Have you ever had your heart race, palms become sweaty, or have difficulty focusing because you’re so nervous? These are some of the signs of anxiety.
Anxiety can be debilitating for some people, and for others it might just amount to a few minutes of feeling nervous.
Unfortunately, for some people when anxiety does hit, it can cause you to freeze and be unable to focus, respond, or engage in everyday tasks. For most people, anxiety is the result of thinking about something out of your control, or of something in the future.
Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD, is the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.“
Regulate Your Breathing
One of the most common physical reactions when people experience anxiety is that their breathing rate increases or minds race. Using the basis of mindfulness, and paying attention on purpose, notice your breath as it goes in through your nostrils, and then again as you let your breath out through your mouth. Start by taking three slow deep breaths, and when you breathe in say “in” to yourself, hold for a count of at least four, and then say “out” to yourself as you release the breath.
When you are focusing in the moment on your breath, and only on your breath, it’s hard to focus on anything else. If needed, you can continue past three breaths, and do this until you are able to regulate your breathing.
If that technique is too challenging, or uncomfortable, try counting with each breath until you reach ten. Therefore, each breath in and out is a count. When your mind starts to wander, which is really normal, start back at the number one. Most people don’t reach ten, and that is okay. The important part is that you bring your attention back to your breath which helps you focus in the moment, therefore helps to decrease anxiety.
Use Your Senses
Once again, by being mindful and paying attention to your senses, you can only focus on what you are paying attention to in the moment.
Notice the following:
- 5 Things You Can See
- What you can see around you.
- What you can see in your mind if you close your eyes.
- 4 Things You Can Touch
- You can touch your arms, legs, etc, or things around you.
- You can pay attention to how your feet are touching the ground.
- How your legs are touching the chair you’re sitting on.
- How your back is touching the back of the chair or couch you’re sitting on.
- You can touch things around you.
- 3 Things You Can Hear
- What sounds can you hear?
- If you’re outside, pay attention to nature sounds, or maybe an airplane flying overhead.
- If you’re inside, notice other voices in the room, music playing, the air conditioner running.
- What sounds can you hear?
- 2 Things You Can Smell
- Notice if there is a particular scent in the air.
- Scratch your nails on an orange, and smell the scent it gives off.
- Use essential oils (i.e., lavender is often calming)
- 1 Thing You Can Taste
- Is there something you can find to eat?
- Chew gum.
- Pay attention to the taste of a hard candy.
Engage in an Activity that Requires Focus
- Color in a coloring book or color a mandala. When you are coloring in small spaces, it takes a lot of focus to stay in the lines.
- Play a musical instrument.
- Bake something. This takes a lot of focus because when you’re baking, the measurements must be exact.
- Knit, cross-stitch, or crochet.
- Choose another activity that you enjoy that requires focus.
However you choose to engage in a mindful activity, remember that the key is to try and stay in the present moment, and avoid looking at future events to help reduce any symptoms of anxiety.
Written by Norine Vander Hooven, LCSW