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How Mindfulness Helps With Anxiety

It may seem like staying present in a difficult moment could be potentially debilitating; however, mindfulness can actually ease anxiety and supports overall mental health. Sitting with discomfort by engaging your senses is a healthy approach to calm anxiety and anxious thoughts. Once an emotion has passed through your body, you have choices to make on how to show up for yourself.

Read: “What Is Mindfulness and How To Be Mindful”

Anxiety may cause you to ruminate or overthink every outcome until you have tired yourself. Mindfulness exercises help you to shift your thinking into action by recognizing your five senses and how they are serving you in the moment. No matter where you are physically located, you can get yourself reacquainted with the present moment at any time.

Though mindfulness will not solve the issues that lead to increased anxiety, it will help your body to shift into a more calm state so that you can make choices for how you will engage or respond more effectively.

When we experience anxiety symptoms like increased heart rate, tension in our body, shortness of breath, racing thoughts, or others, this is a sign our nervous system has shifted into an aroused state.

At this point, our brain activates the sympathetic nervous system resulting in reactive responses like fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. This often results in impulsive decision making, reacting or lashing out, shutting down and checking out, avoiding and running away, anxious attempts to please or fix and can lead to increased anxiety, conflict and overwhelm.

When you are able to recognize the physical symptoms of anxiety you experience, as you experience them, this is mindfulness. You are aware and noticing your experience physically. Once you have this awareness, you have the ability to choose to do something to calm your body; reactivating the parasympathetic nervous system – our body’s calm state.

Once you have shifted back to the parasympathetic nervous system, through mindful activities, you are able to make thoughtful decisions on how you would like to react in order to meet your desired outcome according to what you most want (your values).

Whether you value having healthy communication, feeling connected with someone, being seen as accountable and effective or something else, when you make decisions and react to situations from a mindful, calm state, you are able to make them thoughtfully and in line with what you value and want most.

Read: “What is Mental Health and Why is Mental Health Important?”

Practicing mindfulness supports growing a more advanced practice of meditation as well and is the first step to learning how to meditate which expands on awareness, acceptance, and calm. Mindful meditation has even more benefits to helping reduce stress, anxiety and overwhelm, and first things first – let’s get mindful.

Just as with learning anything new, it’s important to practice mindfulness exercises when you are not in a state of crisis. Practicing throughout the day when you are not feeling so anxious helps to keep the body in a more calm, regulated state so when something does trigger anxiety you are more calm from the start.

Here are a few ways to practice mindfulness throughout your day to help with anxiety:

1.     Breathe: The quickest way to ease anxiety and shift into mindfulness is to breathe. It is a built-in feature of your body and can be used anytime and anywhere. If you are feeling hyper focused on an event in your life, take a pause with a breath. You don’t have to be an expert with the basics. This tool can give you a moment to stay present. There are many ways to get in tune with your breathing skills through mindful breathing.

Breathing out lowers your heart rate, while breathing in, increases it. Both are important to functioning at a calm state, however, when in an aroused state, breathing out a little longer than you breath in will help to slow things down. Try breathing in for a count of 5 and out for a count of 7, two to three times and see how you feel. If you notice you are feeling more relaxed, return to normal breathe. If you need a few more deep, longer breaths, take them.

2.     Make Yourself a Warm Beverage:  The simple act of making a warm beverage for yourself can engage all of your senses. Engaging your senses in mindful experiences, helps to shift your thoughts from rumminating worries to awareness of a different activity. It can be a simple yet mindful moment in your day.

Mindfully enjoying a warm beverage; you are feeling the warmth of the cup in your hands, smelling the aroma of your drink, tasting the fruity or nutty flavor, hearing the water percolate or heat up, and seeing the colors mix together.

At Teaspressa, they take mindfulness to the next level. You can make your tea with a Moka Pot, Aeropress, French Press, etc. Then, add one of their flavored sugar cubes for a delightfully sweetened experience. The best part is that they have dried, edible flowers to decorate the top of your drink. Though they are an Arizona-based company, they do have shipping available nationwide.    

3.     Engage in a Body Scan: With anxiety, sometimes you can rush through your day or be in the middle of overthinking that you forget to check in with how your body feels. Reconnecting to your body is a way to stay mindful.

Ask yourself whether you are clenching your jaw, stiffening your neck, experiencing pressure in your shoulders, feelingpain in your back, or tenseness in your legs. You may be in an anxious state and recognizing that can help relieve it. If you notice tension in your body, relax that muscle and then, relax it again. When your body is tense, it is in an aroused state; ready to fight. Learning to relax the tensed areas of your body, shifts the body to the parasympathetic nervous system. By using mindfulness through a meditative body scan, you can alleviate symptoms of anxiety; reducing anxiety overall. 

Here’s a free 15-minute guided meditation for your body from mindfulness based Level 3 Certified Mindfulness Teacher from UMASS Center for Mindfulness, Cassie Schindler.

Headspace and Simple Habit both have body scan meditations included within the free version of their meditation apps.   

4.     Get Messy: Sometimes, you have to push yourself beyond what feels most comfortable. There is no better way to engage your senses than to get messy, and this can happen in a safe space for you. Anxiety is feeling emotionally, and mindfulness is feeling experientially. This shift is a benefit. There is a plethora of ways to be mindfully messy in Denver. You can garden, paint, dance, blow glass, play in nature, listen to live music, or knit/crochet.

Engaging more of your senses and being intouch with them as you experience them can bring joy, even if the activity might be messy. It may take planning ahead, to schedule some of these activities and it can be viewed as a way of investing in your future self.

Being proactive and planning activities for your future self can benefit your whole self and is an emotionally regulated way to ease anxiety. The key to engaging mindfully in these activities is to remain as aware of your senses as possible.

  • Garden: Get your hands messy as you nourish your body and soul through gardening. There are many community gardens throughout Denver and can be found at the Denver Urban Garden website. We also encourage you to look for volunteer opportunities at larger, non-profit gardens local to Colorado.
  • Blow Glass: This form of artistry is a way to express yourself and have fun in the same moment, which can help you stay present. The Furnace: A Glassworks offers glass blowing classes and lessons to the general public in a supervised, safe way. You can enjoy private lessons, group classes, or a full studio rental depending on your needs.
  • Dance: Cleo Parker Robinson Dance offers drop in dance classes for all levels of dance. We also recommend trying out otherdance studios and zumba classes throughout the Denver Metro Area. Feel and hear the music and rythym as you let go and have fun.
  • Play in Nature: There are so many adventures to be had in Colorado for all adventure levels! From walks in parks or along some of the many river front trails, and hikes in the foothills to climing 14-ers. Rafting, biking, paddle boarding, swiming, fishing; the list goes on and on. We highly recommend putting your feet in the cold water you come upon while hiking along streams or rivers. That will awaken your senses for sure.
  • Listen to Live Music: Getting messy isn’t exclusive to touch. Music is a way to stay mindful and explore likes and dislikes to help build your best self. Leavitt Pavilion Denver has a free outside concert series in the summer and is giving back to the community through an artistic cultural experience. (This is a great way to show of your dance moves as well!) There are also ways to participate in your community through Leavitt. With anxiety, helping others can help you too. 
  • Knit/Crochet: Lamb Shoppe is a local Denver favorite when it comes to knitting and crocheting classes. Not only will you build a sense of community but also you can use your hands and brain for something productive even if that means resting your mind for a moment. You may not stitch perfectly your first time, but that is part of getting messy. No matter what, you will still have a supportive community to surround you.

Anxiety can be frustrating, especially when you feel stuck and overpowered by the consistent anticipation of the future. When you are thinking your way out of problems that were created with thoughts, it may be time to employ mindfulness. By engaging breath and your five senses, you are well on your way to shifting your thoughts into support for your best self. 

Feeling anxious or having anxious thoughts or feelings doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder, and you don’t need a diagnosed anxiety disorder for a mindfulness practice to be helpful for you.

If you are struggling to find a mindfulness based practice that works for you, or feel you need more help managing anxiety symptoms, therapy is a helpful tool to explore as well. Our therapists provide guidance in mindfulness as well as other helpful tools to reduce anxiety over time.

Learn More About Denver Metro Counseling

Written by: Randi Thackeray, MA
Clinically Reviewed and Edited by: Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACS, ACC

Denver Metro Counseling is a group of clinicians who provide therapeutic support for teens, adults, parents, and families. We provide supportive therapy for people struggling with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, ADHD, negative body image, and more
Denver Metro Counseling

Our Clinician’s Bios:
Audrey Bristol, LSW
Molly Ward, LCSW
Karan Steuart, LCSW, LAC
Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACC, ACS

Follow Denver Metro Counseling on Facebook: Denver Metro Counseling and Instagram: @denvermetrocounseling for other helpful information.