Reducing anxiety with a mindfulness practice works. Not only that, it works on a deep level and creates a life-long change in our relationship with anxiety. If you’re skeptical, you’re not alone. After all, mindfulness is largely about being present where you are. If anxiety is constantly with you, does mindfulness mean you’re present with it? How, then, does being mindful reduce anxiety? Let’s explore that and gain some mindfulness tools.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of being with yourself and perceiving the world around you that can help you live your life more peacefully and with [calmness]. ” This description from The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety and from the Thich Nhat Hanh quote in the above image, captures the essence of mindfulness:
- it’s part of being
- it’s using your senses
- it’s living in peace
- it’s inviting
- it’s experiencing joy (this one is from Thich Nhat Hanh; see the above image)
These five aspects of mindfulness provide guidance for reducing anxiety with mindfulness.
5 Ways to Use Mindfulness to Reduce Anxiety
Mindfulness involves more than five components or methods. These five aptly capture the essence of what mindfulness is and how you can use it in your life to lessen anxiety’s negative impact.
1.Mindfulness is something you do, especially when you’re just beginning to know mindfulness. Beyond the “doing,” mindfulness becomes a way of being. It’s a lifestyle, and one without anxiety at the forefront. When mindfulness replaces anxiety as our lifestyle, we develop new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Our state of being is calm rather than agitated and stressed.
To make this inner change, begin practicing mindfulness daily, in many moments throughout your day. Look at random objects and study them, repeating to yourself, “I see ___, I feel ___, I hear ___, I smell ___, and I taste ___ (if appropriate.” This pulls you away from anxious thoughts and puts you in your present moment, aware of your surroundings instead of your anxiety.
2.Mindfulness is using the senses. All of our senses perceive the physical world around us. We can’t be present in the outside world while simultaneously being present in our anxious thoughts. They both exist, but we can’t give our outer reality and inner thoughts the same degree of attention at the same time. One must drift into the background when we’re attending to the other.
Therefore, plopping ourselves in the tangible world, our present moment, and using our senses to pay attention to it takes away prominence and power from anxiety. Oh, and (no need to force thoughts about the physical world to shout over anxious thoughts; imply notice things quietly.
3.Mindfulness is living in peace. Anxiety is loud. It screams insults. It shouts worries and fears and what-ifs. It cackles twisted memories. Imagine silencing all this. Practicing mindfulness allows you to turn away from the anxious clattering in your head. When you disengage with anxiety by mindfully placing yourself in the tangible world around you, anxiety is muffled a bit. When you notice it’s noise, simply return to mindfully being. You’ve created some peace, and you’ve done it peacefully by shifting your attention rather than fighting with anxiety.
4. Mindfulness reduces anxiety by inviting it to be with you. But isn’t the point of mindfulness to get rid of anxiety? Why invite it in? Because it increases inner peace and stillness. As much as we’d like to, we can’t force anxiety to leave. Struggling and fighting only makes anxiety worse. But by calmly inviting it to be with you, you reduce its strength.
When you invite anxiety to be with you, you’re really inviting it to be beside you. Beside you means outside of you, as in out of your head. When you invite, you willingly accept, and when you accept, you stop fighting with and concentrating on anxiety. You’ve created distance, not closeness, and you can now be mindfully present in your moment.
5. Mindfulness is joyfulness. Thich Naht Hanh teaches that to enjoy a cup of tea (or anything else), we need to present in the moment. Our tea is here now. Our drinking the tea is happening now. Experiencing it mindfully wakes us up and pulls us out of our head so we can taste it, see it (the color, the steam, the cup, the surroundings). When we’re present in this physical moment, we can be happy and content. If we are caught in our anxious thoughts, we’re present with anxiety instead of with the tea. It’s hard to enjoy something when you’re paying attention to something else.
The Practice of Mindfulness
Mindfulness reduces anxiety by helping you step away from your head and anxious thoughts, worries, and what-ifs and into your life. When you pay full attention to things in your present moment, you can’t give full attention to anxiety.
“Mindfulness” is often paired with the word “practice” — practicing mindfulness; a mindfulness practice. That’s because mindfulness:
- is something we regularly do, throughout our days, which makes it a practice rather than a one-and-done anxiety-reducing tool
- is not always easy and requires patient repetition (practice)
- it’s the practice, the essence of, life.
Mindfulness reduces anxiety by placing us away from it and out into our real lives, not the lives imagined by anxiety.