“Mindfulness” is one of our latest cultural buzzwords. In our fast-paced, iPhone-obsessed society, being busy is often seen as a “badge of honor.” Multi-tasking has become increasingly prevalent and technology has made it easier than ever before to be constantly “plugged in” to social media and email platforms. Therefore, it makes sense that people are turning to time-tested practices in an effort to become more present in their everyday lives.
So what exactly does it mean to be mindful? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
There is an abundance of research to suggest that mindfulness practices can improve an individual’s mental health. This helps to explain why many evidence-based therapies for anxiety and depression utilize components of mindfulness. For instance, a meta-analytic review based on 39 studies, found that “mindfulness-based therapy is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems in clinical populations.”
I reached out to Meghan Renzi, LCSW-C, RYT-200, a psychotherapist based out of Bethesda, Maryland, who is an expert in using mindfulness-based practices and CBT to help teens and families who are struggling with anxiety and other mental health concerns. Renzi shared the following quick tips for using mindfulness to cope with stress and anxiety.
1. Take a pause during the day and notice the thoughts you are having.
Often we get so caught up in thinking about the past or future that we don’t take the time out to notice the thoughts that we are having in the present.
Renzi explains, “Simply notice. Try not to attach “good” or “bad” labels to your thoughts. You can even visualize your thoughts as clouds floating through the sky. You do not have to chase the clouds, just watch them float by. If you do happen to get caught in a thought-no big deal. It is completely natural.”
Taking a moment out to observe your thoughts (without judgment), can help you to feel more present and grounded throughout your day. Often anxiety is a result of worrying about future events and circumstances, therefore bringing yourself back to the present moment can help to decrease feelings of anxiety.
2. Practice a simple breathing exercise.
Breathing exercises are simple, yet powerful and always accessible during times of stress and anxiety.
Renzi says, “Noticing the breath can be an easy way to bring you back to the present moment. Count your inhale and see if you can make your exhale a bit longer. Exhaling signals the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates your rest and relaxation response. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. As you breath in, feel your belly inflate with air just like a balloon.”
3. Come back into your body.
There is a myriad of research to suggest that yoga is helpful in regards to coping with stress and anxiety. For instance, studies suggest that yoga helps to regulate the stress response by decreasing physiological arousal (i.e. lowering blood pressure).
Renzi is a registered yoga teacher and incorporates yoga into her therapy practice. She says, “Try some yoga. Child’s pose, legs up the wall and a simple forward fold can be a great way to release tension and come back into your physical body. Notice how these small movements can shift the energy in your body.”
4. Try a meditation app.
Many people are turning to meditation to better manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to a review of 47 studies in JAMA Internal Medicine, meditation was found to be beneficial for people who are struggling with depression, anxiety, and physical pain.
Renzi explains, “A morning meditation can be a great way to start the day, even if you only have time to sit for a few minutes. I love “Insight Timer”, a free app with numerous guided meditations. A few others include “Andrew Johnson’s Don’t Panic” and “Smiling Mind.”
Tying it Together
Using one or more of these simple exercises throughout your day can help you to decrease anxiety, feel calmer, and more grounded.
If you or someone that you love is struggling with an anxiety disorder or other mental health concern, it is important to seek out the help of a licensed therapist. Seeking help when you are struggling is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer has a private practice specializing in working with adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders (including binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and OSFED), body image issues, anxiety, and survivors of trauma. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD. Jennifer offers eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype. Connect with Jennifer through her website at www.jenniferrollin.com