When we think of practising mindfulness, we’d be forgiven to picture an image of someone quietly sitting crossed legged on a yoga mat with their eyes closed, while breathing out negative energy in order to achieve some form of relief from their anxiety. This mindful meditation involves being mindful through focused breathing exercises, guided imagery and other practices to relax the mind and redirect thoughts to help reduce stress and offer relief from anxiety.
But what if the idea of quietly sitting still to focus on your thoughts offers you no comfort at all? What if it’s actually the opposite of what works for you when you’re feeling anxious?
Well, you wouldn’t be alone. It’s as simple as what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. For some of us, the very thought of sitting still is a real challenge and one that doesn’t get easier now matter how much it’s practiced.
For some, meditation can have the opposite effect when negative thoughts do not exit the mind but instead intensify and as a result those thoughts become even more draining and anxiety is exacerbated. This is why staying busy and also practising mindfulness can be incredibly beneficial because by focusing on another task that requires your attention means you can’t dedicate as much time or thought to your anxiety.
So now we know that being mindful is not synonymous with keeping still, how else can we practice mindfulness?
First off, the right mindful practice is different for everyone- after all, we are all different and on our own journey and so the same goes for mindfulness. This is why it’s important to choose what works for you because it’s about the experience you have, not the destination you’re headed to, and ultimately, the focus is about your personal discovery and development.
How we choose (and sometimes it chooses us) to practice mindfulness is unique to every one of us, so choose what makes YOU feel good and offers you some form of relief and enjoyment along the way.
Here are some of the alternate ways to keep your anxious mind busy:
Regular runners will likely tell you that they don’t just run for the physical health benefits but also for its feel good factor. ‘Runners high’ is actually a real thing and is a term used to describe a feeling of euphoria caused by the body’s natural release of endorphins during and momentarily after exercising. It’s also experienced with reduced anxiety and an elevated mood due to the chemical released by the body. Some people even describe running as a way to literally ‘run away’ from their thoughts and focus on the run itself.
But it’s okay if the very thought of running makes you feel more anxious- some of us are not runners and never will be.
You might choose to go for a mindful walk instead, just getting your body moving is a healthy way of dealing with your anxiety. You may even decide to put on some headphones, get yourself lost in some music and get moving.
During the pandemic, baking has become pretty popular with a lot of people choosing to bake their way through quarantine as a way to fill their time and keep them busy during times of stress. Baking your way through moments of anxiety is nothing new but its revival has highlighted the importance of using baking as a form of therapy by allowing the mind to escape into a focused activity.
Cooking may stress you out but baking may not or perhaps it’s the other way round- or maybe you enjoy both. Make sure you choose what makes you feel most relaxed and happy.
And the end result? A less anxious you and some delicious freshly baked treats for an additional pick-me-up!
Sometimes when we’re feeling anxious and negative thoughts are preoccupying our minds we can fear losing control. Life is already full of uncertainty, many situations are out of our hands and the outside world is chaotic enough without bringing all of that into our home.
So part of getting back some of that control is to take control in our home.
Household chores that require some concentration can steer the mind from our worries and assert a sense of control over them. For some, putting the vacuum around the house or decluttering a cupboard can feel similar to the effects others get from meditating. Sure, cleaning isn’t for everyone but living in a clean and tidy home can offer peace and tranquility for your mind.
Gardening, like mindfulness, is a way of finding a sense of calm in our often hectic lives. It’s going back to basics- a simpler existence. Asserting ourselves with nature, getting out in the fresh air and appreciating its beauty and the world around us can bring a sense of peace, calm and pleasure and take any worries away by keeping your mind (and hands) busy.
You don’t have to be green-fingered to find peace in gardening- simply by becoming one with nature can bring you peace of mind.
Similar to other forms of art therapy like painting and sculpting, gardening allows you to create something unique to you, something that represents you and your ability to focus your attention to bring something new to life.
The key to choosing a mindful practice is to not follow the mindful practices of others, but to understand how to choose an approach to mindfulness that works for you so you’re likely to stick with it to accomplish alleviating your anxiety by cultivating positive energy to live a happier, healthier life.