Mindfulness is the practice of being intentional, being reflective, and living in the moment. There are innumerable ways to be mindful and individuals with mental health disorders can benefit from mindfulness and positive ways to cope with their symptoms. Mindfulness is particularly helpful to people with Borderline Personality Disorder and anxiety disorders.
Mindfulness can take many different forms and can be used in almost every situation imaginable. Here is a list of basic applications of mindfulness:
- Managing anxiety
- Self-regulation of emotions
- Stress reduction
- Mental clarity/focus
There are many different ways to practice mindfulness, as well. Some ways work better than others, depending on the purpose. I’m going to focus on anxiety-reducing mindfulness techniques that have worked for me today. This includes deep breathing, guided imagery/relaxation, music, and having a pet.
Deep breathing has been the most effective mindfulness technique for reducing my anxiety.
The most commonly taught technique is Square Breathing, but there is also Belly Breathing and simply focusing on your breath.
All of these can be done standing, sitting, or lying down. You can do anything of these exercises with your eyes open or closed. Pick whatever is most comfortable for you.
Square breathing consists of breathing in for 4 seconds, holding that breathing for 4 seconds, exhaling for 4 seconds, and a final 4 seconds before you begin again.
Square breathing is typically taught to be done through the nose, though I find it much easier and more soothing to breathe through my mouth.
You can use any number of seconds to make it easier for you.
Alternative: You can inhale and exhale for longer than the time you hold your breath. For example, you can breathe in for 6 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. Feel free to use any number that works for you.
Belly breathing causes you to focus on your stomach as you inhale and exhale.
Place your hand on your stomach to monitor the movement. Focus on inhaling deeply, storing the air in your stomach. Deep in for as long as you can, comfortably. Hold the breath in your stomach for 4 seconds, then exhale steadily for as long as possible, comfortably. Repeat.
Alternative: Do square belly breathing.
Focus On Your Breath
This is my preferred technique, which I often use while lying down with my eyes closed.
Get into a comfortable position. Focus all your attention on your current breathing pattern without changing it. Shift your focus to breathing in deeply and exhaling deeply. Let any thoughts that come to you drift away, focusing only on your breathing.
Alternative: Do this while listening to guided imagery or guided meditation. I use F*ck That: An Honest Meditation (not safe for work-profanity).
Guided Imagery and Guided Relaxation is a fantastic tool to use with deep breathing or to use independently (some include deep breathing).
Guided Imagery, Guided Relaxation, and Guided Meditation have many similarities and are often used interchangeably.
You can find a variety of videos and audio files to use whenever works best for you. I’ve included a list of several helpful recordings for you for both. If these do not work for you, Youtube is full of great videos to use.
Guided Imagery is a form of meditation where you follow a prompt (often recorded) dedicated to creating a mental scene to help improve overall well-being.
Guided Relaxation is a form of guided muscle relaxation in which you follow a prompt (often recorded) to reduce stress or other negative emotions.
Guided Relaxation is a form of meditation in which you follow a prompt (often recorded) to help eliminate outside stressors and focus on your personal experience in the moment. Guided meditation is present-focused and introspective.
This is my preferred technique, as I previously mentioned F*ck That: An Honest Meditation (not safe for work-profanity) as my favorite.
Additional Resources (Audio)
- Dartmouth Relaxation Audio Files: I have used these with many of my clients and supervisees.
- UCLA Mindfulness Audio Files
- UCSD Mindfulness Audio Files
- FreeMindfulnessResources Audio Files: Another I have used with supervisees.
- Frantic World Audio Files
When I experience periods of anxiety, I often listen to music and sing (though not well). I use music to separate myself from whatever is causing me to feel anxious and often select upbeat, positive-emotion invoking music. I choose this type of music because invoking more sentimental emotions often causes me to become nostalgic and focus more on what is making me anxious.
For example, here’s a sample list of music I listen to:
- Where Them Girls At by David Guetta
- NO by Meghan Trainor
- Harlem by New Politics
- I’m Alright by Jo Dee Messina
- Peanut Butter by RuPaul
- Paper Planes by M.I.A.
- Bad Girls by M.I.A.
- World Town by M.I.A.
- America’s Sweetheart by Elle King
- My Give A Damn’s Busted by Jo Dee Messina
- Why Don’t You Get A Job? by The Offspring (or anything by The Offspring)
- The Way I Am by Ingrid Michaelson
- Hell No by Ingrid Michaelson (the music video will make you laugh regardless of your mood)
- Good Time by Owl City/Carly Rae Jepsen
- Thrift Shop by Macklemore
- Some Days You Gotta Dance by The Dixie Chicks
- Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics
- Another One Bites the Dust by Queen
- Maneater by Nelly Furtado
- Broken by Lucky Boys Confusion
- Wannabe by The Spice Girls
Obviously, you should pick whatever music works best for you. The above list is just a selection of the type of songs that work for me.
Pets are an incredible way to focus on the present. Both of my dogs are full of personality and I am able to use the moments I spend with them to be entirely present on the limited time we have together. When I become overwhelmed with work, personal life, blogging, or I’m just feeling ill, Scout & Atticus keep me grounded on what is important: right now.
In addition to keeping me focused on on the present, both of my dogs are an endless source of entertainment. They are also a common reminder to care for myself.
[Tweet “You cannot care for anything else if you do not care for yourself.”] Dogs also make amazing cuddle companions.
What do you do to help manage your stress or anxiety?