickly catastrophize what is going to happen, think of worst-case scenarios, and ultimately, doubt our ability to handle them.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Engaging in daily mindfulness activities and cultivating a more mindful and intentional life helps us step back from the anxiety and see it as anxiety. There is nothing we need to add to it, we can simply work on recognizing it, show compassion towards ourselves, and look at the different directions that we can go. What mindfulness practice truly does is gives us an opportunity to choose between different reactions and different paths. It often brings us a sense of calmness. Mindfulness practice in turn, has been shown to decrease depressive and anxiety symptoms.  

Methods for Practicing Mindfulness

There are many forms of mindfulness. Some of the most common are highlighted below:

Meditation

Meditation is the most common form of mindfulness practice. However, many people don’t know that there are different types of meditations that an individual can do. For those with high anxiety I do not recommend working on clearing your mind first. This often is very challenging as a cornerstone of anxiety is thoughts running through your mind. Meditation practice should be slow. Many people try to jump in too quickly and this often leads them to feel as though meditation doesn’t work for them. Try to start with 3-5 minutes every day and build from there. Consistency is key.

  • Guided Imagery Meditation

Try starting with something such as guided imagery meditation. These meditations walk you through a serene place, helping you build up this place in your mind, while focusing on your breath. This helps you create a peaceful place, somewhere you can go in your mind for a couple of minutes to help you slow down and calm your body.

  • Self-Compassion Meditations

Another form of meditation is self-compassion meditations. These focus on breathing in compassion towards yourself, understanding that it is okay to feel the way you feel. With this compassion and nurturing we are often able to slow down and allow ourselves some space to see more clearly.

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating can also teach us how to slow down and take in what is going on around us instead of living in autopilot. Mindful eating is allowing yourself the opportunity for a meal or snack. Simply sit and do nothing but slowly eat your food. Take the time to notice the texture, savor the taste of each bite, and recognize the feeling of becoming full. When people engage in this practice they are often surprised at how different, and more fulfilling their meals can be. This is a simple practice that teaches us to move away from going all the time and moves us into taking in each moment.

Journaling

Lastly, journaling is a great way to build mindful awareness to what is happening within you. Many people struggle with journaling because they see it just as a way to vent. I encourage you to take some time to vent about something unpleasant and then stop, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself – what can I learn from this situation? How can I grow from this situation? How do I want to show up with these stresses moving forward? Also, take time to identify where this heightened reaction may be coming from. When we recognize our underlying fears, we often take care of ourselves in a different way.

With increased presence comes decreased anxiety. We take in, fully, what is right in front of us and slow down to make the healthiest decisions for ourselves. This does not mean it will always be comfortable or easy, instead it will be what is right for us. Practice for one week, consistently, one of the above practices of mindfulness and notice the small shifts in being able to be more present, aware, and open to each moment, no matter what. Notice the small shift in not having to think of worst cases or an ease in your body when needing to adjust to certain situations.

Building a mindfulness practice is crucial to our individual growth and ability to take in everything around us. This tool is impactful on a day to day basis and a necessity with what we are faced with today.

Are you interested in learning more about helping others? Ottawa University’s Bachelor of Arts in Human and Social Services program prepares students to help people from a variety of populations. Contact an enrollment advisor  for more information about how you can advance your career and become a helping professional in the Human Services field. 

Posted: 11/06/2020 by Patrice Flanagan-Morris, LCSW
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