Cheat Sheet

Managing Anxiety with Mindfulness For Dummies Cheat Sheet

From Managing Anxiety with Mindfulness For Dummies

By Joelle Jane Marshall

Want to find out more about how to manage your anxiety with mindfulness? Look at the cheat sheet and discover the common causes of anxiety. Try a short mindfulness exercise that can help your anxiety. Explore ways of managing your anxious thoughts mindfully. Find out easy ways to be mindful each day. This cheat sheet will give you all the basics and is a fun way to get useful information fast!

A Short Mindfulness Exercise that Can Help Your Anxiety

This mindfulness exercise is called STOP, which stands for Stop, Take a breath, Observe and Proceed. You can use it when you feel your anxiety start to arise. As it’s only a short meditation, it can be used anywhere; you don’t need to set aside 30 minutes of your time to sit still or lie down.

  1. Stop.

    If you are in the middle of something take some time to stop if you can. If you’re feeling anxiety but think you are too busy to stop, that’s when you really do need to stop and take a break.

  2. Take some mindful breaths next.

    If it helps, place a hand on your stomach and feel how it goes up and down as you breathe in and out. What you are doing now is focusing your attention on the breath and away from any emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations.

  3. Observe.

    When you are ready and you have focused your attention on your breath, start to become aware of all your bodily sensations. Concentrate particularly on any physical discomfort that you are having as a result of your anxiety. Bring a sense of acceptance to these sensations and see if you can allow them to be just as they are.

    Feel them the same time as your breath and try to bring kindness and warmth to them instead of judging them if you can. If you get lost, go back to the breath and use it as a support to help focus on these sensations. After you have observed your body for a while, move on to your emotions and your thoughts. Try to watch the thoughts as an observer and allow them to pass in their own time without forcing them.

  4. Proceed.

    Gently bring your attention back to whatever you were doing. As you bring your attention back into your physical world, try to focus on what you were doing with mindful attention if you can. For example, if you are sitting at a desk typing, engage with the sensations of feeling your fingers on the keyboard and the weight of your body on your chair.

    Just bring as much of a sense of acceptance and acknowledgment towards your feelings as you can, knowing that your feelings are temporary and will eventually go.

Exploring the Common Causes of Anxiety

Although there is no known formula that can cause anxiety in adults, environment, stress, genetics, upbringing and even modern day living can affect your anxiety. You may recognise the cause of your anxiety or you may not, as sometimes it can appear for no clear reason. Here I have outlined the common causes of anxiety.

  • Genetics: Some studies have shown that anxiety may be caused by genetics. You may have recognised anxiety in a sibling or a parent. This is difficult to research as anxiety can be caused by external factors as well, such as low income or a stressful event that has affected the whole family. A specific gene that causes anxiety has not been identified.

  • Stress: A little bit of stress is good, it keeps you motivated and helps you plan for the future. However chronic stress is not good and can lead to anxiety. Chronic stress can be caused by work troubles, relationship troubles, financial difficulties and social expectations.

  • Thinking: Most anxiety is generated internally by your own thinking, but this is not your fault! Negative or worrying thoughts can easily spiral into a consistent stream of unhelpful thoughts, known as rumination.

  • Childhood: Although the specific causes of anxiety are not known, there is a link between what happens in childhood and developing anxiety as an adult. It may be because you had an anxious parent and copied their behaviour, or you may have experienced abuse, an overly critical parent, an overly protective parent or there may have been alcoholism in the family or some other trauma.

  • Self-perception: How you see yourself, your own perception of yourself, is vitally important. Most people are unaware of the stream of negative thoughts that go through their head and the nasty self-talk they give themselves. This can happen in the case of social anxiety where you feel like someone is judging your behaviour, your clothes and your looks. This negative self-talk is not factual and can be managed with mindfulness.

  • Negative Media: People absorb a lot of information every day without realising whether it is positive or negative. Even though thousands of good deeds happen every day, most of them go unreported, while a lot of the news that is broadcast is negative. If you watch the news consistently and read newspapers, you may feel that the world is a horrible place to live in. This can cause anxiety because you may start to fear that the events on TV could happen to you and this can cause you to worry more.

  • Social Media: Sites like Facebook and Twitter can cause anxiety for two main reasons. One is that they can make you feel inadequate and as if you have to ‘measure up’ to what your friends are doing. For example, friends post about a new house, marriage, new baby, car, new job or a luxury holiday and you may not have any of these at the moment. The second reason is that you are not making any real social connections. If you have anxiety, it’s important for you to go out, meet friends and boost your face-to-face social connections.

  • Mobile phones: Having your phone switched on all day, so anyone can contact you at any time, can be stressful and cause anxiety because (like the phone!) you don’t switch off. When a work email comes through, you feel compelled to answer it at any time of the day and night. Technology should help alleviate your stress, not cause further anxiety.

Easy Ways to be Mindful Each Day

As well as doing long formal mindful meditations, such as the body scan and the sitting meditation, there are informal meditations that you can easily fit into your routine on a daily basis. Incorporate these with everyday activities that you already do.

  • Brushing your teeth: This can be done in a mindful way. Feel the sensations of the brush on your teeth, smell the smell of the toothpaste and use your opposite hand to feel all the sensations in your arm and hand as you brush.

  • Showering: Feel the temperature of the water on your skin, the sensation of the texture of the sponge or shower gel on your skin, smell the shower gel, listen to the sound of the water.

  • Cleaning: Feel the sensations in your body as you vacuum or scrub, listen to the sounds of the vacuum on the carpet or the sponge on a surface. Feel all the different textures of the different surfaces you come into contact with. Smell all the different smells, if they are not too unpleasant!

  • Mindful Listening: Engage with the sounds you can hear. Notice if your mind puts a label on them. Be aware of the pitch, the volume and the quality of each sound. Listen to the silence between and underneath all sounds. Let sounds come to you without reaching for them.

  • Mindful Swimming or Exercising: Before you do any exercise such as swimming or anything else, take a few mindful breaths. Engage with all the sensations in your body as you do the activity. Connect with the experience of the exercise. If your mind wanders off, gently bring it back to whatever exercise you are doing with full attention.

  • Mindful Cooking: Begin with a few mindful breaths. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath. Feel the texture of all the food you are cooking if you can. Listen to the sounds of chopping, slicing, cracking eggs or whatever you may be doing. Smell all the different aromas that are coming from the food. Feel all the sensations in your body as you continue to cook. Make sure the TV is switched off and you have full attention on the meal you are preparing. If your mind wanders off, then gently guide it back to what you were doing.

  • Mindfully being in nature: Spend time in nature. Enjoying the beauty of nature can take you off automatic pilot and into the present moment. Engage with the nature around you, breathe in the fresh air and look at the scenery or the animals. The more present you are, the less time you will have for anxious and unhelpful thoughts. If you live in a busy city and nature is hard to find, consider keeping an allotment, a pet or even just a plant that you can focus on and nurture.

  • Mindful eating: Take a few mindful breaths. If you can, pick up the food that you are going to consume. Study the surface area of the food. Feel the texture of the food and the weight of it in your hand. Bring the food towards your lips. At what point can you feel yourself start to salivate? Place the food in your mouth feeling the weight of it on your tongue. Move it around your mouth with your tongue. Then bite into it, engaging with all sensations as the flavour is released and you start to chew. Continue eating your food in a mindful way.

  • Drinking tea mindfully: Ideally do this with decaffeinated or herbal tea. Place your tea bag in your cup and add hot water. Watch the rising steam and notice any smells. Feel the warmth of your cup as you pick it up. Engage with all the sensations including taste as you drink your tea. If your mind wanders off, gently bring it back.

Quick Ways of Managing Your Anxious Thoughts Mindfully

Mindfulness isn’t about stopping thoughts, trying to suppress them or having a clear mind. Rather it is about bringing them to the surface with awareness and curiosity so you can manage them. Once you change your attitude and perception towards your thoughts, they can lose their power over you.

Here are some quick exercises to manage your thoughts mindfully.

  • Leaves floating down a stream: Take a few mindful breaths and imagine that you are standing by a stream. When you become aware of a thought, place it on a leaf and watch it float away downstream.

  • Bubbles: Take a few mindful breaths and visualise bubbles floating through the air. Imagine your thoughts inside those bubbles, gently floating away.

  • Clouds in the sky: Visualise clouds in the sky, floating high above you. When you become aware of a thought, place it on a cloud and watch it float away.

  • Label your thoughts: When an anxious thought arises, try to label it if you can. Are you worrying, judging, planning or being self-critical?

  • Thought or fact? Notice the thought that you are having. Is it a thought or a fact? Thoughts are just thoughts and are not necessarily facts.

  • Write it down: Write down the thoughts that you are having. Sometimes just the very act of writing something down can feel like a release.

  • Mountain Meditation: Imagine a tall and majestic mountain, standing strong in all seasons and all weathers. Now imagine yourself as this mountain, standing strong and tall. Imagine your emotions and thoughts are like the seasons, ever-changing and never permanent. They come and go, but you remain stable, balanced and grounded.

    You are unaffected by your thoughts and emotions, just like the mountain is unaffected by the seasons. Your true essence is remains constant, just like the mountain.