Aside from cognitive behavioral therapy, which I have discussed in previous posts, another type of intervention that can be helpful for anxiety involves mindfulness.
Mindfulness practices aim to cultivate awareness of the present moment. In other words, mindfulness helps us become aware of where we are, what we are doing, and who we are.
Many of us spend so much of our waking time thinking about the past or worrying about the future, that we are rarely ever fully present.
So today I would like to discuss 11 mindfulness exercises that can help you get in touch with the present. These come from a large group of mindfulness exercises I have tried over the years. Some of the following practices may be familiar to you, and some may be new, but the intent of them all is to get you to do things differently and by doing so, become aware of the here and now.
1. For a whole day try to be aware of one particular color in your surroundings, say, the color blue. Look for blue in your office, inside your home, while you’re shopping….Did you notice the blue sky or the blue ocean? Someone’s blue suit or blue jeans? Someone’s beautiful blue eyes? Are you surprised to find so many blue colored objects all around you?
2. Before you eat your meal, first close your eyes and cover your ears (e.g., use earplugs). Ready? Okay, now take a bite. Take another bite. Now use all your senses and eat mindfully. You may have noticed that though your vision and hearing are not directly involved in eating, they enrich the experience in ways you had not considered before.
3. Go around smelling things. Yes, the flowers, the food cooking on the stove, but also things that you don’t usually smell—objects like the table, the TV, or your phone. How would you describe each object’s scent? Sharp, sweet, floral, musty, earthy, fetid? How do you feel knowing that all these objects around you have their own scents?
4. Listen for sounds all around you. Cars, people talking, birds, children’s laughter, your feet on the pavement, sirens, the rumbling of your belly when you are hungry, the sound of your fingers scratching your face, etc. How would you describe the sounds? Loud, high-pitched, hoarse, musical, grating? Think what it would be like to live in a world made of sounds only.
5. Touch things. The couch, the table, your knees, earlobes, elbows, and eyelids. As you eat, touch your food mindfully. Take a few seconds to rub your fingers over the carrots, the lettuce, the potato. Feel a strand of spaghetti between your thumb and index finger. What do these objects feel like? Hard, cold, wet, fuzzy, flaky, rubbery? Spend an hour or two being fully aware of the sense of touch.
6. Do not use any electronics for one whole day. I am referring to television, phone, computer, etc. This can be particularly challenging for some of you and very easy for others. If it is exceptionally difficult for you, you can limit the electronics-free time to only a few hours. Alternatively, you may allow yourself to watch TV, for instance, but not use the computer. As a result, did you become aware of things you were not aware of before?
7. Change the position of a few commonly used objects, like your chair, couch, hair products, coffee mug, nightstand, etc. Does that allow you to attend to the particular object or to the space around you in a new way?
8. For a whole week, do something new each day. Take a new route back home from work. Eat at a new restaurant. Greet people differently than usual. Watch a show you’re never watched before. Spend your free time differently (e.g., turn off your phone and sit on a bench for an hour and watch the world go by).
9. Spend one day being aware of the work of a certain body part, such as your feet or hands. Notice how often you use your hands/feet during the day. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to look at your hands/feet and reflect back on the experiment and see if this awareness has resulted in different feelings toward these body parts.
10. Do not look at the time. This can be particularly challenging (depending on your daily routine), but whenever possible, try not to look at your watch and instead guess the time. To do so you may need to reflect a little on what you have done so far and how long, but also consider the light and the sun and various other clues all around you. Does this exercise help you become more present?
11. Sit for ten minutes and do nothing but observe. Think of yourself as a camera. Watch yourself. No, watch this person. Where is this person sitting? What is happening around this person? What is this person thinking, feeling…what does this person want right now?
I hope that you have found these exercises helpful. If you do other mindfulness practices that you find helpful and would like to share with others, please feel free to do so by posting in the comments section.