5 Simple Mindfulness Exercises for Anxiety and Depression
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing our awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting our feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. While the concept may sound broad or vague, mindfulness techniques are really just simple methods and techniques used to quiet the mind when it becomes overstimulated. The mind becomes overloaded by daily tasks in our personal and work lives and by common life stressors, and as a result we can become overwhelmed. The stress we are experiencing can manifest somatically in the body (e.g. getting sick when you're under a lot of stress) or emotionally (think getting overly upset with your partner or having a meltdown over forgetting your lunch). This is your mind and body's way of alerting you that you may need to take a minute and slow down. Have you ever experienced feeling upset about something seemingly minor that suddenly spirals into a negative chain of thoughts leaving you in a state of high anxiety or depression? If so, mindfulness and meditation practices may be a really useful tool for you in taking control of these feelings.
There are many different ways that mindfulness techniques can be useful in coping with stress, tolerating discomfort, and dealing with emotional issues related to anxiety or depression. Here are 5 simple mindfulness exercises that you can try today.
1. Mindful breathing
You can try this exercise sitting down or standing up, whichever is more comfortable. Start by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth very slowly. One cycle should last for approximately 6 seconds. Start to let your breath flow effortlessly in and out of your body and try to stay focused on the action of breathing itself. Let go of your thoughts for a minute. Let go of the things you have to do later today or pending projects that need your attention. Simply let yourself be still for one minute.Without judgment, notice your breath and focus your senses on your body's ability to keep you alive with this simple yet important action. You can focus on the gentle noise of your breath making its way in and out of your nose and mouth or the sensation you feel in your nasal pathway or throat. Or the constant and continuous pattern of your body breathing in life and breathing out energy. If this exercise feels calming to you, try setting a timer for 1-2 minutes when you're feeling extra stressed or unbalanced and need to take a mental break.
2. mindful observation
This exercise is simple but effective in becoming more grounded and refocusing your attention away from negative thoughts. Find an object in your immediate environment. It can be anything in your surroundings such as a flower, a rock, a book, or even a cloud in the sky. Focus on watching it for a minute or two. Do nothing besides notice the object almost as if you have never seen it before. Look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time with fresh eyes. Look at every part of its formation. Allow yourself to connect with its energy and its role and purpose in the natural world.
3. mindful immersion
The focus of this exercise is to create a feeling of contentment and acceptance of the present moment and escape the persistent focus on the next task we find ourselves caught up in on a daily basis. It can also be helpful in creating a neutral focus rather than focusing on negative thoughts or feelings. Instead of anxiously trying to finish one task in order to finish another, this exercise allows you to experience the present task or activity in a focused way.
For example: if you are watering the plants, pay attention to every detail of the activity. Rather than treat this as a regular part of your morning or evening routine, create an entirely new experience by noticing every aspect of your actions: Feel and become the motion holding and pouring water from the watering can, sense the muscles you use when using the hose to pour water into the watering can, develop a more efficient way of spraying some of the plants, hear the gentle noise of the water as it provides sustenance to flowers and plants. The idea is to open your mind/awareness and discover new experiences within a familiar routine task.
This way you can enjoy what you are doing more so than if you simply rushed through what your mind has learned is a task or chore. You may even find that simple tasks even become more enjoyable!
4. The ten second count
This is more of an exercise in practicing concentration than pure mindfulness, but is helpful when starting a mindfulness practice, as concentration is key. In this exercise, rather than focussing on your breath, you just close your eyes and focus your attention to slowly counting to ten. If your concentration wanders off, just start back at number one. For most people, it might look something like this...
“One...two...three...Did I remember to wash my shirt for work last night? Oh, shoot, I’m thinking.”
“One...two...three...four...I'm really proud of myself for taking the time to ... Oh no....that’s a thought! Start again.”
“One...two...three...four...now I’ve got it. I’m really concentrating now...”
It can be frustrating at first, but just try to notice the thoughts as they come and go, you can even laugh at yourself a little if you notice you're getting overly frustrated, and see the progress you make each time you sit down and focus on counting to ten. Just the exercise itself can create a positive distraction from overthinking throughout the day or times when you are experiencing negative thoughts related to depression and anxiety.
5. mindful appreciation
In this last exercise, take time to notice 5 things in your day that usually go unnoticed. These things can be objects or people – it’s up to you. Throughout the day write down these 5 things and check them off by the end of the day.
The point of this exercise is to generate gratitude and appreciate the seemingly insignificant things in life that occur or exist on a daily basis; the things that help us thrive but rarely get any notice while we focus on bigger and better things.
For example: running water allows you to bathe, you have access to food and water, you have access to the internet if you are reading this blog, your eyes let you see the blue sky, your ears let you hear the birds chirping by the window, but…
Are you aware of how these things/processes came to exist, or how they really work?
Have you ever thought about how these things benefit your life and the lives of others?
Have you ever thought about what life might be like without these things?
Have you ever stopped to notice their finer, more intricate details?
Once you have identified your 5 things, find out everything you can about their origin and purpose to truly appreciate the way in which they are an essential part of your life. There is so much to be grateful for each day, the smallest things that we take for granted. This is a great exercise to pull you out of negative thoughts or focusing on what you didn't get or don't yet have. Why not focus on the things you do have and cultivate a sense of appreciation?