Wellness Wednesday: Developing a Mindfulness Practice in Anxious Times

img_1305When I first heard about mindfulness a few years ago, I understood it to be a practice meant to help people relax when they felt stressed or anxious. And while that’s not entirely untrue, years of schooling, working as a child and adolescent therapist, and developing my own mindfulness practice have broadened my understanding. Sure, relaxation can be a result of practicing mindfulness, but it’s not the purpose. The purpose of mindfulness is to intentionally and consciously be aware of the present moment which allows us to fully acknowledge where we are, what’s going on, what we’re doing, and those thoughts, feelings, and physiological sensations that show up. Why is this important? When we acknowledge what’s going on externally and internally in the present moment, we won’t be overwhelmed by or overly reactionary to what’s going on around us. It doesn’t change the situation (though it’d be nice if it did, right?), but it just helps us ease into the chaos and feel more in control, especially when life around us feels out of control. Given these current turbulent and uncertain times, I think developing a mindfulness practice would be helpful for you, too! Developing a mindfulness practice can be pretty overwhelming in and of itself (which kind of defeats the purpose). There are many types of mindfulness techniques (e.g. body scan, movement, breathwork, senses, feelings, thoughts, visualizations, coloring, etc.), types of styles (guided or unguided), themes (e.g. self-compassion or gratitude), and even time lengths. You can even do it independently or you can follow along with an app or YouTube video. The options are quite endless depending on your preferences and intention, which can feel daunting. That’s why for the next few weeks, I am going to share and/or review some mindfulness scripts and apps to help ground you, especially in the midst of a global pandemic or any other anxious time. Whether you’re just beginning a mindfulness practice or are a seasoned practitioner, this will be an opportunity to see what works for you! If it works, great! If it doesn’t, that’s great too! One of the other tenets of mindfulness is to be non-judgmental, so there is no judgment here. You’re learning as you go. If it feels uncomfortable or weird, that’s okay too! It takes time to really settle into something new. Try to lean into it. If you get distracted, that’s okay (actually, that’s expected)! If you fell off your bike, would you stop riding? Probably not. You’d get back on and just keep trying. The same thing applies here. Developing a practice of any sort takes time, consistency, patience, and self-compassion. Mindfulness is no different! 

For today’s practice, let’s do a short, guided mindfulness practice focusing on our breath. Research has shown that there are many physical and emotional benefits of mindful breathing. Mindful breathing helps reduce stress in the body, lowers our heart rate, lowers our blood pressure, reduces depressive symptoms, and helps to regulate our body’s reaction to stressful situations. When we’re stressed out, nervous, afraid, or anxious, our heart starts beating quickly, our palms may start sweating, our breathing becomes shallow and more rapid, and our thoughts might even start racing. We feel like we’re spiraling out of control. When we breathe deeply, however, it sends a message to our brain for us to calm down and relax, and all of those physiological sensations I just mentioned return back to normal. What initially felt out of control is now manageable. The key is to practice mindfulness regularly even when you’re calm, so that when you are stressed out, it’s easier to access and practice deep breathing or any other mindfulness technique. Ready to give it a try?

As you practiced today’s deep breathing guided mindfulness practice, did you notice a change in how you felt? Remember, there’s no judgment here. Comment below! 

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