Mindfulness for Anxiety and Other Mental Disorders

Updated: Feb 2

Mindfulness is a practice championed by mental health professionals and clients alike. It entailed paying focused attention to the present moment in time, without judgement, stress, or worry. It often involves guided meditation, controlled breathing, and/or guided visualization. For those of us with anxiety disorders, mindfulness is a godsend. Our minds are constantly chaotic, ruminating over our past mistakes and future fears. Mindfulness allows us to silence the chatter of our minds and be attuned to our present environment.

Mindfulness and Me

I first heard the word “mindfulness” during my first attempt at therapy several years ago. I had been diagnosed with Generalized and Social Anxiety Disorder, although unbeknownst to me, I had several other disorders that remained undiagnosed. (I call these “the bunch of acronyms ending in D”.) At the time, I spent most of my waking hours daydreaming, and my therapist recommended mindfulness as a way for me to stay grounded in reality.

The first time I tried mindfulness, the silence was almost scary to me. In the absence of external stimuli, my daydreams always rushed in to fill the void. I found it almost impossible to turn my brain off and stay grounded in the present moment, so I fell off of my mindfulness journey until several years later, when a new therapist recommended that I download a mindfulness app.

To this day, I find mindfulness difficult. While I no longer daydream as much as I used to, I still have “mind chatter” that interrupts my mindfulness sessions- I need to respond to that email when I’m done with this. What am I going to make for dinner tonight? I still need to buy those hair products. Still, I have faith that as long as I continue to practice mindfulness, I will eventually find it easier.

Mindfulness Principles and Basics

One of the key tenets of mindfulness is non-judgement. This manifests itself in two ways- not judging the thoughts that come into your mind, and not judging yourself for any difficulties with the process. The goal of mindfulness is to reach greater acceptance of yourself, your thoughts, and the world around you. A visualization that I like to use is “the front porch”. Your self-concept, spirit, and emotional well-being is like a house. When you have an anxiety disorder, your thoughts- specifically negative ones- get into your “house” and impede your functioning. You want your thoughts to remain on “the front porch”- something that you notice, but don’t internalize. To assist with this, many mindfulness coaches will prompt you to visualize your thoughts as clouds in the sky, or leaves on a stream. Like clouds in the sky, notice your thoughts, but allow them to drift away without becoming attached to them.

Non-judgement of oneself’s journey with mindfulness is often referred to as non-striving. If you have an anxiety disorder, or even if you don’t, turning off the constant chatter of your mind can be very difficult! Many people become discouraged when they cannot relax, as I did when I first attempted mindfulness. You don’t have to be “good at” mindfulness, especially not when you’re first starting out. Your stream of consciousness will continue during a mindfulness session, and it may cause you some distress when you cannot turn it off. This is normal. You can acknowledge that stream of consciousness and see where it goes without judging it, or yourself for having it.

Why is mindfulness effective?

By practicing mindfulness, we are able to observe and accept the changing nature of experience. For those of us with anxiety disorders, we are constantly stuck in our own heads, which prevents us from being attuned to what is going on around us. Before treatment, I would sometimes miss my bus stop or be zoned out through an entire class because I was too busy worrying! Over time, practicing mindfulness can increase one’s concentration, focus, and even enjoyment of experiences.

Furthermore, when we recognize the changing nature of experiences, we are less likely to become attached to those experiences, whether those be internal thoughts or external events. As someone with anxiety, minor emotional experiences, such as losing an item or having an awkward conversation, often feel like the end of the world. Mindfulness teaches the brain to recognize these emotional experiences without dwelling on them, which relieves the rumination that is characteristic of anxiety.

How do I get started?

Find a place in your home where you won’t be interrupted. Set a timer- it’s best to start by practicing mindfulness in small chunks of time, like 5 or 10 minutes. Pay attention to each part of the body in turn, from your feet up to your head, as you relax your muscles. Then, pay attention to your breathing. Make sure that you are breathing from your diaphragm- you can tell that you’re breathing from your diaphragm when your belly, not your chest, rises and falls. Thoughts will come into your mind throughout this process, but remember not to try to stop or interrupt them.

If you want to practice mindfulness in a more guided setting, book a Focus Fuse class! Focus Fuse incorporates exercise and yoga, as all Daily DeFusion classes do, but the primary focus will be on mindfulness. It is easier to reach a mindful state after physical exertion, which is why I’ve begun practicing mindfulness after my workouts even when I don’t have a Daily DeFusion class. The class will open with a brief session of rigorous movement, but don’t panic- the moves are relatively easy! After that, there will be a mobility session- focusing on moving mindfully. Try to incorporate some of your mindfulness techniques into this session of movement- focus on your breath, the sensations in your body, and where your body is. After that, the mindfulness session will begin. You can sit, lay down, or remain in a yoga pose as you are invited to call attention to each part of your body. You will be led through a mindfulness visualization as you continue to focus on your breathing. Focus Fuse is usually taught on Fridays at 5:30, so it’s the perfect way to wind down from the stresses of the work week. Click [this link] to book!

One last tip before I go

The most important things to remember about mindfulness are….

  1. Non-judgement- acknowledge and release thoughts instead of holding onto them

  2. Non-striving- don’t feel the need to be “good” at mindfulness

  3. Start small- set aside 5 or 10 minutes to pay attention to your body, breath, and thoughts

Now it's your turn to develop mindfulness and experience relief from your anxiety symptoms. Whether you choose to book a Focus Fuse class, or just start practicing on your own, let us know if you need any help by contacting us here. We’re always happy to help.

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Zuri loves to write, and has ever since she's been able to hold a pen. After being part of the literary magazine at her high school, she went on to the University of Pennsylvania (on a full four-year scholarship!), where she works at the Kelly Writers House. She's written articles for Her Campus, the #1 online magazine for college-age women.

As a Cognitive Science major, mental health is a topic that Zuri is very passionate about. She's struggled with anxiety her entire life, and after deciding to take some time off of school for her own mental health, she found Evan and Maddie's posting for an intern. Zuri is very grateful for the opportunity to help others in her situation to better their mental and physical health.