A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness: 5-Minute Activities to Reduce Anxiety and Live More Mindfully
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
We all want to be able to have gratitude for life, but many of us, (myself included) are bogged down by nagging anxiety. How can we achieve the practice of mindfulness when we are riddled with anxiety? The simple answer is that mindfulness meditation has been shown to combat anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety is the body’s primal response to stressors and by acknowledging the physiological functions taking place, we can put into action the steps to even out imbalance in our regulatory systems.
According to this 2019 study “results confirm that emotional regulation plays a significant mediating role between mindfulness and symptoms of depression and anxiety in the general population and suggest that meditation focusing on reducing worry and rumination may be especially useful in reducing the risk of developing clinical depression.”
Since practicing mindfulness has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, incorporating different mindfulness exercises throughout your day can help you achieve a firmer grasp on moderating your anxiety as it arises and with enough consistent practice, disarm the influence that anxiety has on your state of mind.
So now that we know how anxiety can be combated, how do we start implementing mindfulness in our lives? Here are some of my go-to mindfulness techniques. These have helped me to offset oncoming anxiety and address it through mindfulness instead of pushing it deeper to inevitably implode later on. These practices are great reminders to prioritize self-care, specifically relating to mindfulness.
1. Practice Breathing Exercises
The best place to start in mindfulness is our breathing, as it is simply the baseline for all mindfulness, and once we are aware of our breath, on any level, we can then bring our awareness to larger areas of life.
If you've ever been told to "just breathe", and rolled your eyes as I've done in the past- it means you're not taking breathing seriously, (just like me!) and that manifests in many ways, affecting not only your physical health but also your mental health.
Doing breathing exercises helps bring attention to our current breath so that we can determine if we need to slow it down to induce relaxation, or speed it up to stimulate a boost of energy. Modifying our breathing in response to our bodies’ reaction to stimuli helps activate a sense of calm throughout stressful experiences. Regulating our breathing helps us be more in tune with our bodies, and thus feel more secure in our ability to work with our bodies in achieving balanced emotional levels and responses.
This five-minute breathing exercise is great for relieving stress and tension:
The Equal Breath
In this exercise, you’ll match how long you breathe in with how long you breathe out. Begin with five-second breaths and notice that the length of your breaths will gradually increase as you go through the exercise.
Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair.
Breathe in through your nose and count to five.
Breathe out through your nose to the count of five.
*Once you are comfortable with breaths that last five seconds, increase the length of your inhales and exhales. You can work up to breaths that last up to 10 counts.
2. Mindfulness Reflection
By taking just five minutes for some reflection throughout your day, you can gain infinitely more perspective than had you not taken those few minutes to center yourself.
Start by closing your eyes, then focus on your breath, once you are relaxed and comfortable, you might ask yourself a few reflective questions such as:
What went well today?
What actions did I take to create a positive outlook?
What didn’t go well?
How do I want to respond better next time?
Once you establish a baseline and get into the right headspace for contemplating some deeper questions, you may want to ask yourself some questions such as:
Do I make sure to take care of myself? If not, why not? How can I prioritize my self-care daily?
Am I demonstrating positive examples for my children? If not, what can I do to improve or change this?
What areas of my life have not worked well for me? What are some things that I have accomplished?
Am I happy with my career choices? If not, how can I improve my work experience? Do I need to consider a career change?
Do I keep quality people in my company that upholds a set of morals? If not, what is keeping me from setting my boundaries at that level? If so, how do I show recognition to those that inspire and support me within my life?
Considering these questions can go beyond the five-minute exercise, so start with five minutes and take up to as much time as needed to come to a resolution on the questions you present yourself.
3. Mindfulness Body Scan
Get comfortable. Lying down is preferable especially if you're doing a body scan meditation before you fall asleep. You can also sit in a comfortable position instead.
Take some deep breaths. Let your breathing slow, and be sure to be breathing from your belly, letting your abdomen expand and contract with each breath. If you find your shoulders are moving up and down, focus more on breathing from your belly, as though a balloon is inflating and deflating in your abdomen. Focus on the visualization of that balloon expanding and releasing to make sure you are taking diaphragmatic breaths.
Slowly bring attention down to your feet. Begin observing sensations in your feet. If you notice pain, recognize it and any thoughts or emotions that accompany it, and breathe through it. If you notice any uncomfortable sensations, breathe into those tense feelings and visualize them leaving your body with each exhale.
Once you have assessed this area, continue this practice with each area of your body, gradually rising from your feet to your head. Notice how you feel and where you're holding your stress. If there's any tightness, pain, or pressure, continue to breathe into those sensations. This can help you release tension in your body, both during the practice, and to be more aware of it in your daily life.
Taking Action in Your Mindfulness
These exercises can take as little as five minutes, or go as long as your needs require at the time.
Mindfulness is a lifelong journey but brings such necessary perspective, as well as ever-renewing gratitude for this life and all that we have access to.
The important takeaway is that we have to just start.
When we begin taking our self-care seriously and including mindfulness in our daily routine we will only supplement our lifestyle, adding more appreciation, and subsequently- less stress and anxious feelings than when we don't take those moments to gather some perspective for our day and our lives.
If we aren't taking care of ourselves, beginning with our ability to be mindful of our breathing, our thoughts, and how we view ourselves, we aren't giving ourselves a fighting chance against anxiety. Implementing these exercises are just a few of the ways we can gain some influence over the extent to which anxiety can affect our well-being.