15 Easy Mindfulness Activities to Help You Deal With Anxiety, Depression, and Trauma
Technology and our fast-paced lives have badly damaged the attention function in human beings.
Our neural connections which occur after birth and in the first three years of life and make sustained attention (the ability to hold the attention for long periods on a single object) possible are damaged by exposure to TV, cell phones, and computers.
We became a race of hyperactive humans with severe attention deficit.
Many of us find it hard to make a conscious choice and hold to that choice over a long period of time without deviation. We often struggle to finish the project we started, or focus on them for a long period of time.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, or present moment awareness, is about focusing on the present moment and letting go of thoughts and judgments.
Think of the way children approach life. For them everything is a source of wonder and fascination.
By pausing and noticing everything around you with your senses (what you smell, hear, see, taste, and feel), you reawaken your inner child and start feeling more grounded, calm, and present in your life.
Need to learn More about mindfulness before exploring the activities? Check out this article: Getting Started with Mindfulness: 6 Simple Mindfulness Practices for Daily Life
Mindfulness: Why Do We Need To Pay Attention?
#1. Mindfulness Reduces Anxiety
Clinical anxiety is the most frequently diagnosed mental health condition in the United States with more than 40 million Americans struggling with an anxiety disorder.
This is not so surprising considering the stressful and fast pace life we’re living today.
How can mindfulness help reduce anxiety?
1. Reduce your anxious symptoms
People struggling with anxiety are probably already breathing shallowly, which makes them even more vulnerable to being hypervigilant.
By paying attention to the breath and practicing deep breathing, symptoms of anxiety lessen.
2. Reduce anxious thoughts
Many anxious individuals are also hyper-focused on bodily sensations, like the rapid heart rate and believe that they’re having a heart attack. Such thoughts serve only to increase their anxious symptoms.
Mindfulness helps you learn the difference between an actual sensation in the body and the thought about that body sensation and normalize these sensations.
So much anxiety comes from trying to avoid or resist anxiety in the first place.
Mindfulness helps encourage you to let go of resistance and become more familiar with the body and the whole range of sensations that are part of it.
4. Change your attitude toward anxiety
It is important to accept that feeling anxiety is part of the human experience and to acknowledge that anxiety can be a useful signal from the body telling us that something in our life needs to change.
#2. Mindfulness Alleviates Depression
Several studies have shown mindful breathing practice can help with symptoms of depression. (*)
Paying attention to the breath helps you shift your focus away from your negative thoughts. This skill of shifting your focus is vital for overcoming ruminative thinking.
#3. Mindfulness Relieves Stress
We experience stress when our anxiety, overload, and fear exceed our biological and psychological ability to cope with them.
Fortunately, mindfulness practices increase awareness of stress in your life and promote change from the inside.
To be effective, mindfulness practices need to be coupled with other lifestyle changes:
- Get enough sleep every night
- Get proper nutrition, especially protein
- Limit excess caffeine
- Exercise or walk for 30 minutes a day or longer
- Develop a supportive social network
- Limit screen time, especially before sleep
- Start a gratitude practice that helps you focus on the positive in your life
- Rediscover and reconnect to what brings you joy in life.
Getting to Know the Inner Observer
Mindfulness is about paying attention to what’s happening around you and inside of you, without judgment.
Mindfulness exercises help you develop the ability to observe, giving you greater awareness.
By observing your internal experience with an attitude of curiosity, you’re creating a distance between yourself and your emotions. The alone can lessen the intensity of those emotions and bring you a sense of peace.
Inner Observer Exercise
1. Sit in a comfortable position and begin by taking a few deep breaths.
2. Focus on your breath for a few seconds to help quiet your mind.
3. Repeat to yourself, “I can observe my body, therefore I am more than just my body.”
4. Observe whatever thought that comes up. Even if you think, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” say to yourself, “I have a thought that I don’t know what I’m doing.”
The goal of the exercise is to make yourself aware of your observing abilities.
5. Repeat to yourself, “I can observe my thoughts, therefore I am more than my thoughts.”
Physical Mindfulness Activities
Although breathing is automatic, the quality of our breath matters greatly.
Taking long, deep breaths helps release tension and improves your overall well-being.
Practical Exercise: Diaphragmatic Breathing
1. Notice your breathing pattern. Focus your attention on the air passing through your nostrils and filling your lungs.
2. Now slow your breathing. Take a deep breath while noticing your belly rise and then slowly exhale.
3. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the breath.
Coloring can be a relaxing activity and a good way to practice mindfulness.
Let yourself become fully absorbed in this activity. Notice the sounds of your pen against the paper, the smell of wax or ink, the texture of the paper.
Practical Exercise: Coloring A Mandala
Choose from this website a mandala you want to color and print it.
Mindful eating helps reduce stress but also prevents weight gain even without dieting.
It helps you recognize sensations of fullness and taste satisfaction, which helps you distinguish between emotional and real, physical hunger.
Practical Exercise: Mindful Eating
1. Take a piece of food in the palm of your hand— a fruit, perhaps, or a square of toast.
2. Focus your attention on the item. Notice how it feels against your palm? Observe the texture and examine it close up.
3. Notice the smell.
4. Take a bite and notice the taste and textures in your mouth.
4. Tea Drinking
If you’re a tea lover, why not drink it a bit slower and savor every sip.
Practical Exercise – Mindful Tea Drinking
1. From the moment you make the tea, notice the sensations, the smells that arise, the color, the sound of the kettle
2. Savor the taste, notice the temperature.
3. When your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the tea and your body.
Gardening can be a therapeutic activity and a great way to practice mindfulness.
Even if you don’t have your own garden, you can still enjoy the benefits by planting a window box or getting houseplants.
Practical Exercise: Gardening
1. Notice the feeling of the soil against your hands.
2. Observe the leaves and the details in them.
3. Notice what you can smell.
Meditation helps you achieve a calm and enlightened state of mind and increase your focus and energy.
Practical Exercise: Body Scan Exercise
One simple way to practice meditation is doing a body scan.
1. Sit in a comfortable position.
2. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
3. Start scanning your body mindfully. Start with your toes, working your way up, focus on each part. Feel the pulse in each part.
4. Notice if you have any tension in any area. Continue to breathe deeply and release tension as you breathe out.
7. Spending Time In Nature
A number of studies have shown that spending a few minutes every day in nature is linked to better health and well-being.
Practical Exercise – Connect With Nature
1. Kneel or sit on the ground.
2. Notice the small details around you.
3. Find a leaf. Observe its shape, design, and color.
4. Feel its temperature and texture.
5. Breathe in its smell.
6. Repeat the activity with other items.
A simple, everyday activity like walking, can become a great way to practice mindfulness.
Practical Exercise – Mindful Walking
1. Focus on the rhythm of your footsteps and notice your breathing.
2. Feel the muscles in your leg as you walk and notice your arm as they swing.
3. Notice other details around you; the sights, sounds, and smells.
9. Working Out
Exercise is a great way to practice mindfulness and deepen your connection to yourself through movement and breath.
Practical Exercise – 20-Minute Exercise
1. Remind yourself why you’re working out. Some ideas:
- This exercise will help me have more energy
- It’ll help me feel really good about myself
- I’ll sleep better tonight
- I deserve to take care of myself, and exercise is part of that
- It’ll help me release stress and tension
2. Slow down and take your time as you carry on each exercise.
3. Remind yourself to breathe deeply and notice your breath as you inhale and exhale.
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Yoga focuses on the breath, body, and mind. It goes hand in hand with mindfulness.
Practical Exercise – Yoga
1. Begin by choosing a position.
2. Focus your attention on your breath as you inhale and exhale.
3. Observe your thoughts without engaging with them. (You can distance yourself from your thoughts by saying to yourself “I’m having a thought that…”)
4. Bring your awareness back to your breath and witness the ongoing sensations.
Emotional Mindfulness Activities
Whenever a thought comes into your mind, whether it was positive or negative, see it for what it is: a passing thought.
Allow yourself to become aware of these thoughts, then simply let them pass.
If you’re struggling with negative thoughts, you can learn here more Techniques To Control Your Negative Thoughts.
Practical Exercise: Passing Clouds
1. Sit in a comfortable position and begin to focus on slowing your breathing.
2. Notice any thoughts that surface.
3. Picture them as soft clouds passing overhead until they drift away.
4. Now bring your focus back to your breath.
This exercise helps you to step back from your anxious thoughts and restore a real sense of calm.
Learning to listen mindfully, won’t just reduce your stress. It will also improve your listening skills and deepen your relationships.
Practical Exercise: Mindful Listening
Pause for a moment and listen to what you can hear right now.
You can focus on one sound at a time, or collectively.
You can also practice listening to your inner self, by meditating and noticing your own thoughts without engaging yourself with them.
Gratitude is about appreciating what you have rather than focusing on what you might want.
Gratitude is a habit. It’s something you need to remind yourself of each time you’re tempted to complain and pity yourself.
Practical Exercise – Expressing Gratitude
1. Choose a gratitude mantra that you recite every day.
2. Mindfully take the time to think about everything you’re thankful for.
Although visualization involves imagining the future, it still can be a great way to practice mindfulness and engage with all your sense in whatever you’re visualizing.
Practical Exercise – Visualization
1. Pick a point a few years from now and imagine how you’d like your life to be.
2. Start with small lifestyle changes to improve health and well-being and move on to practical steps you can take to forge your career.
3. Imagine every detail and allow yourself to feel satisfaction.
Before bed or when you first awake in the morning, grab your journal and mindfully notice your thoughts as your write them down.
Practical Exercise – Mindful Journaling
1. Grab your journal and write down anything that comes to mind.
2. don’t judge your thoughts or evaluate them, simply notice them and write them down.
Self-Observation: Get to Know Yourself
Until you become able to observe yourself, you are driven by habits over which you have no control.
To practice self-observation, you need to locate yourself in time and space. You need to find yourself in the body, but not as the body.
Why Practice Self-Observation?
For most people, their attitude is largely determined by their mood. They think, speak, and act based on their mood.
However, mood is like the weather—it changes constantly. It is not who you are, nor does it affect you in any way, and just like the weather, it is not any of your business or concern.
When you observe yourself using the practice of bodily sensation, you stop identifying with the mood and it ceases to decide your attitude. You become free to choose your attitude at any moment, regardless of circumstances internal or external.
4 Fundamental Principles of Self-Observation
1. Observe Without Judgment
This might be difficult for most people to understand.
The mind is constantly judging and labeling everything that happens in your life and every person you encounter. It does so by establishing two large generalized categories like/dislike (or good/bad —etc.) into which it files all people and things.
The moment you label the behavior/emotion as “bad” (or “wrong” —etc.) then you cease to observe.
To observe without judgment means to focus your attention on bodily sensation and if any thought and/or emotion comes up, you simply let it be and redirect your attention back to the bodily sensation without grabbing hold of (“identifying with”) the thought or emotion.
Then notice what happens to the thought/emotion when you do not follow it or allow it to capture the attention.
The law of maintenance states “What goes unfed weakens; what gets fed grows stronger.”
Your emotions and thoughts feed on the attention and grow stronger. The attention in turn grows weaker and becomes easily distracted by every thought/emotion.
2. Observe Without Changing What Is Observed
This is also difficult to understand because the mind (the judge) has an urge to change what is observed.
This urge to change captures the attention and throws it into a state of “identification” with what is observed.
Thinking “I’ve got to stop eating junk food. Junk food is bad,” may be true, but with identification, the message becomes “I am bad and I’ve got to change.”
Only when the attention remains fixed upon bodily sensation can you observe the behavior without identification.
3. Observe With Attention on Bodily Sensation
Also called self-remembering, observing with attention on bodily sensation helps you stay present, grounded.
The body is always and only in the present, whereas the mind wanders out of the present.
At the same time as you are observing your thoughts and emotions, you keep part of your attention focused on bodily sensation.
Bodily sensation includes the sensation of physical tension and relaxation, the sensations coming in via the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, sound, the sensation of energy moving in the body, and the sensation of emotion or thought moving.
4. Observe With Ruthless Self Honesty
Self-observation requires being honest with yourself – telling the truth about yourself, no matter how bad it makes you look.
Without this honesty, we join the mass whose main concern is looking good in front of others.
Most of us have an image of self that sees self as either righteous and virtuous, or bad and ugly. Both are false because both are partial and not complete.
Having this image of self is a coping mechanism that prevents you from seeing yourself for what it is and thus prevents suffering.
By practicing honest self-observation, you choose voluntary suffering.
Seeing your contradictions without lies or judgment causes pain. As you stand in this pain, judging nothing, trying to change nothing, and simply allowing the pain to be sensed throughout the body, you allow the pain to subside.
In fact, when we interfere with the pain (thinking about it, reacting to it, judging it, fighting it, trying to “fix” it, identifying with it) we magnify it and make it worse.
Try This: Observe the Following in Yourself
1. Unnecessary Tension Anywhere In The Body
Unnecessary tension means more muscular tension than is required to perform the task at hand.
If you can’t sense the whole body altogether, then begin with its parts. Notice the subtle movement of energy within, breathing into each part, relaxing as you exhale.
Once the body is relaxed, then observe the following:
2. Unnecessary Thoughts
Unnecessary thoughts refer to any thinking which is not solving a problem or is not related to what is happening at the moment.
Observing unnecessary thoughts can then become a trigger, an internal “reminder” to help you refocus the attention on body sensations.
Thought is a useful tool. It is a marvelous servant, but an inefficient master. It’s not meant to control or run your life.
3. Inappropriate emotion
Inappropriate emotion refers to any emotion which is more than is appropriate to the present situation (extreme, not related to the present moment (daydreaming, imagination), dramatic reaction, etc.)
Like unnecessary thought, inappropriate emotion can simply become a trigger, an internal “reminder” to help you refocus the attention on body sensations.
4. Ineffective Habit
The ordinary person spends a lifetime repeating the same habits over and over again and wishing for different results.
Using self-observation, you can start noticing ineffective habits and change them.
“When you are identified with the mind you cannot be very intelligent because you become identified with an instrument, you become confined by the instrument and its limitations. And you are unlimited —you are consciousness.
Use the mind, but don’t become it . . . mind is a beautiful machine. If you can use it, it will serve you; if you cannot use it and it starts using you, it is destructive, it is dangerous. It is bound to take you . . . into some suffering and misery . . . Mind cannot see; it can only go on repeating that which has been fed into it. It is like a computer; first you have to feed it
. . But you should remain the master so that you can use it; otherwise it starts directing you.“(Osho. The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, 171)
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- Portions of this article were adapted from the book 365 Ways to Beat How to Relax & Find Perfect Calm, © 2019 by Adam Gordon. All rights reserved.