Mindfulness Is More than Mumbo-Jumbo

Mindfulness matters. Many studies have demonstrated this over and over again, especially related to anxiety and depression. So, to celebrate the fact that we can use our minds to alleviate our suffering, we have gotten together to share some of our favorite mindfulness activities. You CAN use these at home!

Why we use Mindfulness:

Neurologically we know that it helps bring the parasympathetic nervous system online, which is the system that is our default, calm self. When we use mindfulness, we are able to respond to the environment and those around us with more care and kindness instead of working out of the sympathetic nervous system, which comes online when there is a perceived sense of threat. When we work out of our sympathetic nervous system, we are cranky, fearful, and often angry because we are primed for a “battle” of any sort that might be around the corner. Even people who often have a difficult time with meditation or guided imagery are able to utilize mindfulness effectively. Many people find instant relief for migraines, somatic pain, anxiety, and grounding after a tough emotional experience.

We use mindfulness to connect to our bodies and ourselves. We start to feel more relaxed and less anxiety when we do this. We use these exercises to gain insight from a “non-critical” point of view. It typically calms the pressure in the chest, the sinking in the stomach, and tension in the shoulders.

In short, it de-stresses and us. It helps us practice pointing our awareness at something else (other than what we are anxious about.)

When to use Mindfulness:

If you catch yourself having these thoughts, or noticing these things- it is a good time to try an exercise:

  1. "I'm so anxious right now."

  2. "I'm stressed out."

  3. "What the heck am I even feeling?"

  4. "Work sucks right now."

  5. "Why am so impatient?"

Another time you can use these is when you notice something is happening in your body that is uncomfortable and/or distressing.

Exercises to try at home:

#1- The Light Stream Technique

We do a slightly different version of this often in session, but there is a good recording here if you'd like to do it at home! This one especially helps if you are overwhelmed emotionally, or feeling hyperaroused, or overly anxious.

#2- Getting the Scoop

Bring attention to your body and notice the areas where you are holding tension. If you can’t pinpoint them right away, start from your feet and gradually scan your body going all the way up to your head. Start breathing slow breaths in and out, with the exhale being longer than the inhale. Imagine “scooping” out the tension from each part of your body where you are holding it or simply breathing out the tension with each exhale. Do this until you start to feel more relaxed or less anxiety.

#3- Meditation Coupled with Deep Breathing

Meditation and focusing on the breath helps to settle the mind and become more connected with soul and body. The headspace app is very helpful. There are some meditations that include walking and other movement, which can be especially helpful! It is great to practice awareness and presence as we are moving about instead of mindlessly hurrying around.

#4- Picture This

Picture you sitting outside of yourself. Observe your posture, breathing patterns, movement, facial expressions, and thoughts and feelings. As you observe, take a curious perspective. Just notice where you are at in that moment. Simply become aware of what is happening on the inside from an external and observing position.

#5- Mindfulness Through an Activity

Eating: Be mindful around an activity such as eating. Slow down, think about all the nuances of the food you're eating. Where did it come from? How it was prepared? How does it smell? What's the consistency? Identify the taste, etc.

Moving: Be mindful around a more bodily movement such as yoga. Slow down, think about all the muscles that are moving. Picture them. Notice their sensations as you do a slow roll down your body. Feel gravity pulling on you in different places.

Brushing Your Teeth: Close your eyes. Brush one tooth at a time. Envision that tooth as it is brushed from all angles.

You can do the same! Take anything you do and turn it into a mindful activity. Be creative! What do you do every day that could be a time for you to stop and be mindful?

If you would like to learn more or work with a therapist- please feel free to reach out to us.

Take Care,

The Phoenix Counseling Collective,

Caleb, Elisa, Andy, Kim, Molly, & Brittany

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

What Can You Learn From Your Anxiety?

I always ask my clients what their anxiety looks like.

Sometimes they look at me with a look of “aren’t you supposed to be the expert?” But I can’t be the expert on their anxiety. Only they can be that. And so, we begin the process of looking at what their anxiety looks like emotionally, bodily, and cognitively.

Anxiety looks different for each person. Sure, there is the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and those can be helpful categories to look at, but if we stop there we miss the person, the story, and everything else beneath the anxiety.

One of my professors in graduate school talked about anxiety and depression as being different sides of the same coin. I find this to be very true in my own life and in my clients’ lives. When something is “off” in my life sometimes my symptoms manifest in more anxious behaviors or thoughts (irritability, flighty thoughts, sleep disruption), but other times my symptoms look much more depressive (muted mood, tired, quick to anger). Now, if I just stay on the surface and try to figure out if I’m depressed or anxious, it doesn’t do me much good. And, if I just try and appease my symptoms, that may alleviate some discomfort momentarily, but no real change happens. If I can look beyond the symptoms, behaviors, and tendencies, I will usually find much more. My symptoms become a gateway to understanding what is really going on versus just something to manage. Most of us want our symptoms to go away without realizing they actually have so much to offer us.

Have you heard of the dashboard analogy? Picture the dashboard of a car. The lights that routinely or randomly light up are there to indicate to you that something needs to be addressed. Sometimes it is a signal to find a gas station and fill up with gas. Other times it’s the indicator to change your oil. And then sometimes, the really obscure light pops up that we have never seen before. Do we need to drive straight to a mechanic because our car is about to explode? Is our tire pressure off? Does the engine need to be looked at? When this happens, we have a choice. We can choose to investigate and address the problem (i.e. filling up with gas, getting an oil change, pulling out the manual and determining what’s going on), or we can ignore the light. If we ignore the light, the car will ultimately stop working at some point or great damage will be done. Our anxiety symptoms are like the lights on our dashboard; they are there to give us a glimpse into acknowledging that something needs some care. If we choose to ignore, or mute, the symptoms, the problem doesn’t go away. You may have turned off the light, but the car will still run out of gas or oil or worse.

Therapy can be a place to begin to look at those symptoms with curiosity and grace. In participating in the therapeutic process we can learn how to manage symptoms in the short term, but to find lasting benefits we want to learn from what our bodies and brains are telling us.

Lots of therapeutic modalities are used to address anxiety. And there are lots of tools and skills out there to help with decreasing symptoms of anxiety. A tool I find helpful for myself and some of my clients is the Meta Fi app. It was created by therapists to help individuals learn more about what their body and mind are telling them. I often find it difficult to name (in the moment) what is going on (i.e. How I’m feeling, what I need, etc.). This app is really helpful in asking poignant questions to help us focus in on what’s going on. The app offers a lot more (like making connections with those emotions and bodily sensations, tracking patterns, journal options, etc.), but I find just simply taking the 1-2 mins to pause and enter some info in the app is incredibly helpful.

We can’t really start to address our anxiety until we begin to actually understand more about it. I realize that this doesn’t really sound “fun.” Most of us just want to rid ourselves of the symptoms, but I believe you can find much more freedom and choice if you risk stepping into your anxiety and asking it what it has to offer you.

Peace and grace to you and me as we hold our anxiety with care and curiosity,