Mental Health Awareness Month Week 4: Using Mindfulness to Ease Anxiety and Worry
Anxiety can mentally exhaust you and create some real impacts on your body. The good news is you can reduce your anxiety and stress without over the counter drugs and their side effects by simply adding a mindfulness practice to your life.
Mindfulness is about slowing down and paying more attention to the little things that are happening around you in daily life. It’s about tuning into your mind and body and coming back to the present moment. The best part is that you don’t have chant strange words or sit in funky positions, although feel free to do this if it feels good to you and you like it. You already have the tools necessary to start a mindfulness practice, so I will walk you through some quick ways to become more mindful in your day and at the same time lower your anxiety levels and keep your mind calm and at peace.
1. Set an intention every day. Intention setting is a life changing practice. When you become intentional you become “on purpose” and hold yourself accountable. By setting intentions, you will become more aware of thought and behavior patterns every day. After a consistent practice, the pathways of your brain shift and you will see your intentions manifest. An intention is different from a goal. A goal has a specific outcome, “I want to fit into a size 8 pants again” is an example of a goal. Intentions are more about the awareness than they are of the achievement. “I want to be more optimistic each day” is an example of an intention. Intentions are important for creating habits. When you make an intention for a habit to be part of your life you invite a new change which is easier on your mind to accept and agree with. Setting intentions is an intuitive process that you will create on your own. Here are some ways to create your own process:
a. Give yourself permission to take 5 minutes every day to set an intention every morning. When you get up in the morning, before hopping on your email or starting your morning routine, take a moment to sit comfortably and tune into your inner thoughts. Calm your mind and focus on your breath. b. You can use a journal or notebook to write down your thoughts, emotions or feelings. Then write down the emotions, thoughts and feelings you would like to create for your day or what behaviors you want to shift. For example, if you would like to create more calm throughout your day, your intention could be “I will find peace in tense situations today.” If you are feeling down and would like to experience more happiness you could use “I will find joy in little things during my day.” Writing will help connect the mind with your intention and make it easier for you to fulfill it. c. Stay aware of your intentions throughout each day. You could put a reminder in your phone or calendar to remind you to think about your intention. Taking a couple of seconds throughout the day will shift your neurotransmitters in your brain. d. Reward yourself and celebrate those moments where you are being intentional. In those moments when you are present and aware of your intention, honor the fact that your intention is in your mind and in your heart. You are having a newfound awareness of your intention and that is worth rewarding. e. Start small and build from there. Setting intentions can feel overwhelming at first, so start small. Start with something that you feel confident you can see through. After 15-30 days start with more complex intentions. Once you get into the flow you will start seeing your intentions manifest more quickly. Do not rush this process.
2. Do a Guided Meditation or mindfulness practice. One of the easiest ways to become more mindful is to still the mind. Listening to a guided meditation is a great way to slow down and allow the body and mind to come into a state of calm and peaceful existence. There are a lot of different guided meditations on YouTube or specific apps: · The Mindfulness App · Headspace · Calm · buddhify · Sattva · Stop, Breathe & Think · Insight Timer · 10% Happier · Breethe · Omvana · Simple Habit · Meditation and Relaxation Pro
3. Get creative juices flowing. Set aside a couple of minutes each day to doodle or color in an adult coloring book with intricate designs that challenge your brain. I am not much of a drawer, even though I always wished I was blessed with that artistic guidance like my son, so instead I color. When you do this, you trick your mind to move from any worry, anxiety, sad thoughts to how you can create something beautiful. You will have a small accomplishment for that day and that sends an amazing message to your brain that you are worthy of accomplishing something. A lot of times when you take this time to shift your brain, you may see how easy it is to come up with a solution to a problem when you take your mind off the problem for a few minutes.
4. Get out into nature. Nature will always squash anxiety. Mother Nature knows best! Get out for a walk every single day. Use your five senses while on your walk. Look for three things of a certain color. Listen for three different sounds. Touch three different textures. Smell three different scents and taste three different flavors in your mouth. Each day take a different route to use your senses again in a different area of your neighborhood, or even better, get into the woods on a hike.
5. Send love and light to anyone you come in contact with or think about. This truly only takes seconds to do, but can make you and the other person feel amazing. Throughout your day, randomly wish someone happiness, joy, love and send them a ray of sunshine. This practice takes place in your mind and no one even knows you are doing it. You can try it if you are on a walk and pass by someone. You can do it while sitting in traffic. You can do it while standing in line at the grocery store. Bonus points if you are mad or upset with someone, but stop and take the moment to mentally wish them happiness and joy, because clearly they are missing this from their life so why not send some to them.
6. Discover the Stars. Step away from your laptop, smartphone, television or I-pad and go outside at night-time and look up. Take time to pause and think about what else is out there. Let the cosmos remind you that there is so much more to life. It is so much bigger than your worries, inbox, bills or future endeavors. Take a camping trip without any technology and reset your circadian rhythm, your mind and body will thank you.
7. Cherish your tea, coffee and meals. Daily tea time is a deeply cherished practice in many cultures around the world and can create a nice routine to your daily regime. Take time to create your cup of tea, coffee or your meal with focus and great attention on all the finer details. How do your tea leaves smell or the tea bag look? How does the ground coffee smell? What memories does it bring up? When you add the hot water to your tea watch the steam rise from the cup. When you pour your cup of coffee, watch as the coffee fills your cup and the aroma stimulates your nose. Take a moment on your first sip to let it linger on your tongue and sip it without distraction. Feel it in your mouth and down your throat feeling how it warms you from the inside out. What memories does the taste bring up for you? You can also do this with making yourself an amazing meal. Mindfully choose your ingredients and slowly go through the prep of cutting the vegetables, trimming the meat and/or applying spices. When you eat your meal, go slowly and let the food linger on your tongue. Try to pick out all the spices before swallowing. Take a sip of water between bites and eat slowly and with focus on the meal. How does the smell make you feel? How does the smell make you feel?
8. Focus on one thing at a time. To be more mindful in your day, take time to focus on one thing and give it your undivided attention for a specific amount of time. Set a timer if you need to, but tackle that to-do list one thing at a time. Multi-tasking doesn’t really work and you take too long trying to do too many things at once, wasting precious energy. Instead, pick one thing and give it 100% of your attention for 30 minutes and see how much you can get done. In that 30 minutes, your phone is off, all your notifications on your phone and computer are off so you are not distracted by anything. You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish when your focus is on just one thing.
9. Leave your phone. Do you really need your phone when you go to another room, the bathroom, eat a meal, at a stoplight or go for a walk? The answer is NO, you really don’t. Instead of worrying about what you may be “missing” take a moment and reflect in the hear and now. During this pandemic I’ve been purposely leaving my phone in the house and eat my lunch outside in my backyard. Usually I spend 30 minutes thoroughly enjoying my lunch as well as watching the squirrels play. Leave your phone at home when you go for your walks. I know many of you, like me, have your walking tracking device on your phone, that’s fine to bring it so it can track your steps, but refrain from looking at it or pulling up your social media during your walk. Take this time to really enjoy the sites, sounds and smells of your neighborhood, the park or the woods. The same thing goes for when you are in your car and at a stop light. Refrain from pulling your phone out to see what could stimulate your brain in your social media. Instead, look around you and stimulate your brain with your present moment. Your phone and all your emails, posts and notifications will be there when you return.
10. Chores become mental break. Choose to create mindfulness moments when you do your daily “chores” or household duties. Instead of obsessing or frumping about your to-do list, choose to relax and use the moment as a way to slow down. Be mindful when you wash the dishes. Smell the dish soap and bubbles as you clean your dishes. Feel the warmth of the water over your hands and enjoy the way the soap runs down the dish. Dance while vacuuming the house. Daydream while folding the laundry, enjoying the scent of freshly cleaned clothes. Take ten deep breaths as you wait for the microwave to beep or when you walk into your child’s messy room.
11. Log off. Social media has it’s pro’s and cons. If you have it on all the time, it can contribute to anxiety and interrupt your productivity and creativity. Log off of your social media sites so that it is not so easy to pop on and get sucked into the rabbit hole of what is happening in the world. Being forced to type in your password is a good way to slow you down and make you take notice of the here and now. Set a time each day to check in with your social media. Limit your time too so you don’t end up feeling guilty about not being able to spend quality time with your family. Do you need all those social media accounts on your phone? Is it time to delete one, two or three? I noticed that I hardly used my LinkedIn account on my phone so I deleted it and only use it on my laptop during business hours.
12. Be bored. Have you felt the tug that you should be optimizing all your time in this quarantine? Do you feel that you need to seize this opportunity to be more productive? Here is my advice, “It is perfectly fine to just get by. Sit in the sun and watch the squirrels or listen to the breeze in the trees or windchimes is plenty for your mind and soul right now.” There has been new and extensive research lately that suggests that doing nothing or accepting the feelings of boredom is actually very beneficial for our cognitive health. Idle time can actually boost your neurotransmitters in your brain and make you more creative and more productive in less time. We need to be bored every now and then. We need to shut down and do something mundane (without our phones or technology) to reboot our brains. Our prefrontal cortex is responsible for communication as well as starting and stopping behaviors, self-reflection and self-knowing awareness. It is stimulated to create vigorous wiring in the absence of other stimulation. The brain requires some level of boredom for the neurons in the prefrontal cortex to fire and create new connections. The prefrontal cortex plays an important role in emotional regulation. It helps us have the ability to self-soothe and bring ourselves back to a center point instead of always needing to be stimulated by something outside, like that cell phone. If we do not come into stillness or boredom regularly, our prefrontal cortex doesn’t know how to do its job.
13. Daily Gratitude. Keeping a daily journal is another great way to bring more mindfulness into your life. You can choose to write about anything and everything that pops into your head for five minutes every day. You can sit and write out an intention for your day before you start your morning or set time to write down three things that you are grateful for and one accomplishment before going to sleep at night. The act of putting pen to paper can help soothe your mind and tame racing thoughts. Once the thoughts are out of your head and on paper, you no longer need to have them racing around in your mind.
Every little bit of mindfulness helps. Keep consistent with your practice every day. Practicing daily mindfulness can create a calmer mind, help you move past difficult situations and emotions as well as fill your heart with more joy and love.