What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment. It is achieved through heightened awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and physical body. While depression is worrying about the past and anxiety is worrying about the future, mindfulness means being right there in the present moment.
The defining feature of mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness. This means that we gently notice thoughts and feelings without criticism or attachment and then work on letting them go. We engage in acceptance rather than resistance. There are many ways to live mindfully. Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing is a good way to start. Focusing on the breath can redirect a busy mind.
Similarly, meditation, guided imagery, mindful walks, and sensory awareness exercises are all excellent ways to integrate mindfulness into your day.
Sensory Awareness Exercise
This is a good introductory exercise. If you are unfamiliar with mindfulness, this will give you a basic understanding of what I mean by “being present in the moment”. It is called the 5-4-3-2-1 technique.
Take a breathe, and name:
5 things you can see
4 things you can reach out and touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
How was this experience for you? This exercise helps you stay in the present moment, forcing you to focus on what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, etc instead of the worries plaguing your mind. It’s difficult for the mind to wander when you are engaging your senses and directing your thoughts.
When we enter an anxious state, the limbic system of our brain kicks into high gear. This is where our stress response takes place. When there is a threat of danger, this part of the brain becomes active. In preparation for “fight or flight”, the breathing becomes restricted, and blood flow is cut off from the extremities to preserve energy. In an anxiety disorder, this happens too often— the brain perceives a threat when there is none. This is why deep breathing is so important. We must provide oxygen and blow flow to let the body do all of the wonderful things it does. Most importantly, slowing the breath helps to calm the body and mind.
How to Breathe Deeply
1. Bring awareness to your breath. Notice the way you inhale, the way the breath travels down the throat, fills your lungs, and then exhale. Notice any sensations that come up in your body during this time. Gently notice any thoughts you have and let them travel through like fluffy clouds. Don’t judge them or become attached to them, just bring the focus back to the breath, the way it feels traveling down your throat, filling your lungs, and then exhale.
2. Now, take a deep breath in for 1-2-3-4, and out for 1-2-3-4-5. We will do three to five breaths together in this way. Try to exhale for longer than you inhale. This stimulates the vagus nerve, which works on relaxing your body and calming your nerves.
3. Try doing this for two minutes each day. Sometimes we forget to breathe properly. Breathing exercises like this will send oxygen throughout the body, improving your focus, and reducing feelings of anxiety.