Distressing, intrusive and overwhelming experiences/symptoms are an all too common for an anxious or traumatized mind. My clients often report feeling that they do not feel in control of their thoughts. As our thoughts and emotions are reliant upon one another, it makes sense that overwhelming or disturbing thoughts may result in a downward spiral of one’s mood.
The principal of mindfulness is centered in the practice of Zen Buddhism. Mindfulness is a practice. It’s not something that you all of a sudden master in a moment’s time. The objective is learning to be in the present moment. As our minds have many tasks and responsibilities to carry out throughout the day, it is understandable that they often become focused on ruminating on the past and worrying about the future. In regards to an individual who experiences frequent symptoms of anxiety or PTSD, the mind becomes especially overactive and troubled. The mind often becomes focused on distressing experiences in the past, and distracted by the possible worrisome events of the future. Mindfulness can therefore be an effective strategy for calming the mind, slowing and halting distracting and unhelpful thoughts, and improving mood.
Here are some simple exercises in Mindfulness. Practice these in a non-distracting environment if possible. This means turning off all distracting technology (i.e., the phone, TV, and radio) and stepping into a room that is quiet and somewhat private. These exercises require practice, so don’t get too frustrated if you find them challenging at first. With time, they will become easier.
Find yourself in a comfortable position. This may be seated in a chair or on the floor (legs crossed preferably if on the floor), or lying on a comfortable surface. Close your eyes or allow your vision to become focused on one spot in front of you.
Begin by brining your awareness to your breath. Simply notice your breath without attempting to change it. Take a moment to simply experience your lungs inhaling and exhaling, your chest and stomach rising and falling with your breath.
Now bring you awareness into the room. Scan your external environment. Notice any sounds you hear in the room or outside of it. Notice the temperature, any smells you experience. See if you can get a feel for the space in the room with your eyes closed. Stay here and allow your senses to experience the room or space you are in.
Now turn your awareness internally. Again, use your senses to experience your body. Notice how your body feels today. Scan your body from head to toe, slowly, identifying any spaces that you experience discomfort or comfort. Notice the temperature of your body, the space inside of your body. See if you can feel your heart beat. Notice how your mind feels.
Now alternate your awareness, at your own pace and slowly, between experiencing the external and internal. Notice if one feels more comfortable than the other. Notice if you have a preference.
When you are ready, open your eyes and notice any difference you sense as compared to when you began this exercise.
Mindfulness in Daily Living
When you find yourself engaged in the simple tasks of life (laundry, washing dishes, cleaning your house, etc.) is when I ask you to practice this exercise. Our minds often chatter about when we are doing such tasks that require little thought…those tasks that you simply “do” rather than “experience”. Next time you find yourself in one of these tasks bring your mind to the present. Describe to yourself what you are doing. For example: Notice yourself turning on the water to do dishes. Place your hands under that water and notice the temperature and sensation of water running over your hands. Describe the first dish you are going to wash to yourself. Maybe it’s a plate, with a blue ring around the outside, it is chipped on one side slightly, it feels heavy in your hand. Then experience yourself washing it. Notice the sponge, its color and texture. The bubbles that generate from the soap, etc.
This exercise often seems a bit trivial and perhaps ridiculous to people at first. After all, what’s so special about washing dishes? It’s not about feeling great or enjoying these tasks. The goal is to teach your mind to just focus on the now.
Mindfulness in Walking
Similar to the exercise above, this exercise is about being in the moment as you are taking a walk or running. As you are walking or running bring your awareness to your environment. Notice your feet on the ground, the sound they generate. Describe what you see around you. For example: Those roses are pink, there is a dog barking in the distance, I can hear the sound of the highway, that house is blue, the sky is cloudy, etc.
It’s difficult to center your mind in such ways because our minds are used to chatting away. One way to calm your mind is to simply describe your environment as outlined in this exercise. Use your senses and simply describe what you sense to yourself. Use all senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing, and an extra one is emotionally sensing).
Remember, this is a PRACTICE. You will get better over time. It takes dedication and awareness. Eventually you will learn to calm your mind, which in turn positively influences your mood. After you practice notice the difference, even if it’s slight, in how you feel after as compared to how you felt when you began. Even the smallest differences can result in profound effects.
I encourage you to develop your own mindfulness strategies. All you have to do is base them on the simple principal of becoming present in the moment. Good luck!
© Copyright 2010 by Rebecca K Wilson, MSW, LCSW, EMDR2, therapist in Denver, Colorado. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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