Anxiety is the result of looking back and worrying about past events or being fearful of the unknown in the future. Mindfulness is being aware and fully present in the moment that is happening right now. Imagine being given your favorite dessert, in my case a piece of raspberry cheesecake. As you slice into it with your fork, you are aware of the sound of the fork cutting through the cheesecake, the texture, the smell and how it looks. Taking the first bite, you focus on the flavor and how it feels in your mouth. You are fully in the moment, experiencing it with all of your senses. For that moment, the past and the future were non-existant, you focused only on the moment. That is mindfulness.
When fully grounded in the moment, you normally don’t feel anxious. You instead use your senses to enjoy, or not enjoy, a tiny point in time. Mark Rubinstein, MSW, on the staff at Brown University, in an article, states, “Mindfulness can be a helpful approach to managing worry and anxiety. The practice of mindfulness involves focusing on sensory input occurring in the current moment as a way to quiet your mind from worries about the past or anticipation of future problems.”
To practice mindfulness, close your eyes. Pay attention to your breathing, to how your feet feel against the floor. Pay attention to sounds. You might hear the hum of fluorescent lights, an air conditioner, the heater or your refrigerator. You might hear cars driving by outside. Pay attention to what you feel, are you hot or cold, do you feel comfortable? Pay attention to smells, what do you smell? Go through each of your five senses (open your eyes for sight).
Take a few moments each day to practice mindfulness. If, while you are focusing, you instead find yourself drifting back to a worry about something or other, refocus your thoughts on one specific sense. For example, if you are taking a walk, you might focus on how the air feels on your face, if you are sitting comfortably at home, you might focus on the sounds around you. Some people also focus on their breathing. As you learn and practice this technique, you should find it becomes easier and you can quickly shift into mindfulness for a few minutes.
Imagine two people watching a thunderstorm. One is worried about the storm, wants to go inside where it is safe, hide from the loud claps of thunder. The other sits quietly, watching the magnificent light show in the sky, feels the breeze on his face, takes in the smell of summer rain. He isn’t worried about the storm, he is enjoying the moment and knows that if the storm comes too close, he will go indoors, but for now, the only moment that matters is this one. One person has entered a state of anxiety and the other is practicing mindfulness, feeling, seeing, smelling an, hearing the storm.
Mindfulness can be used to calm yourself during anxious moments, helping you to remember not to focus on the past or to worry about what is to come. It can help you focus your mind on the present moment, a moment where there are no problems to solve and nothing to make you anxious because right at this moment, you are fine and this moment is the one that counts.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.