February 10, 2020
Just about everyone feels a certain amount of anxiety throughout their day. Some find it manageable while others may find it debilitating. Anxiety can hijack your thoughts, causing you to ruminate about something that is out of your control, fixate on the past, or worry about something that may happen in the future.
Anxiety can show up in your body in the form of a racing heart, shortness of breath, chest tightness, neck pain and tension, sweaty palms, or difficulty focusing on the task at hand. It can also lead to sleepless nights, affecting your ability to show up and engage in everyday life.
While it may feel like you have no control over anxiety, there are actually simple tools that all of us can use to help minimize or even prevent the stress reaction in our bodies. The key is to bring your mind back to the present moment. Below are three mindfulness exercises you can try that I teach as part of the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at LG Health.
Focus on Your Breath
When you experience anxiety, you may notice yourself breathing faster or even holding your breath. In mindfulness training, we use the breath as our home base—a place to come back to when we start to notice the physical sensations of stress in the body. Simply paying attention to your breath as it enters and leaves your body, and noticing where you feel the breath most (rising and falling of the chest or abdomen) can help bring you back to the present moment. Start by taking three slow breaths, breathing in for a count of four, and exhaling for a count of eight. Extending the exhale can help to relax the nervous system.
Use Your Senses
Paying attention to simple physical sensations can help bring you back to the present moment. Try the following exercise when you feel stress begin to sweep through your body.
STOP and NOTICE
- 5 things you can SEE—What do you see around you? What can you see in your mind with your eyes closed?
- 4 things you can TOUCH—Try touching your arms, legs or things that surround you. Pay attention to how your feet touch the ground and how your back or legs are touching the chair you’re sitting on.
- 3 things you can HEAR—If you’re outside, listen to sounds in nature or maybe an airplane flying overhead. If you’re inside, notice other voices in the room, music playing or the heater running.
- 2 things you can SMELL—Notice if there is a particular scent in the air. Scratch your nails on an orange to release the scent. Use essential oils (lavender is often calming).
- 1 thing you can TASTE—Find something you can eat or chew a piece of gum. Pay attention to the taste of a mint or hard candy.
Engage in an Activity That Requires Focus
- Color in a coloring book, noticing the colors of the crayons or markers and the patterns in the book.
- Play a musical instrument.
- Take a mindful walk, feeling the sensation of your feet on the ground with each step.
- Bake something; this takes a lot of focus since the measurements must be exact.
- Go out in nature and pay attention to wildlife, plants, and outdoor sounds.
- Knit, cross-stitch or crochet.
- Choose another activity you enjoy that requires focus.
We all have the tools to reduce anxiety. No matter which mindful activity you choose, try to approach it with a sense of openness and curiosity.