By Jo Marshall
Mindfulness in its simplest form is ‘present moment awareness’ or paying attention to what is happening right now without judgement but with kindness, compassion and acceptance. It helps you to check-in with yourself and become more aware of what’s going on in the present moment, instead of living on autopilot 24 hours a day. With mindfulness you can become more aware of anxious thoughts and feelings and have the tools to manage them better.
This exercise is called STOP, which stands for Stop, Take a breath, Observe and Proceed. You can use this whenever you feel anxiety feelings arising. As it’s only short, it can be used anywhere, you don’t need to sit or lie still for 30 minutes.
If you are in the middle of something take some time to stop if you can. If you’re feeling anxiety but think you are too busy to stop, that’s when you really do need to stop and take a break.
Take some mindful breaths next.
If it helps, place a hand on your stomach and feel how it goes up and down as you breathe in and out. What you are doing now is focusing your attention on the breath and away from any emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations.
When you are ready and you have focused your attention on your breath, start to become aware of all your bodily sensations. Concentrate particularly on any physical discomfort that you are having as a result of your anxiety. Bring a sense of acceptance to these sensations and see if you can allow them to be just as they are.
Feel them the same time as your breath and try to bring kindness and warmth to them instead of judging them if you can. If you get lost, go back to the breath and use it as a support to help focus on these sensations. After you have observed your body for a while, move on to your emotions and your thoughts. Try to watch the thoughts as an observer and allow them to pass in their own time without forcing them.
Gently bring your attention back to whatever you were doing. As you bring your attention back into your physical world, try to focus on what you were doing with mindful attention if you can. For example, if you are sitting at a desk typing, engage with the sensations of feeling your fingers on the keyboard and the weight of your body on your chair. Just bring as much of a sense of acceptance and acknowledgment towards your feelings as you can, knowing that your feelings are temporary and will eventually go.
Mindfulness isn’t about trying to stop anxious thoughts, suppress them or clear your mind. It is about bringing thoughts to the surface with awareness and curiosity so you can take charge of them. Once you can change your attitude and perception towards your thoughts, they can lose their power over you.
Here are some quick exercises you can do to manage your anxious thoughts:
- Leaves floating down a stream: Take a few breaths, close your eyes and imagine that you are standing by a stream. When you become aware of a thought, place it on a leaf and watch it float away downstream.
- Bubbles: Take a few breaths, close your eyes and visualise bubbles floating through the air. Imagine your thoughts inside those bubbles, gently floating away.
- Clouds in the sky: Visualise clouds in the sky, floating high above you. When you become aware of a thought, place it on a cloud and watch it float away.
- Label your thoughts: When an anxious thought arises, try to label it if you can. Are you worrying, judging, planning or being self-critical?
- Thought or fact? Notice the thought that you are having. Is it a thought or a fact? Thoughts are just thoughts and are not necessarily facts.
- Write it down: Write down the thoughts that you are having. Sometimes just the very act of writing something down can feel like a release.
- Mountain Meditation: Imagine a tall and majestic mountain, standing strong in all seasons and all weathers. Now imagine yourself as this mountain, standing strong and tall. Imagine your emotions and thoughts are like the seasons, ever-changing and never permanent. They come and go, but you remain stable, balanced and grounded.
Remember that mindfulness is about being neutral and unaffected by your thoughts and emotions, just like the mountain is unaffected by the seasons. Your true essence remains constant, just like the mountain.