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Five Ways to Use Mindfulness to Decrease Anxiety
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?
Have You Heard of Mindfulness?
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.
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.
#4 Listen to Music
#5 Go for a Drive
Fundraiser for Vehicle
Type of Mindfulness
Ease of Mindfulness
Cost of Mindfulness
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.
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.
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
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.
- Baginski, K. (2015, January 18). 3 Yoga Breathing Exercises For Anxiety [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/N9jmO6xwFf
- Dinenberg, R.E. (2013, November 3). Lewis, M. Mindfulness Guided Meditation [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/dEzbdLn2bJc
- 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
- Collongwood, Jane (2016, May 2). The Power of Music to Reduce Stress. Retrieved fromhttp://psychcentral.com/lib/the-power-of-music-to-reduce-stress/
- 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
- White, Brian. (2011, Sep. 23). Driving for Stress Relief. Retrieved from http://thekotanmethod.com/driving-for-stress-relief/