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Decrease Anxiety By Practicing Mindfulness

At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our therapists often incorporate mindfulness training into client’s sessions to help decrease anxiety. In recent years there has been an increased interest in the idea of “mindfulness”. Stemming from ancient Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is now recognized as an easy, simple to learn but highly effective tool that can help to improve one’s overall wellbeing.   The practice of mindfulness has been proven to be highly effective in the treatment of many mental and physical problems and Cognitive Behavioral Therapists (CBT) regularly incorporate it into the treatment of anxiety disorders, particularly panic disorder, OCD, generalized anxiety disorder and overall stress.
So you may wonder, just what is mindfulness? Simply put, it is a way of purposefully paying attention to whatever we are currently experiencing. Instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, we are simply aware of what’s going on in our mind and in our body, without any type of judgment or self-criticism. We accept ourselves with compassion and kindness. To cultivate mindfulness, we ideally develop a daily mindfulness practice, even if it’s just 10 minutes each day.

Below is a short mindfulness meditation for you to try:

  1. Get into a comfortable seated position.
  2. Set the timer on your cell phone for 10 minutes.
  3. Close your eyes, breathe slowly, and focus on your breath.
  4. When your mind begins to latch on to something, simply say to yourself, ‘thinking’ and go back to focusing on your breath. Don’t give up or criticize yourself, simply observe your thoughts without judgment. If you observe them in this way, they will eventually just float away, like clouds in the sky.

Whereas cognitive behavioral therapy typically teaches us to challenge the content of our unhealthy thoughts, mindfulness invites us to first notice and then change our perspective and judgment of these thoughts. When applying mindfulness to cognitive behavioral therapy, one of the first steps of cognitive behavioral therapy is to practice being aware of when you are engaging in cognitive distortions.

A thought is just a thought, but it is often our belief that all of our thoughts are extremely important and deserving of a response that causes us distress. This is particularly true with anxious thoughts. Panic attacks, anxious thoughts and physical anxiety symptoms are interpreted as being catastrophic, life threatening, or as loss of control. While these symptoms and thoughts can feel very real, they are, in actuality nothing more than symptoms of our anxiety and panic attacks. It is actually the fear of our symptoms that exacerbate anxiety disorders.   By incorporating mindfulness, we begin to recognize that these uncomfortable thoughts and physical sensations are simply transitory events. Mindfulness teaches us to disengage our automatic pilot and instead of engaging with our anxious thoughts or forcefully trying to push them away, we begin to learn to observe our anxious thoughts and physical symptoms without judgment, until our anxiety is reduced and it begins to simply fade away.

At the core of mindfulness is acceptance. Mindfully accepting unpleasant anxious feelings instead of fighting against them or resisting them, mindfully breathing into them, often helps anxious feelings to gradually decrease and eventually float away. Mindfulness helps us to see that it’s pointless to spend countless hours and hours worrying and disturbing ourselves about things that we cannot change or are out of our control. As the Buddhists learned over 2,500 years ago, having an accepting mind will greatly reduce our anxiety, stress and unhappiness.

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