mindful breathing

Manage Anxiety With Mindfulness & Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness can ease anxiety

Meditation and mindfulness can ease anxiety

If you’ve read my blogs or listened to my podcast, you know that I’ve struggled with anxiety throughout my life. I also share that my mindfulness practice, including meditation, has made a huge difference in how I feel and how I view my anxiety. I went from hating my anxiety and avoiding it to learning to appreciate it as my body’s signal that something doesn’t feel right.

Turning toward, instead of away from, the anxiety opens up space to allow the feelings to come and go. Feeling the feelings without judgment allows your body to understand that the situation you’re worrying over isn’t life or death — that it’s not going to last forever. It’s just a worry you’re struggling with right now. That non-judgmental awareness gives you the space to be more present in the moment for whatever is happening right here, right now.

In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go
— Jack Kornfield

Mindfulness can help you learn to live with and allow difficult uncomfortable feelings. It brings a greater awareness of self, and that helps you feel connected to yourself and to others.

3 Mindful Activities For Managing Anxiety

So how do we bring more mindfulness into our daily lives? Here are three tips to get you started:

1. Practice mindful meditation every day.

If you’ve never meditated before, this can be a challenge so start small — five minutes a day. If you’d like help getting started, you can request FREE Get Started Meditating Guide and find some guided meditations here .

The goal of mindful meditation isn’t to clear your mind of all thoughts. The goal is to notice each time your mind wanders and bring your attention back to an anchor of your choosing — your breath, a sound, a sensation or something else.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
— Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

2. Pick one activity a day and single-task.

What is single-tasking? It’s the opposite of multi-tasking! Pay attention to your five senses while performing a single task. You can choose any daily activity you usually do without thinking — like brushing your teeth, washing dishes, driving your car, walking your dog…. You get the idea.

Instead of tuning out or being inside your head or on your phone, bring a mindful attention to the activity. What do you see? What colors, shapes, objects? What can you feel? Do you feel water running on your hands, the ground under your feet, the toothbrush on your gums? What are the smells? Does the soap have a scent, or do you smell flowers blooming? What noises and sounds do you hear? What do you taste? Each time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your senses and the task you chose.

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

3. Tune into and name your feelings.

As you begin meditating and being more mindful, you might begin to notice that feelings arise, sometimes without warning. When we’re more in tune with our bodies and ourselves, our feelings become more present. As you notice discomfort or joy, take some time to pause. Feel what you’re feeling. See if you can name what the feeling is, without judgment. Say the name of feeling aloud or to yourself, and see if the word resonates with you. If not, try to pick a different word that might describe what you’re feeling. If you find yourself judging yourself about how you feel, remind yourself, “All feelings are welcome.”

One is a great deal less anxious if one feels perfectly free to be anxious, and the same may be said of guilt.
— Alan W. Watts

If you’ve been meaning to start a mindfulness practice but keep putting it off, consider participating in a mindfulness group. Groups forming now will start in the fall. I will be holding Facebook Live events in August with weekly mindfulness tips to help you get you started. You can follow me on Facebook for more information on the live events.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

Photo by Antonika Chanel on Unsplash

3 Simple Breathing Techniques For Stressful Times

The breath is an amazingly powerful tool that you can use to help calm you down when you’re feeling stressed. By tuning into your breath, breathing rhythmically or doing deep belly breathing, you can begin to feel differently. Practicing daily can increase the benefits.

You might be thinking, “I breathe all day long and I’m still stressed!” I hear you. The difference with these techniques is that you’re going to be breathing in ways that promote your body’s natural stress responses and your body will be soothing itself!

Ready to get started? Try the different techniques described below. Notice which one you find to be most helpful and use it any time you feel stressed.

Paying mindful attention to your breath can be calming

Paying mindful attention to your breath can be calming

1. Tune into your breath. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted for about three minutes. Sit upright, comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands in your lap. You can have your palms facing up or down, depending on what feels good to you in that moment. Close your eyes or gaze softly in front of you. Take three slow, deep breaths, filling and emptying your lungs completely. Then let your breathing return to its natural rhythm. Tune your attention to your breath and notice where you feel it. It might be your chest rising and falling or your belly going in and out. Or, you might feel a coolness as the breath enters your nostrils and warmth as it exits. Continue to pay attention to your breath as you breathe naturally. Your attention might wander, because we’re always thinking. When it does wander, I want you to notice that it has and bring it back to the breath. Continue to do this for another minute or two. It’s that easy (or not!).  If you prefer a guided exercise you can click the recording below.

2. 4-7-8 breathing. This technique can help reduce overall stress and help you feel more calm in times of stress, especially if you’ve been practicing daily. To do this technique, you will breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth with the tip of your tongue placed on the roof of your mouth, right behind your teeth.

To begin, exhale slowly and then breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven and then exhale through your mouth, with the air passing around your tongue, making a whooshing sound, for a count of 8. Repeat this 3 more times. Practice each day when you’re not stressed, so it becomes a habit. When it becomes a part of your routine, begin to use it to help manage any stress that arises.

3. Belly Breathing. Take a few deep breaths and pay attention to your chest and belly. If your belly rises and falls with each breath, you’re already belly breathing! If your chest rises and falls we’re going to do a little exercise to teach you belly breathing.

Deep belly breathing can be done wherever you are

Deep belly breathing can be done wherever you are

As you breathe in, try to imagine that your breath is traveling all the way down your spine and into your belly, filling up the space, so your belly fills up like a balloon. Then exhale fully, using your stomach muscles to push all of the air up and out, emptying that belly space. Begin by practicing this when you’re feeling pretty good. Then, as you feel more comfortable with belly breathing, pause and try it when you feel stressed. Here’s a fun video from Elmo to see how it works.

I’ve heard some clients say that intentionally allowing their belly to expand can be an uncomfortable experience. I think that because our culture values fit, tight stomachs, it feels weird to push it out. I suggest that you keep practicing, maybe when there’s no one around, until it feels more natural.

You can adopt one or all of theses techniques to help you live a less stressful life!

Photo by Ian KeefeAndre Hunter on Unsplash

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979.