By Jasmine Gonzalez, M.S., NCC, LPC-Intern
“It is in the uncomfortable places where we grow.” I can still hear the voice of my yoga instructor and one of my dearest friends echoing throughout the room one evening during class. I remember thinking to myself: In such a cerebral world, where our thoughts wander aimlessly back and forth from the sorrows of the past to the worries of the future, what in the WORLD could be more uncomfortable than remaining in the present moment?
How can mindfulness help with anxiety?
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common disorders diagnosed in the United States roughly affecting 40 million adults in the U.S. Anxiety results from natural responses, but like all things, it can become debilitating in excess.
So, what is mindfulness and how can it help? In short, mindfulness is the act of being fully engaged in the present moment. Leading expert in the field Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited with introducing mindfulness into the mainstream and founded the world-renowned Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.”
Utilizing mindful practices as tools can help you to become more aware of the present moment and can allow you to access the resources within yourself that you carry with your every day in order to overcome anxiety. The goal of mindful practice is not to change your situation, because we do not have control over that. However, you can begin to change your response to the situations that occur within your life.
The Science Behind Mindfulness
Evidenced-based credibility within the field of mindfulness has become rapidly accepted by healthcare professionals world-wide. Countless studies show a relationship between mindful practices and the improvement of pre-frontal nodes in the brain responsible for regulating behavior and decision-making processes. Firm research has also indicated that those undergoing mindful-based cognitive therapy showed a reduced rate of depression by 50%. Most profoundly, researchers studying the FOXO gene discovered cell alterations and an improvement in the expression of the gene of those undergoing a mindful-based therapy program. FOXO is the key regulator of stress resistance, metabolism, and aging. In other words, mindful interventions can not only help you relax, but could also help to reverse the damage caused by chronic stress.
Being Mindful in a Chaotic World
If we are being totally honest, it’s safe to say that our lives are consumed by chaos every day. Mindfulness can be incorporated into your life as a simple practice that can be accessed anytime and anywhere you go. As long as you can breathe, you can practice mindfulness. We can all breathe! As you practice, you will become less anxious and more resilient. Although mindful practices, such as meditation, have been used for thousands of years for spiritual purposes, the modern-day incorporation of mindfulness in therapy is not a spiritual practice. It is not associated with mysticism or any kind of religious practice. Mindfulness can be extremely powerful in creating a link between the body and one’s state of mind. It is about observing your thoughts and feelings and how they are inevitably connected to the creation of anxiety and stress.
Every single aspect of your life can be used as an opportunity to cultivate mindfulness finding moments to slow down the hustle and bustle of your day. Here’s an easy way to begin practicing:
The only requirement for this exercise is that you have a readily available window for viewing purposes. Moreover, some people may not feel totally comfortable closing their eyes to meditate. Mindful seeing gives you the opportunity to experience your visual senses as you meditate. You can start by doing this exercise for 5 minutes.
Step 1: Find yourself a window with a view. Maybe at home or even at the office.
Step 2: Begin to observe what you are seeing. Just observe, free of judgement so that you are simply noticing your surroundings. You may notice different objects, colors, or even textures in your view.
Step 3: Begin to pay attention to your surroundings almost as if you are a stranger to this environment and it is the very first time you are experiencing what you see. Take notice of anything that moves with the wind, the cars driving by, birds flying, or people walking.
Step 4: Here we become a close observer of what we see. We are not judging what we see, simply noticing and observing. Try not to criticize anything you see, but rather the goal is to generate awareness for your surroundings.
Step 5: Becoming distracted is completely normal. Any time you notice you begin to wander away from your observations, gently reroute your attention to the view in front of you. Redirect yourself in a non-judgmental way knowing that each time your attention may stray from you, you can always come right back into your visual observations.
Mindfulness is great tool to help manage and control strong emotions that may lead to anxiety. It has been a tool used for over 3,000 years spanning different cultures and generations. By using our imaginations, and a little creativity, it is a tool that we can harness almost anywhere. As each day goes by that we begin living in the present, we may experience the joy and happiness that can unfold in each moment as we begin to soothe our way through our anxieties. If you find yourself suffering from anxiety, you’re not alone. And as the great Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Smile, breathe, and go slowly.”
Wishing you all the best and happy mindful practicing,