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Five Ways to Use Mindfulness to Decrease Anxiety

Updated on May 12, 2016

I had an interesting conversation the other day where I was told that you cannot learn how to change who you are. I was told that for example you can’t learn how not to be an anxious person. I’ve also been told that a personality can’t be changed, such as a passive aggressive personality. Basically I was told an old dog can’t learn new tricks. I disagree, and I hope others share my view. An old dog, such as myself, can learn new tricks. I went through thirty years of not being able to cook tasty meals until I decided to put my mind to it and learn how. I succeeded. I hope those reading this article are trying to better their selves by working on ways to reduce their anxiety. It can be done! I’ve had classes, taught classes, and read many things about ways to change both anxiety and a personality. I’m not going to focus on personality, but on ways to reduce stress; which I know just about everyone wished they could do. I can’t promise that these tips will work for everyone, but I hope they will work for some.

Have you ever had someone ask you to come up with a list of ways to reduce stress? I have, and while it’s difficult to come up with a list on the spot, the ideas are endless. The statement, “I use mindfulness to reduce stress” can offer a myriad of possibilities. It sounds like only one way to relax, but when described can offer you loads of ideas. But what is mindfulness?

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To me the words mindfulness and meditation are interchangeable. You might think that meditation is a daunting word, but perhaps thinking of mindfulness as being in the here and now works better for you. That definition is correct too. When someone asks you to come up with a list of ways to reduce anxiety, simply saying “by mindfulness” doesn’t really constitute a list. However, breaking down different forms of mindfulness does. I have come up with five different ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your life.

#1 Deep Breathing

I am starting with deep breathing because it is perhaps the easiest mindful activity there is. We all have to breathe to live so we do it without thinking. Taking the time to think about it and concentrate on it can reduce your stress. How do you do it? Start by focusing on the inhale into your body. Stop for a second after the inhale, and then think about the exhale leaving your body. Next, concentrate on making your stomach (or diaphragm) expand when you breathe in. Go ahead and put your hand on your stomach. Pause when you have taken in enough air. Feel yourself deflate as you exhale. After taking a few of these breaths you can concentrate on what it feels like in your nose as the air blows through it and then out of it. Then feel how your chest reacts to your breathing. Just think and feel what breathing is like for as long as you are able. You might want to listen to a recording of someone guiding you through the breathes. A good one to try is Yoga Breathing by Caren Baginski, which I’ve posted below. To start, the breaths are easy. Watching the video to the end you’ll notice the breathing exercises becomes more difficult. If you just want to focus on easy breathing, just follow along at the beginning.

#2 Guided Meditation

I stated that mindfulness is meditation, so you may think this is something that doesn’t belong on the list, being redundant. It is not redundant though, because there are many types of meditation and mindfulness. Guided meditation describes only one part of what mindfulness can be. Some of the other forms of meditation are:

  • Self-guided meditation, where you guide yourself.
  • Religious meditation, which can surprisingly be any form of religion. I have been part of Buddhist meditations, a Catholic meditation, and New Age meditations.
  • Exercise meditation, where you pause to take a break in your exercise routine. This can be done in all kinds of different forms of exercise like Yoga, Martial Arts, and Aerobics to name a few.
  • Saying mantra’s: This can be repeating a phrase or word over and over out loud or in your head.
  • Self-Inquiry, which is answering deep questions like “What is the meaning of life?” and “why am I here?”

Let us focus on a guided meditation for now. Guided meditation is where you work with someone else to run you through mindfulness exercises. In my mental health groups, I have both practiced and led some of these exercises. A guided meditation can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. I suggest starting with something that doesn’t last that long if you are new to this. You can start with someone telling you a story about yourself. They should use phrases with things like “you are” and “you start to feel”. They can tell you a story using you as the main character. Let me tell you one now. Imagine you are floating on a cloud. How do you feel floating on the cloud? Does it feel soft? Does it feel firm? What color is it? Imagine yourself playing on the cloud. After a little time, you lay down on the cloud to rest. In a minute, the cloud drifts to the ground and you get off and wake up. Now the meditation is over. It may be easier for you to listen to a guide instead of following a guide in print. You can find YouTube videos with a guides on them. There is a YouTube video that was used in an art group that I attended. We started the class with a guided meditation focusing on the feet. Maria Lewis has uploaded this video clip by Dr. Robert E. Dinenberg.

It’s called Mindfulness Guided Meditation and is posted below.

#3 Aromatherapy

So far I have led you through a breathing exercise and a guided meditation. In this next mindfulness activity, you will need objects to help you along though. The act of smelling pleasant scents, or practicing aromatherapy can be another form of mindfulness. This is another easy thing to do if you know what kind of things you like to smell. We’ve all heard the phrase “stop and smell the roses.” This phrase explains that the scent of pleasant objects can make you mindful of everyday life. There is a lot of controversy on whether aromatherapy works, but I know from experience that it does. ABC News also says “Exposing your senses to strong smelling chemicals such as essential oils can positively affect your hormone production, brain chemistry, and stress levels.” (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/true-false-aromatherapy-relieve-stress/story?id=14730215) I’ve seen it work both in myself and in my daughter who has Autism. My daughter takes physical therapy, and one day the therapist pulled out oils for her to smell. When she focused on the scent she calmed right down. I was surprised because so few things work to reduce her stress. Some of the oils she had to smell were Vanilla, Apple Blossom, Orange, Lemon, Anise (licorice), Hibiscus, and Banana. After experiencing this with my daughter I thought this might work for me too. So I went and bought fall scents to help myself calm my anxiety. I bought fall scents because they are some of my favorite aromas. It’s probably not a good idea to focus on smells you don’t like because that can stress you out instead of calming you down. If you like fall scents you can get them by clicking on the add to the right.

There are other oils to buy on Amazon too. I have a friend who practices alternative medicine that swears that the aroma of lavender is a sure stress reducer. I hate the way lavender smells, so I avoid that one. Oils don’t need to be bought for scents to calm your nerves. Smelling roses or any other flower you find outside works too. I live in tulip country, so I can smell plenty of those. How about smelling trees you find outdoors or centering on what a body of water smells like? Letting the smell of perfume fill you up is another act of aromatherapy mindfulness. I also find that smelling scented candles in grocery stores works to calm my nerves greatly. I hope you find something right for you!

Source

#4 Listen to Music

Now we’ve talked about the sense of smell, but what about the sense of sound? Listening to music can be a great mindfulness experience. Psych Central says that music “has a unique link to our emotions, so can be an extremely effective stress management tool.” There is also a great article written there about music providing relief if you want to read more. (http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-power-of-music-to-reduce-stress/) I’d like to point out that when you listen to certain kinds of music, you might find your spirits rising or your body relaxing. I’ve been told not to listen to certain kinds of music, but I think that’s silly. Anything that sounds good to you can be good for you. If you don’t like the music you’re listening to though, stop listening to it. The University of Nevada points out that “Forcing yourself to listen to relaxation music that irritates you can create tension, not reduce it” (http://www.unr.edu/counseling/virtual-relaxation-room/releasing-stress-through-the-power-of-music) Their page also has some links to music you may want to listen too. If you don’t like New Age music, I don’t recommend listening to these songs. Like any kind of music, New Age music may be great for some people, but other’s might find it’s not right for them. This can be said about any form of music. I find country (especially the steel guitar) stressful so it’s something I won’t listen to. I like pop music, so I focus on those songs. I also like Hard Rock and Alternative music which some people have said is a no-no for a stress reliever. Well it relaxes me, so that is what I listen to. Ultimately, avoid what you don’t like, and listen to what you do! You don’t have to fork out any money to enjoy the sound of music. You can listen to it on your computer, or on the radio. I love listening to the radio in the car, and that leads us to number five.

#5 Go for a Drive

When asked what things you could do to focus on mindfulness, one of the students in a mental health class I took mentioned that concentrating on the here and now while you drive is a good idea. Some people, such as my father, find driving to be a chore. If this is you, then skip this mindfulness exercise. Other people, like myself, find that it can be relaxing. In an article on the internet Brian White writes that “One of the most effective methods of stress relief for [him] has always been the simple act of getting in the car and going for a drive…” (http://thekotanmethod.com/driving-for-stress-relief/). The article continues on about how driving reduces his stress. One of the reasons, as I’ve pointed out before, that driving reduces stress is that listening to a favorite radio station may calm your nerves. I also find that since you are alone in the car you can make as much noise as you want without worrying that other people can hear you. That means you can scream in the car when you feel you are about to burst…and no one will hear you! On a car ride with a friend one day, I was happy to learn that I was not the only one who sometimes practiced this. If you don’t have a car, don’t worry. You don’t have to be the driver for a car ride to relax you. You can find a friend to drive you around, and see if that relaxes you. My daughter, who I mentioned before, loves to go for a car ride. She’s often asking me if we can take one. Now I’d like to mention my own difficulties in obtaining a reliable car, because my daughter and I need it for stress reduction. It would be much appreciated if you could help us out. I have started a Go Fund Me Page to raise the money I need for a car. Please check out, https://gofundme.com/autistictransport and watch the YouTube video below at https://youtu.be/iSHqs0Po7R8

Fundraiser for Vehicle

Type of Mindfulness
Ease of Mindfulness
Cost of Mindfulness
Deep Breathing
Easy, we do it to live. Can be Hard to concentrate on just one thing. Or it can get hard if you get fancy with it.
Free
Guided Meditation
Medium Difficulty. Following along to someone’s voice isn’t that hard, but being so relaxed you want to sleep can be a problem.
Free, by finding things on YouTube or another person willing to guide you for free. Inexpensive if you want to pay for books, DVD’s, CD’s. Can be expensive if you want to take classes.
Aromatherapy
Easy if you know what you like to smell. Mildly Difficult if you don’t.
Free, if you find things in nature, or smell things in a grocery store before buying them. Can be costly if you buy oils or perfumes.
Listening to Music
Easy
Free if listened to online or on the radio. Inexpensive if you want to buy CD’s or download something like I-tunes. Expensive if you need to buy a radio or computer and speakers.
I’ve written this article to give people ideas of what mindfulness activities they might enjoy. The ultimate way to reduce stress is to do what you love. However, it may be hard to come up with things you like on short notice. Don’t be discouraged though, the list of anxiety reducing exercises can be endless. I mentioned deep breathing, meditation, aromatherapy, listening to music, and taking a drive. You can probably find an extensive list of more mindfulness activities you like to do. Hopefully after reading this article, and other lists, you start thinking of the things you love to do and start making your own list. Keep in mind that the main way to decrease anxiety is to avoid the things you don’t like, and do the things that you love. I hoped this has helped you!

References

  1. Baginski, K. (2015, January 18). 3 Yoga Breathing Exercises For Anxiety [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/N9jmO6xwFf
  2. Dinenberg, R.E. (2013, November 3). Lewis, M. Mindfulness Guided Meditation [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/dEzbdLn2bJc
  3. ABC News (2011, Oct. 17). True or False: Can Aromatherapy Help Relieve Stress? Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/true-false-aromatherapy-relieve-stress/story?id=14730215
  4. Collongwood, Jane (2016, May 2). The Power of Music to Reduce Stress. Retrieved fromhttp://psychcentral.com/lib/the-power-of-music-to-reduce-stress/
  5. University of Nevada Counseling Services. Releasing Stress Through the Power of Music. Retrieved from http://www.unr.edu/counseling/virtual-relaxation-room/releasing-stress-through-the-power-of-music
  6. White, Brian. (2011, Sep. 23). Driving for Stress Relief. Retrieved from http://thekotanmethod.com/driving-for-stress-relief/

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