Healthy Living

Mindfulness: What it is and how it can help keep anxiety in check

After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the start of a new year is a time to slow down, reflect on the past year and look ahead to what’s in front of us. One of the things you might evaluate is how you’re living your life and if your behavior is helping or hindering your efforts.

Making behavior changes starts with evaluating your actions. To do this, it’s helpful to focus on being more mindful.

Have you ever wondered “Why do I keep doing this?” or “I don’t know why I did that”? Being more mindful can help you quiet distracting thoughts, concentrate better in the moment and have better awareness and control of your emotions, behaviors and actions. Mindfulness helps you live in the moment and get more enjoyment out of life.

To live more mindfully, practice daily while doing your everyday tasks. For example, when brushing your teeth, focus on how the toothbrush feels on your teeth, how the toothpaste tastes, and how your teeth and gums feel after brushing.

It can also be more formal and involve setting aside time to do mindfulness exercises. This might include scheduling 5-10 minutes every morning to do breathing or listening exercises. During this time, think about what type of person you want to be and the behaviors that go with it. Another way to practice mindfulness is to use it to reset and recover throughout the day. These transition exercises may include 30 seconds of deep breathing between meetings to help you stay focused and in the moment throughout your day.

A common question I hear from patients is how can I reduce anxiety in my life? Keep in mind that everyone experiences anxiety. It’s a way for our bodies to communicate and tell us if something physical or emotional is happening. It serves as a motivator to act and can result in positive behaviors. For example, anxiety about traffic can lead to wearing a seatbelt when in a vehicle. Another example is how feeling nervous about a job interview can lead to practicing your answers.

The key is to keep anxiety from going into overdrive. Here are some tips to keep it in check:

• Follow a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, healthy eating, a sleep routine and staying hydrated.
• Set your intention each morning and focus on how you want to show up.
• Take short mindfulness breaks throughout the day.
• Take joy in the little things – for example, keep pictures of your loved ones on your desk at work or wear a fun pair of socks.
• If your anxiety gets too overwhelming, distract yourself by hitting the gym for a workout, doing a word search or counting backwards from 100 by threes.
• Self-soothe by picturing a place you’ve been that is calming or smell something that makes you feel good.

If you find anxiety is affecting your daily functioning, it’s time to talk to a medical professional. Watch for signs like changing your life to avoid situations or opting out of activities that make you anxious. Other signs may include skipping school, avoiding social activities, not responding to messages or not trying for job promotions. When you start to change your life in service of anxiety, it’s time to investigate.

Edward-Elmhurst Health’s free online assessment, AnxietyAware, can help you assess your level of anxiety and learn about next steps. Linden Oaks Behavioral Health provides everything from traditional outpatient therapy to partial hospitalization and inpatient care. We help people learn the skills they need to manage anxiety and live the life they want.

Learn more about Linden Oaks Behavioral Health. Visit us online or call 630-305-5027.