We are in the middle of a mental health crisis. With the rush and demands of the modern workplace, while trying to juggle family, friends, and other responsibilities, it’s no wonder more people are struggling with anxiety every day. And with the addition of the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen life change dramatically for most of us, it feels more difficult than ever to manage our anxiety.
That’s where mindfulness comes in. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine is a fantastic way to get out of your head, leave your worries behind, and focus on the here and now.
What is mindfulness, and how does it benefit you?
Mindfulness is the act of staying focused on the present moment in a non-judgemental way and observing yourself and the world around you.
Often, we find ourselves looking back on the past, wondering what we could have done better, or thinking about the future, stressing about how we can try and control it, or worse still, how we feel no control over it. The result is that we miss the most crucial moment of all – the here and now.
Worrying about the past or future robs us of the relaxing moments that each second has the potential to bring. And while not every moment will be happy (nor should this be your goal), being present allows us to focus and regain that control and hunger for life that anxiety deprives us of.
In practising mindfulness, you will learn to be kinder to yourself, stop spiralling into anxiety-induced ‘worst-case scenario’ thoughts, find inner peace, and learn to love yourself the way you deserve to. But how can we practice mindfulness to help with anxiety?
Ten mindfulness exercises to help reduce your anxiety:
There are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine – here are some of the most popular ways to practice mindfulness exercises for anxiety.
Anxiety Mindfulness Exercise 1: Guided Meditation
Perhaps the most famous form of mindfulness, guided meditations help ease you into staying present by encouraging you to sit still as you observe your body and the world immediately around you.
Most guided meditations involve a body scan where you observe each part of your body, piece by piece, feeling where you feel tension and gently guiding you to release the tension through visualisation.
Some people like to attend group classes to do guided mediation, whereas others prefer to practice at home. If you are hoping to try it at home, use an app like Calm or Headspace, or search YouTube for a guided meditation that works for you.
Anxiety Mindfulness Exercise 2: Morning Pages
Popularised by author Julia Cameron in her book ‘The Artist’s Way’, morning pages are a journaling technique that promotes mindfulness first thing in the morning to make way for creativity and focus throughout the rest of your day.
When you wake up, you probably have millions of thoughts wake up with you, bouncing around your head, stirring that well-known anxiety bubble that lives with you every day. It can be overwhelming. And it can be challenging to set those thoughts aside. That’s where morning pages come in.
Each morning, you will write exactly three pages of your conscious thoughts. What that means is, whatever is on your mind as you are writing goes on the page. It doesn’t have to be profound; it doesn’t even have to make sense! It just has to be a constant flow of your thoughts as they come to your head.
There are two fundamental rules to follow here.
1- Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or any other presentation aspect.
2- Do not intercept or try to manipulate your thoughts. Whatever comes into your head goes on the page exactly as you thought it. Even if that thought is, wow, this is hard, I don’t know what to write!
Anxiety Mindfulness Exercise 3: Yoga
Yoga is synonymous with mindfulness, and for a good reason. Yoga practice is all about staying focused on your body and keeping your mind present as you move between different stretches and poses.
In most yoga classes and videos online, the teacher will encourage you to set an intention for your day, stay focused on the sensations in your body, and gently guide your mind back to your body when you feel it wondering.
In essence, Yoga is the active sister to guided meditation.
Not only will you find relaxation in the peace that comes from light stretches and present focus, but you will also improve your strength and flexibility, allowing you to feel more refreshed for the rest of your day.
Plus, as you improve your skills, you will see your self-confidence blossom, one of the most effective tools against anxiety.
Anxiety Mindfulness Exercise 4: The Berry Challenge
A lesser-known mindfulness practice is mindful eating. This is when you take your time at every stage of food preparation and consumption to use your five senses to experience what it has to offer.
Many advocates suggest starting with the berry challenge to understand mindful eating better.
To do this, you should pick a berry of your choice and start by feeling the berry in your hands, noting the textures. Then, smell the berry; what does it smell like? How does it make you feel?
Following this, it’s time to put the berry in your mouth slowly, perhaps lightly brushing it against your lips first to feel the sensation of its touch and the first taste the berry provides.
Once the berry is in your mouth, chew slowly (ideally for 30 – 60 seconds) and take note of how it tastes and feels in your mouth. Does the texture or taste change as you bite into it, unlocking the berry’s juices inside?
This practice is excellent for people who suffer from disordered eating, often used as a coping mechanism for anxiety.
Anxiety Mindfulness Exercise 5: Gratitude List
One of the buzzwords of the past five years – gratitude. But it deserves its place front and centre in our lives. See, we often worry so much about what we don’t have and what we need that we forget to appreciate what we have.
You don’t have to have extravagant events, relationships, or possessions to express gratitude. In fact, by writing down your gratitude list every day (ideally three-five items each day), you’ll learn to find happiness in the smallest of things.
The relaxing sip of your morning coffee, the stranger that smiled at you on the street, a nice warm shower at the end of a stressful day – if it makes you happy, be thankful for it. You’ll soon see your mindset shift to realise how much of an abundance of positivity you have in your life to focus on.
Anxiety Mindfulness Exercise 6: Single-Tasking
There is a tendency to want to multi-task everything to be the most productive you can be in your day. We’re constantly told we have to be the most productive possible to be the best version of ourselves.
But what if we have productivity all wrong? What if it’s not about doing the most things in a day but rather finding ways to get the most out of the activities we do decide to do?
Multi-tasking leaves your brain unable to focus and sets the panic sensors off trying to remember everything. So instead, try and focus on one activity at a time.
Anxiety Mindfulness Exercise 7: Mindfulness Tea Break
Most of us like to have a warm drink in the morning—tea, coffee, maybe even hot chocolate. Taking a break with a warm beverage is a great way to add extra mindfulness minutes to your day.
Find a quiet place to sit and focus on your drink. The smell, the warm sensation as it travels through your body. Allow your thoughts to drift by, not engaging in them but instead returning your focus to your drink.
Anxiety Mindfulness Exercise 8: A Walk in Nature
On top of all the incredible health benefits walking (particularly in nature) offers, walks are a great opportunity to practice mindfulness.
As you walk, listen to the sounds around you, smell the fresh air, feel the breeze on your skin. Be present as you take every step, and when thoughts inevitably cross through your mind, take note that you’ve had a thought and let it drift on by without engaging or avoiding it.
Anxiety Mindfulness Exercise 9: Arts and Crafts
There is a lot of research into the benefits of mindful doodling and colouring. It helps you keep focused on the moment while improving your memory and creativity.
Try using an adult colouring book or keeping a journal handy to make random doodles when you feel anxious.
Anxiety Mindfulness Exercise 10: Look up at the Stars
We’re so focused on everything going on around us that our problems can feel all-consuming. And while a lot of us have some complex problems we have to tackle, we don’t need to let them consume our minds and peace.
When you’re feeling especially anxious, step outside and look up at the stars. You’ll be reminded that the world is so much bigger than the thoughts in your mind, and it will give you perspective to stay more present.
Final thoughts on Mindfulness Exercises for Anxiety
There are many ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine to keep you grounded and help you reduce your anxiety.
The key is to find the exercises that work for you, start slow, build them into a habit, and, most importantly, be KIND TO YOURSELF!