When we face times of uncertainty and anxiety, we often feel as though we are spinning out of control, things that we were once able to manage, suddenly feel impossible to face. When we realize that we are feeling powerless, or unable to cope with feelings of stress and anxiety, it is essential that we take the time to slow down, and acknowledge these feelings. As common quote that might be applied, is “the best way out, is always through”. Navigating our way through our feelings might feel overwhelming and often times we don’t know where to start. I invite you to read on for tips that might support you in coping wherever it is you might be on your journey.
Practicing mindfulness has many benefits on our mental and physical health. Some of the mental health benefits include: stress reduction, decreased flooding of thoughts, increase in memory and focus, increased ability to regulate and manage difficult emotions, and increased satisfaction in relationships. Some of the health benefits include: increased immune system functioning, decrease blood pressure, increase heart health, improve sleep quality, improved gastro-intestinal functioning, and reduce chronic pain.
Mindfulness is an active choice we make when we connect with the current moment, and allow the past and future to slip away. This might sound like an impossible task, however there are exercises that allow us to practice bringing out attention to the current moment.
Allow the emotions you might be feeling to come to the surface
Write down whatever comes to mind. Once you are done, you can read them out loud to yourself, or a trusted support person. By writing down our feelings, we release them from ourselves. For some people this allows acceptance to how we might be feeling. Often times, when we feel scared or anxious, it can be hard to share these thoughts not only with others, but to ourselves as well. This exercise creates a strong awareness of self, which is the foundation of mindfulness. After you write these down and you feel ready to release these feelings, some people find it symbolic to safely burn them, rip them up, or simply throw them into the garbage.
Thank yourself for being honest with self (and possibly others) with how you are feeling. Being vulnerable is hard work, and allowing yourself to be proud is extremely important.
Create a mantra/affirmation
A mantra/affirmation is a saying, or word, that you find inspiring, grounding, or comforting. You can use a quote that might resonate with you, or you can also create your own mantra/affirmation. Here are a few ideas of mantras/affirmations that you can use. Write down your mantra, and keep it with you.
- I am strong, I am brave.
- I am safe, I am protected.
- One step at a time
- Just Breathe
- I am OK, I am safe, I am healthy.
- Easy does it
- I am whole, I am complete, I am loved.
A fun way to practice mindfulness is called “5 senses”. Start by taking a few deep breaths, and start to bring your awareness to each of your senses, or whichever are available to you. Sound, touch, smell, vision, taste. What do you hear, see, feel, and taste? Focus one sense at a time, try to list 3 things for each category. Take the time you need with each sense. Feel free to increase the number of things for each sense, challenge yourself. This exercise is great when you are feeling caught in feelings of anxiety related to the past, or future. This exercise is all about the present moment.
Going for a mindful walk
If you find it challenging to practice mindfulness, feel free to make a list of things you intend on focusing on during your walk. How many birds will you look for? How many colours do you hope to see? Perhaps challenging yourself and trying to see insects, butterflies, and other bugs. This can also be adjusted for children, creating a game with this idea, or calling it a jungle walk, and creating a story out of the creatures and things you might find along the way.
Breathing is something that is always available to us when we are looking to practice mindfulness. If you struggle to focus on your breath, or you are looking to practice mindfulness through breathing with a child, a fun activity could be creating a snow globe, or a “glitter jar”. Find a mason jar, fill with water and add glitter. Start by looking through the jar while the glitter is at the bottom. What do you see, is it clear? Is the water still? After a few deep breaths here, shake the jar as the glitter swirls around the jar. Now as the glitter swirls around, begin to breathe. Slow, deep breaths until the glitter settles back to the bottom of the jar. If you are using this activity with a child, you are able to adjust the teachings of mindfulness in an age appropriate way.
As previously mentioned, Yoga is a great way to practice mindful breath and movement. You can find a video of a yoga class and practice different poses. If you find a pose where you find great peace, or power, remember that pose. When you are feeling overwhelmed, if available, you can get into the pose that brings power and comfort to you which will allow you to practice mindfulness and movement. A fun way to do this with children, is identify a superhero, or a princess they love. When you notice your child/they identify they are feeling upset, prompt them to close their eyes and imagine they are their favorite superhero or princess. What are they wearing? What are they doing? Is there a pose that they are doing? By doing this exercise alone, or with your child, it brings your attention back to the current moment. Your focus shifts to the feelings of safety and power.
Although some might say this next exercise is for children, I would have to disagree…bubbles are for everyone! Another great way to practice mindfulness is by blowing bubbles. When you are feeling anxious, or having trouble focusing, go outside and try blowing bubbles. Take a deep inhale, and as you exhale, visualize that troublesome feeling escaping your body and into the bubble. Watch as that emotion floats away, peacefully. Perhaps the bubble quickly bursts, or it might dance away, floating with the wind. This exercise is great for visualizing and releasing emotions, while practicing breathing.. Try picking a piece of your favourite fruit. Sit in a comfortable place and slowly bring the food to your face. Take a few minutes to look at the fruit, noticing everything unique about it. Is it round, flat, colourful, etc.? Take a few minutes to feel the fruit. Is it smooth, bumpy, etc.? Then take a few minutes to smell the fruit. What does it smell like? How do you experience its scent? Now, take a small bite of the fruit. Slow your process of chewing and swallowing the fruit to experience its taste. Think about its texture as you chew it. Enjoy the richness of whatever you’ve chosen to eat, and enjoy the experience of eating each bite of it.
Another fun activity and practice of mindfulness is gratitude! Try writing down things that make you happy, or grateful. Decorate a jar, or basket. When you think of something, place it in your gratitude jar. If you find yourself having a hard day, and are struggling to practice mindfulness, grab something from your gratitude jar and read what it says. This is a great way to bring your awareness back to something that has made you feel happy, or grateful.
Try mindful colouring. Colouring is a great way to relax and be in the present moment. When we colour, our brain is able to process and organize our experiences from the day and help us to manage our emotions. Try colouring mandalas or zen doodles for something new. Grab your favourite colouring book and enjoy. For some free colouring pages check out these sites or just do a simple Google search:
Have you tried mindful eating before? Many of us turn to comfort food when we are feeling anxious, sad, scared, or lonely. We can use mindfulness techniques to help us ground ourselves and stay present when we want to eat and to enrich the experience of eating. Try picking a piece of your favourite fruit. Sit in a comfortable place and slowly bring the food to your face. Take a few minutes to look at the fruit, noticing everything unique about it. Is it round, flat, colourful, etc.? Take a few minutes to feel the fruit. Is it smooth, bumpy, etc.? Then take a few minutes to smell the fruit. What does it smell like? How do you experience its scent? Now, take a small bite of the fruit. Slow your process of chewing and swallowing the fruit to experience its taste. Think about its texture as you chew it. Enjoy the richness of whatever you’ve chosen to eat, and enjoy the experience of eating each bite of it.
Recorded Guided Meditation
It is important to remember that mindfulness is a practice, not something to be mastered. It is a tool we can use to grow our coping techniques that we can add to our tool box. While some days, one technique might be helpful, the next time we might need something else to ease our minds, and that is OK. As you practice mindfulness, remember to have FUN. Explore, create, and discover what works for YOU. Be kind, be patient, and always be compassionate to yourself and those around you. We are all in this together.