Managing Anxiety through Mindful Activity

Managing Anxiety through Mindfulness

Managing Anxiety through Mindful Activity

What does a human have in common with a cow? Well, just like a cow chews their cud (called rumination) humans have a tendency to ruminate, but in a different way. Often our minds like to mull over topics, events, problems, conversations, past, present or future for minutes to hours to days to weeks… and for an eternity in some very unfortunate situations. This is also known as rumination.

Rumination: So what does this do to us? Well, it seems that it plays a major role in the development of anxiety and depression. When we focus on uncomfortable, negative or unwanted problems, our bodies react in a way that tries to prepare for, eliminate, control and/or avoid that problem or anything that may related to that problem.

For example, ruminating about a job interview where I believed “I performed badly and proved my incompetence”, certainly doesn’t help me feel optimistic and motivated to find a new job, nor to feel positive about myself, my career or my future. Any thought or activity related to seeking a job may trigger anxiety.

Anxiety: It’s normal to feel anxious about something new like a job interview, starting a new job, or taking a test. When we perceive a situation as ‘threatening’ this in turn leads to physiological activation of our nervous system, commonly known as ‘the fight flight’ response. This type of anxiety is unpleasant, but it may motivate you or help you focus in on a task. Ordinary anxiety is a feeling that comes and goes however, if it interferes with your everyday life or you feel fear that it is too intense or restrictive then it may be an anxiety disorder.

Why move away from rumination? We’ve learned a better way to keep anxiety down that involves moving away from rumination.  When we try redirecting our thinking towards activity that is more present, calming or neutral in nature we tend to feel less threatened and more comfortable. This in turn has the effect of reducing anxiety by assisting our bodies to recover to a calm state (referred to as homeostasis) and our minds to engage in clear, rational thinking.  In turn, this can be really helpful for us to be an effective problem-solver, progress towards valued goals, and generally feel more open and content. So how do we stop rumination?… well, in the short term, we need to redirect our minds, despite them being very stubborn and persistent for some of us, onto an alternate path like a Mindful Activity.

What is Mindfulness? “Mindfulness” refers to a state of awareness, a mode of processing information, and practices that promote awareness.  Mindfulness is referred to as a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgement. Mindfulness is not an activity per se, rather it is the state in which you approach an activity wherein you give it 100% of your attention and focus.  For example, washing the dishes or eating a strawberry can be a Mindful Activity. Several practices can cultivate mindfulness, such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, however mindfulness is often seen as separate to this.  Mindfulness Meditation is the self-regulation practice that focusses on training attention and awareness in an effort to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control, which in turn fosters general mental well-being, calmness, clarity and concentration as reported by researchers, Walsh & Shapiro (2006).

Research findings: Researchers believe that mindfulness meditation promotes awareness and decreases rumination which in turn, contributes to effective emotion-regulation strategies. Several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination. In one study, for example, Chambers et al. (2008) asked 20 novice meditators to participate in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat. After the retreat, the meditation group had significantly higher self-reported mindfulness and lower negative affect. They also experienced fewer depressive symptoms and less rumination. In addition, the meditators had significantly better working memory capacity and were better able to sustain attention during a performance task.

Mindful Activity: Mindfulness can be practiced in many forms.  Daily practice of mindfulness is recommended to maximise benefits.  The ability to engage in mindfulness is a skill that you may need to practice. Just like any new skill, we need to do it repetitively to acquire it.  Below are a list of mindful activities. Start with one mindful activity per day and build your way up from there.  Remember, for mindfulness to become natural for us, persistence is the key!

My Top 5 Mindful Activities to try:

  1. Find 5 colours: look around the room or environment you are currently in and find – 5 red things, 5 blue things, 5 yellow things, 5 green things, 5 white things etc.
  2. Find 5 different textures: again, look around the room or environment you are currently in and find 5 different textures/surfaces – feel them and describe the surface (e.g. smooth/rough, soft/hard, warm/cool, colour/appearance/texture).
  3. Breath 5 breaths: As you take each breath focus your attention on one thing: your breath. Be aware of the movement of your body with each breath, of how your chest rises and falls, how your belly pushes in and out, and how your lungs expand and contract. Find the pattern of your breath and anchor yourself to the present with this awareness.
  4. Alert your senses 5-4-3-2-1 – Look around again and seek 5 things you don’t normally see, 4 things you can touch that are different, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste (e.g. sip a drink)
  5. Zoom in to 5 things – look at the detail in something as if a camera is zooming in, like a macro lenses can take photos of insects… (e.g. look at a leaf, flower, your hand, jewellery, ground like grass/dirt, water in a glass, sand, sultana or food item).

Hope you find these Mindful Activities can help reduce rumination, redirect your mind and reduce anxiety, depression or stress.  If anxiety persists and you feel it impacts on your day to day life then you may like to consult with a psychologist. To consult with a CBT Professionals psychologist, please download our referral form here and take it with you to your GP appointment. We hope to be of assistance soon!

Disclaimer: Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only and is not intended to replace advise from your doctor or registered health professional. Readers are urged to consult their registered practitioner for diagnosis and treatment for their medical concerns.

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