Using Mindfulness to Combat Anxiety

Mindfulness is best described as a set of skills that provides a “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment” (Davis & Hayes, 2011). When people respond to situations without judgment, they are not labeling the experience as good or bad, but they accept their experience with an attitude of curiosity. People practicing Buddhism have been using mindfulness for centuries to calm their minds and increase their emotional and physical well-being; however, one does not need to be a Buddhist or even a spiritual individual to learn and practice mindfulness. People in Western civilizations only recently adopted the techniques of mindfulness and are now using them to learn how to enjoy life in our fast-paced society.

The ability to multitask has become a marketable skill and a necessity to keep up with the tasks of daily life. However, finishing tasks quickly on a daily basis comes at a high price. When one is constantly looking towards the future or the past, he or she is no longer living in the present. People find their lives meaningless as they begin to feel like drones simply going through the motions of everyday life. Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis allows one to enjoy and appreciate each moment in the present, which could provide one with a sense of meaning as they go through their life.

In contrast to being attentive to the immediate experience, people in Western civilizations are often future-oriented (anxious) or past-oriented (depressed). Their minds are often plagued by lists of things that need to be done or ruminations on past events. The focus is more on accomplishments than on enjoying what they are doing in the present moment. Many people in our society have unrealistic expectations about happiness They may think “When I buy a house, I will be happy.” Or “Once I get this promotion, things will be better.” These beliefs keep on from living in the present and keep him or her constantly grasping at the future. People with anxiety are trapped in a state of worry. Anxiety is the opposite of mindfulness. Anxiety occurs when one focuses on what could happen in the future. Anxious individuals are constantly considering the worst-case scenarios. This mindset is exhausting and leaves little time or energy for enjoying life in the present.

Mindfulness is not a new concept and has been the topic of a growing body of research for several years. Researchers have discovered the use of mindfulness can effectively manage a variety of mental health problems. Mindfulness is a simple concept, but it is a skill that takes practice. One of the reasons mindfulness is a great tool to use to cope with stress is it is always available. One does not need to be at home or have any supplies with them to practice mindfulness. All one needs is there 5 senses. To practice mindfulness, focus on experiencing the present moment through feeling (tactile), seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling your surroundings. Don’t judge what you’re are experiencing as good or bad. Simply notice what you are experiencing with a sense of curiosity. For example, if you focus on your tactile experience and it is cold, simply notice how your skin responds to the cold. Notice the bumps on your skin and the tightening of your muscles. It is not good or bad, it just is. To use sight, you can count all of the green things in the room or the colors in the sunset. To use sound, you can listen for different types of birds as you go for a walk. To use taste, notice how the taste of a cracker changes from salty to sweet as you slowly chew it. To use smell, focus on the smell of your favorite candle or lotion. Any of these exercises will pull you out of your worrying and into the reality of the present moment. This sounds easy enough, right? Well, it is simple but not necessarily easy. You will notice you will be practicing mindfulness and suddenly find yourself worrying about your kids or what you are going to have for dinner. This often frustrates people because they believe they are not practicing mindfulness correctly. Actually, when you notice your mind has wondered, you are successfully practicing mindfulness! You are aware of the present moment! When you notice your mind has wandered from the present, simply redirect it back to your current experience. I recommend practicing this mindfulness exercise a few minutes at a time each day. Your ability to maintain a sense of present awareness will improve with practice. It is beneficial to practice mindfulness when you are not feeling overwhelmed. This will allow you to develop this skill so you can use it more easily when you are feeling anxious.

This mindfulness exercise is one of many. To learn more about how mindfulness can help you combat anxiety, stress, or other mental health concerns, please go to to schedule an appointment with me.

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