People who meditate are happier, healthier, and more successful than those who don’t. Those amazing benefits of practicing meditation and mindfulness make you want to try those mindfulness exercises yourself.
Good chance you have already tried meditation or mindfulness before. Maybe you decided – after a few frustrating attempts – that you must be one of those people with an errant mind that just won’t follow instructions. This is a limiting belief. Like any skill, mindfulness takes practice. Try it again!
Now don’t roll your eyes. Sometimes the only thing standing between our goals and us is a little bit of direction. Hopefully, this article can provide the direction you need to give mindfulness a try in your own life or in your therapy or coaching sessions. Let’s dive in!
This article contains:
- 4 Mindfulness Activities for Groups and Group Therapy
- 6 Fun Mindfulness Interventions, Techniques, and Worksheets for Adults
- Introducing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- 5 Simple Mindfulness Exercises from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy
- Mindfulness Techniques for Depression, Anger, Addiction, and Anxiety
- A Take Home Message
4 Mindfulness Activities for Groups and Group Therapy
In many cases, group therapy that incorporates mindfulness has shown some promising results. It has proven to be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a staple of the clinical psychology world (Kocovski, Fleming, Hawley, Huta, & Antony, 2013).
There is also evidence to show that group mindfulness therapy is also as effective as individual CBT (Sundquist et al., 2015). In a global climate with relatively few clinical psychologists in relation to the demand, and in which individual therapy time is limited and expensive, the proven efficacy of group-based therapy is really good news.
Even if you’re not currently attending therapy or feel no need to visit a therapist, or are a therapist looking to expand your skills, there are mindfulness-focused groups that attempt to share and deepen meditation practice without an added therapeutic focus of stress, anxiety, or other mental health problems (Brach, 2016).
Fleming & Kocovski’s treatment plan
One such group mindfulness-based treatment program by Fleming & Kocovski (2007) aimed to reduce social anxiety. It is a good example of how mindfulness exercises can be incorporated into a group setting for its various benefits.
In this example, the exercises used have proven effective for treating social anxiety disorder in particular; however, they can be applied to many other group settings with positive results.
The treatment plan involves groups of about 8 members meeting for 2 hours, every week for 12 weeks. The first portion of each session is devoted to a short mindfulness exercise and discussion.
The treatment plan’s mindfulness exercises went as follows:
- Session 1: Raisin Exercise
- Session 2: Body Scan
- Session 3: Mindful Seeing
- Session 4: Mindfulness of the breath, sounds, and thoughts
- Session 5: Acceptance of thoughts and feelings exercise
- Session 6: Acceptance of Social Anxiety
- Session 7: Mountain Meditation
- Session 8: Acceptance of Social Anxiety
- Session 9: Breath Focus without Guidance
- Session 10: Lake Meditation
- Session 11: Non guided Breath Focus
There are many different mindfulness exercises mentioned here which were specifically put together for the aim of reducing social anxiety disorder; however, the first three exercises are commonly used in group sessions to encourage mindfulness. A description of each of these three group exercises can be found below:
1. The Raisin Exercise
This is a great introductory exercise for beginners to start practicing mindfulness since it can be attempted by anyone with any kind of food (although one with an interesting or unusual texture, smell, or taste is best).
In this exercise, the facilitator provides participants with a few raisins and asks that they pretend they have never seen a raisin before. The facilitator then asks that the group pay careful attention to:
- The way the raisin looks
- How it feels
- How their skin responds to its manipulation
- Its smell
- Its taste
Focusing on the single object of the raisin is meant to bring the participant’s mind to the present, to what is right in front of them.
“By focusing on the raisin in their hand and making a point to notice everything about it, they are unlikely to be expending energy, time and attention on worrying or ruminating about other parts of their lives”
It is nearly impossible to avoid practicing mindfulness when you follow these instructions and take notice of what is in front of you in the present moment.
2. The Body Scan
Another popular exercise for practitioners of mindfulness is called the Body Scan. It requires very little in the way of props or tools, and it is also easily accessible for most beginners.
Would you like to follow a Body Scan right now? Try this 30 minute guided narrative by expert and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Jon Kabat Zinn:
- Step 1: the Body Scan begins with the participants lying on their backs with their palms facing up and their feet falling slightly apart. This exercise can also be done sitting on a comfortable chair with feet resting on the floor.
- Step 2: the facilitator then asks the participants to lie very still for the duration of the exercise, and move with awareness if it becomes necessary to adjust their position.
- Step 3: next, the facilitator begins guiding the Body Scan. Participants begin by bringing awareness to the breath, noticing the rhythm, the experience of breathing in and expelling out. The facilitator explains that nobody should try to change the way they are breathing but rather just hold gentle awareness on the breath.
- Step 4: next, the facilitator guides attention to the body: how it feels, the texture of clothing against the skin, the contours of the surface on which the body is resting, the temperature of the body and the environment.
- Step 5: the facilitator guides awareness to the parts of the body that are tingling, sore, or feeling particularly heavy or light, s/he asks the participants to note any areas of their body where they don’t feel any sensations at all or are hypersensitive.
A typical Body Scan runs through each part of the body, paying special attention to the way each area feels, the scan usually moves as follows:
- From toes of both feet to
- The rest of the feet (top, bottom, ankle) then to the
- Lower legs,
- Thighs and
- Pelvic region- buttocks, tailbone, pelvic bone, genitals. From there moving to
- The Abdomen, then the
- Lower back,
- Upper back- back ribs & shoulder blades,
- Hands (fingers, palms, backs, wrists),
- Arms (lower, elbows, upper),
- Face and head (jaw, mouth, nose, cheeks, ears, eyes, forehead, scalp, back&top of the head),
- and finally ending with the blow hole (Fleming & Kocovski, 2007)
After the Body Scan is complete and the participants feel ready to come back to the room they can slowly open their eyes and move naturally to a comfortable sitting position.
Now that you have a firmer understanding of the Body Scan, check out this free PDF mindful body scan script which will help you facilitate this exercise for others within a group setting.
3. Mindful Seeing
For some, the absence of visual stimuli can feel stifling. After all, a healthy imagination does not come naturally to everyone. The activity of Mindful Seeing may be helpful to anyone who identifies with this feeling.
This is a simple exercise, requiring only a window with some kind of a view. The facilitator guides the group following these steps:
- Step 1: find a space at a window where there are sights to be seen outside.
- Step 2: look at everything there is to see. Avoid labeling and categorizing what you see outside the window; instead of thinking “bird” or “stop sign”, try to notice the colors, the patterns, or the textures.
- Step 3: pay attention to the movement of the grass or leaves in the breeze, notice the many different shapes present in this small segment of the world you can see. Try to
see the world outside the window from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with these sights.
- Step 4: be observant, but not critical. Be aware, but not fixated.
- Step 5: if you become distracted, gently pull your mind away from those thoughts and notice a color or shape again to put you back in the right frame of mind.
“This exercise only lasts a few minutes, but can open up a world of discovery in an otherwise familiar place”
This extensive group treatment plan of Fleming and Kocovski’s 2007 work offers a glimpse of how to use mindfulness in any kind of group session and provides detailed worksheets, exercises, and handouts which can provide inspiration and guidance for your group facilitation.
4. Mindful Listening
This last activity is extracted from the Positive Psychology Toolkit and introduces mindful listening as a group exercise.
Mindful listening is an important skill and can be a great group mindfulness exercise. In general, people thrive when they feel fully “heard” and “seen.” In other words, mindful listening involves a form of self-regulation in which the focus on the self is set aside. Mindful listening can create an inner stillness in both parties as the speaker may feel free of the listener’s preconceptions and prejudices, and the listener is free of inner chatter whilst learning valuable positive communication skills.
The Mindful Listening exercise involves these steps:
- Step 1: invite each participant to think of one thing they are stressed about and one thing they look forward to.
- Step 2: once everyone is finished each participant takes their turn in sharing their story with the group,
- Step 3: encourage each participant to direct attention to how it feels to speak, how it feels to talk about something stressful as well as how it feels to share something positive.
- Step 4: participants are instructed to observe their own thoughts, feelings and body sensations both when talking and listening.
- Step 5: after each participant has shared, you can break into small groups and answer the questions stated bellow. Next, you regroup into the whole group and have a discussion and debrief with these questions.
Those questions are:
1: How did you feel when speaking during the exercise?
2: How did you feel when listening during the exercise?
3: Did you notice any mind-wandering?
4: If so, what was the distraction?
5: What helped you to bring your attention back to the present?
6: Did your mind judge while listening to others?
7: If so, how did “judging” feel in the body?
8: Were there times where you felt empathy?
9: If so, how did this feel in the body?
10: How did your body feel right before speaking?
11: How did your body feel right after speaking?
12: What are you feeling right now?
13: What would happen if you practiced mindful listening with each person that you spoke with?
14: Do you think mindful listening would change the way you interact and relate with others?
15: How would it feel if you set the intention to pay attention with curiosity, kindness, and
acceptance to everything you said and everything you listened to?
In addition to the group activities mentioned, you may also be interested in trying gentle yoga or qigong, both of which involve deliberate posture, purposeful breath, and an emphasis on awareness. Both of these activities have provided evidence for the benefits of mindfulness (Newsome, Waldo, & Gruszka, 2012).
6 Fun Mindfulness Interventions, Techniques, and Worksheets for Adults
There are several ways to engage in mindfulness on an individual level, including worksheets, techniques, and different exercises.
If the idea of participating in group mindfulness exercises is anxiety-provoking or stressful for yourself or your clients then diving into mindfulness practice alone can be the best way to proceed. Here are 6 exercises which can help to build mindfulness in different ways:
1. The Self-Compassion Pause
This free PDF worksheet on The Self-Compassion Pause guides the reader through an exercise on practicing mindfulness and self-compassion.
It is an ideal worksheet for many who struggle to show themselves compassion, even though they may be quick to extend compassion to others. It is also a great way to practice mindfulness by bringing awareness to emotions and staying in the moment with them.
- The worksheet begins with noting the date and whether the focus on awareness is on heart, body, or thoughts on the current day.
- Next, the worksheet provides a short description on the importance of self-compassion for maintaining the quality of life.
- The next section provides the method for the exercise. You start with noticing feelings by taking a moment to pause thoughts and actions, with a focused awareness that being mindful can help.
- Next, the worksheet instructs you to move a hand over the heart, give yourself a hug, or make physical contact with yourself in some other way, and take a few deep breaths.
- After this is the important step of acknowledging suffering. This step is both a place to practice mindfulness and encourages mindfulness as result. The aim is not to become overwhelmed by the pain or emotion but rather acknowledge it as real and hurtful, while giving yourself permission to feel it.
While the last step may be the most difficult, it is also a very important one. It involves vocalizing three statements:
- “This is suffering” (or something similar)
- “Suffering is part of being human” (acknowledge that all humans suffer and struggle)
- A phrase that you feel offers compassion, such as “May I love and accept myself just as I am”
2. Self-Inquiry Meditation
The Self-Inquiry Meditation is focused on self-inquiry, a technique used in meditation to gain enlightenment. (download the PDF here)
It begins the same way the self-compassion worksheet does, by jotting down the date and what area is the focus of awareness for the day.
Next, the worksheet offers a short description of self-inquiry and why it is worthwhile to practice it. Self-inquiry can bring about a sense of peace and openness to experience, among other desirable outcomes.
To begin the exercise, follow these steps:
- Take a comfortable seated position
- Let yourself settle into your body and your mind
- Try to let go of thoughts and clear the mind of its usual considerations
- Focus your attention on the feeling of being you. Who are you? How does it feel to be you? What is it that makes up your inner self?
If you find yourself distracted by an errant thought, bring your awareness back to yourself by asking “To whom is this thought occurring?”
This exercise can be continued for as long as desired. It is a difficult exercise as it requires the individual to focus on the self, which not many find enjoyable. If you are having trouble staying in your own head, try practicing the self-compassion exercise first to make the experience more comfortable.
The goal of self-inquiry is to be aware of yourself and to bring awareness to the source of all that you are. It can be so easy to get lost in everyday tasks and distractions.
“Self-inquiry can help bring awareness to the one who is dealing with all these thoughts and feelings – you!”
3. Five Senses Exercise
This exercise is called “five senses”, and provides guidelines on practicing mindfulness quickly in nearly any situation. All that is needed is to notice something you are experiencing with each of the five senses.
Follow this order to practice the five senses exercise:
- Notice five things that you can see.
Look around you and bring your attention to five things that you can see. Pick something that you don’t normally notice, like a shadow or a small crack in the concrete.
- Notice four things that you can feel.
Bring awareness to four things that you are currently feeling, like the texture of your pants, the feeling of the breeze on your skin, or the smooth surface of a table you are resting your hands on.
- Notice three things you can hear.
Take a moment to listen, and note three things that you hear in the background. This can be the chirp of a bird, the hum of the refrigerator, or the faint sounds of traffic from a nearby road.
- Notice two things you can smell.
Bring your awareness to smells that you usually filter out, whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant. Perhaps the breeze is carrying a whiff of pine trees if you’re outside, or the smell of a fast food restaurant across the street.
- Notice one thing you can taste.
Focus on one thing that you can taste right now, in this moment. You can take a sip of a drink, chew a piece of gum, eat something, or just notice the current taste in your mouth or open your mouth to search the air for a taste.
This is a quick and relatively easy exercise to bring you to a mindful state quickly. If you only have a minute or two or, for whatever reason, you don’t have the time or tools to try a body scan or fill out a worksheet, the five senses exercise can help you or your clients bring awareness to the current moment in a short amount of time.
4. The Mini-Mindfulness Exercise
Another great exercise to try if you are strapped for time is the mini-mindfulness exercise. In this lesson, there are only three steps:
- Step 1: step out of “automatic pilot” to bring awareness to what you doing, thinking, and sensing in this moment.
Try to pause and take a comfortable but dignified posture. Notice the thoughts that come up and acknowledge your feelings, but let them pass. Attune yourself to who you are and your current state.
- Step 2: bring awareness to the breathing for six breaths or a minute.
The goal is to focus attention on one thing: your breath. Be aware of the movement of your body with each breath, of how your chest rises and falls, how your belly pushes in and out, and how your lungs expand and contract. Find the pattern of your breath and anchor yourself to the present with this awareness.
- Step 3: expand awareness outward, first to the body then to the environment.
Allow the awareness to expand out to your body. Notice the sensations you are experiencing, like tightness, aches, or perhaps a lightness in your face or shoulders. Keep in mind your body as a whole, as a complete vessel for your inner self.
If you wish, you can then expand your awareness even further to the environment around you. Bring your attention to what is in front of you. Notice the colors, shapes, patterns, and textures of the objects you can see. Be present in this moment, in your awareness of your surroundings.
“When you are ready to finish the exercise, allow your eyes to open slowly and try to carry that mindfulness with you as you go about your day”
These four exercises mentioned above are taken from this website.
5. Mindful Walking Down The Street Technique
One core process, which can be influenced by mindfulness practice, is our ability to observe out thoughts emotions and sensations without reacting to fix them, hide them or solve them. This awareness creates room for choice between impulse and action which can help develop coping skills and positive behavioral change.
- In the first step of this intervention; the facilitator helps the client visualize a scenario in which they are walking down a familiar street when they look up and see someone they know on the other side of the street. They wave however the other person doesn’t respond and continues to walk right past.
- In the second step of the mindful walking exercise the facilitator prompts reflection from the client by asking a series of questions:
1. As you were imagining, did you notice any of your thoughts?
2. As you were imagining, did you notice any of your emotions?
“It can be sometimes be challenging to differentiate between thoughts and emotions as they can play off each other quite rapidly”
- In the third and final step of the exercise, the facilitator asks the client to reflect on the series of emotions and thoughts that came up and how this affects their behavior, whether the exercise was helpful and for any final comments.
6. The Three Minute Breathing Space
Unlike meditations or a body scan, this exercise is quick to perform and easy to get started with a mindfulness practice in your busy life or that of your clients. With meditations and the body scan thoughts often pop up and keeping a quiet and clear head can be a challenge.
This last exercise of Three Minute Breathing Space can be the perfect technique for those with busy lives and minds. The exercise is broken into three sections, one per minute, and works as follows:
- The first minute is spent on answering the question, “how am I doing right now?”, while focusing on the feelings, thoughts, and sensations that arise and trying to give these words and phrases.
- The second minute is spent on keeping awareness on the breath.
- The last minute is used for an expansion of attention from solely focusing on the breath, feeling the in’s and out’s and how they affect the rest of the body.
This exercise can be rather challenging for keeping a quiet mind and often thoughts can pop up. The idea is not to block them, but rather just let them come into your mind and then disappear back out again. Try to just observe them.
All the exercises mentioned above can be used for the benefit of yourself, individual clients and even in group settings. They are beneficial to all client groups; however, some will be better suited than others so a method of open-minded trial and error can often be necessary.
The most important part of mindfulness is to recognize that it is training of the mind, and like any exercise will take some time to see the benefits and for the mind to get used to a new way of thinking. The trick is to persevere, approach the process with self-compassion and allow for reflection, change and flexibility between different techniques and interventions.
Introducing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (or DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that is mainly used to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder.
- The first priority for DBT treatment is to target the life-threatening behaviors that often manifest in people with severe mental health problems.
- Second, therapists aim to eliminate the behaviors that interfere with therapy. These behaviors are anything which become obstacles between the client and successful treatment, such as refusal to strive for the goals of DBT, missing sessions, etc.
- Next, DBT therapists aim to correct the behaviors that interfere with the client’s quality of life, including non-productive relationship behaviors, communication problems, and bad financial decision-making.
The behavioral skills taught in group and individual therapy fall into one of four categories:
- Distress tolerance
- Interpersonal effectiveness
- Emotion regulation (Linehan, 1993)
Mindfulness is a core skill taught in DBT, as it helps clients raise awareness of their own thoughts and feelings (Jennings & Apsche, 2014).
“Practicing mindfulness helps DBT clients learn to slow the pace of their thoughts, recognize thoughts for what they are, and sharpen their focus”
The Effectiveness of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy-Mindfulness
In one study, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy-Mindfulness (DBTM) training was added to general psychiatric treatment to test its effectiveness. A module on mindfulness was developed to help clients achieve the “wise mind” and focused on two sets of skills, called the “what” skills and the “how” skills (Soler et al., 2012).
What are the “What” skills?
This first set of skills is meant to help the client learn how to:
- simply observe their experience,
- describe their experience using verbal labels, and
- be fully present in the moment and in their actions without feeling self-conscious.
These skills allow the client to be aware of what is happening to them and of their part in their own experience. Becoming aware of their own thoughts and grounded in the present forms the foundation for the next set of “how” skills.
How do the “How” Skills Work?
The “how” skills set refers to the goal of teaching clients how to observe, describe and participate in their own experience. This set of skills is intended to help clients:
- learn to have experiences in a non-evaluative, or non-judgmental, manner,
- focus on one thing at a time and learn to bring their attention back to the target when they go off course
- be effective, or keep their focus on their goals regardless of their current mood (Soler et al., 2012).
The clients were also taken through a series of other mindfulness interventions including mindful breathing, the body scan, and other simple awareness practices.
The outcome of this study showed that individuals who received DBTM training in addition to the usual treatment garnered enhanced benefits compared to the group who received only the usual psychiatric treatment. Additionally, it was found that the more minutes an individual spent practicing mindfulness, the greater the improvements in psychiatric symptoms (Soler et al., 2012).
DBT clearly has something to teach us all in its application of a wide range of mindfulness techniques and exercises. The best news being that these exercises can be applied to other individual clients and groups with their own unique benefits. Let’s take a look at a few easily applicable examples.
5 Simple Mindfulness Exercises from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy
In addition to the DBT mindfulness techniques used in clinical research, there are many informal mindfulness techniques and exercises shared online for anyone to try.
One such source comes is DrivingPeace.com, which offers five DBT-based mindfulness practices that can help with anxiety, especially anxiety resulting from borderline personality disorder, however, could be beneficial to a number of different clients. These five exercises are quick and easy and can be put into practice every day:
1. Observe a leaf for five minutes
This exercise calls for nothing but a leaf and your attention. Pick up a leaf, hold it in your hand, and give it your full attention for five minutes. Notice the colors, the shape, the texture, and the patterns. This will bring you into the present and align your thoughts with your current experience.
2. Mindful eating for four minutes
As with the raisin exercise described above, this exercise calls for mindful eating.
Pay attention to what you are holding (preferably not something messy!), notice the feeling of it in your hands. Once you have noticed the texture, the weight, the color, etc., move on to bringing your awareness to the smell.
Finally, move on to eating, but do so slowly and with concentrated attention. Notice the taste and its texture against your tongue. This exercise may help you discover new experiences with familiar foods.
3. Observe your thoughts for fifteen minutes
This exercise is a staple of mindfulness, designed to simply enhance your awareness of your own thoughts.
To begin, sit or lie down in a comfortable position and try to let all tension in your body dissipate. Focus on your breathing first, then move your awareness to what it feels like to be in your body, and finally move on to your thoughts.
Be aware of what comes into your head, but resist the urge to label or judge these thoughts. Think of them as a passing cloud in the sky of your mind.
If your mind wanders to chase a thought, acknowledge whatever it was that took your attention and gently guide your attention back to your thoughts.
4. Mindfulness bell exercise for five minutes
In this exercise, you begin by closing your eyes and listening for the cue. When you hear it, your aim is to focus your attention on the sound and continue your concentration until it fades completely. This exercise helps you to keep yourself firmly grounded in the present. You can use the audio below:
5. Stare at the center
The goal is simple: to focus your attention on the center of the shifting pattern of color. You can let your mind wander freely, noticing whatever thoughts come into your head but staying in the present.
This experience is similar to the well-known phenomenon of the quiet fixation that results from staring at a candle flame or a campfire.
The same focus and deep thought can be brought on by this exercise, but be careful not to lose yourself in thought, and instead stay present in the moment and let your thoughts pass by. This exercise requires a video to practice, you can use the one below:
Mindfulness Techniques for Depression, Anger, Addiction, and Anxiety
While mindfulness has been a crux of therapy for patients with borderline personality disorder, it clearly has applications for people with a diagnosis of mental illness.
In fact, mindfulness has been successfully applied to a wide range of people on the mental health spectrum, from the mentally healthy and happy to those struggling the most with their mental well-being.
Whether you treat or suffer from depression, anger, addiction, or anxiety as a formal diagnosis or occasional obstacles, mindfulness techniques have been shown to be particularly beneficial for regulating emotions and can be a very helpful resource for management and coping (Arch & Craske, 2006; Dubert, Schumacher, Locker, Gutierrez, & Barnes, 2016).
Mindfulness Techniques for Depression
Mindfulness is increasingly used in the treatment of depression as it helps to reduce depressive symptoms and thus lowers the risk of relapse. One study included interviews with 11 individuals suffering from depression who have used mindfulness-based treatment. The study concluded that there are three keys for making mindfulness effective in the treatment of depression (Nauman, 2014 June):
- Mindfulness helps patients learn to be present in the moment, which helps them take a moment to pause, notice their own thoughts and feelings, and choose a response that is not based in their present emotions.
- Mindfulness teaches patients that it is okay to say “no” to others, which helps them balance their own lives and enhance self-confidence.
- Mindfulness allows patients to be present with others, meaning that they are more aware of the state of their relationships with others, are able to acknowledge their own communication problems and thus more effectively relate with others.
We’ve described practices focused on breathing and muscle relaxation already (such as the Three Minute Breathing Space or the Body Scan), however, the “sorting into boxes” exercise is also helpful for dealing with depression. You can use this audio clip here for guidance.
The exercise of “sorting boxes” follows these steps:
- Focus on your breathing, without trying to change it.
- Notice any thoughts, sensations, or emotions that come into your awareness.
- Imagine that there are three boxes in your mind, labeled “thoughts”, “sensations”, and “emotions.”
- Continue to focus on your breathing, and continue to observe anything that comes into your awareness.
- Identify these things as thoughts, sensations, or emotions and sort them into the corresponding box in your mind.
- Continue clearing your mind by putting these thoughts, sensations, and emotions into their respective boxes until you hear the sound of a bell.
Following this guided mindfulness exercise will help you to clear your mind of worry about the past or the future, and allow you to focus on this present moment in a time.
Alternatively, watch this inspiring TEDtalk by Zindel Segal who explains the naused mindful approach needed to not only address depression but also manage recovery and reduce the risk of relapse. Check it out:
Mindfulness Techniques for Anger
Mindfulness techniques can be put to good use in discharging acute or chronic anger. As one of our strongest emotions, anger can be hard to view objectively and defuse before getting out of hand, however, mindfulness can help by creating a space between stimulus and an immediate, impulsive response.
This technique can help you deal with the experience of anger (Cullen, Pons, & Mindful Staff, 2016):
- First, sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and notice the places where your body is touching the floor, cushion, or chair.
- Draw in a few deep breaths, completely filling up your lungs and quickly exhaling.
- Think back to a time that you recently experienced anger, preferably a mild or quickly addressed episode. Allow yourself to experience the anger you felt in that moment.
- Disregard any other feelings that come up with this memory, like guilt or sadness.
- Turn your attention to how you are experiencing anger in your body. Notice whether any parts of your body are manifesting your anger, with sensations like warmth or cold, the intensity of these reactions, and whether they change as you observe them or move through your body.
- Bring compassion to the anger. This can be a difficult step, but remind yourself that anger is a natural human emotion that affects us all at one point or another. Try to hold your anger “like a mother cradling a newborn,” with love and understanding.
- Say goodbye to your anger. Gradually bring your attention back to your breath and rest here for a while, until your emotions have subsided or settled down.
- Reflect on the experience. Notice the sensations that this exercise brought up in your body, notice if they changed through the process. Take note of whether you applied compassion to your anger, and if so, how you did it. Think about what happened to the anger when you showed it compassion.
This exercise can be repeated as many times as necessary. It is recommended to work your way up from milder experiences of anger to the most intense and memorable episodes.
Practicing this technique can help you to defuse chronic anger in a rather counterintuitive manner: by accepting and mindfully feeling your anger, you can take control of the experience and compassionately address it.
For other resources and techniques on dealing with anger through mindfulness, you can try the Buddhist-based method or the mindfulness for dummies version. Alternatively, you can follow this 20 minutes guided anger management mindfulness meditation:
Mindfulness Techniques for Anxiety
We have already covered some mindfulness techniques for dealing with social anxiety disorder as well as the anxiety that often accompanies borderline personality disorder, but the techniques can also aid the undiagnosed individual who suffers from occasional (or not-so-occasional) anxiety.
A meta-analysis was conducted in 2010 that provided evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness exercises on anxiety and depression. The researchers found that mindfulness-based therapy was moderately effective for treating anxiety and improving mood and that the effects lasted beyond the initial improvements (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010).
To begin applying mindfulness to your anxiety, or that of your clients, Mindful.org has provided a short description of 10 attitudes that will help build the foundation for successfully addressing anxiety:
- Volition or intention
This is the building block of all other attitudes. First, you must bring your focus to the intention of working with your anxiety.
- Beginner’s mind
This refers to a mindset that is ready to see from a new perspective and consider new ideas in regards to dealing with anxiety.
This is a very important attitude to cultivate since it can broaden your perspective and help you persevere when you run into obstacles on your journey.
Having the mindset of acknowledgment means that you take each experience for what it is; you accept what is happening and be secure in the knowledge that it, like the weather it will pass.
This attitude involves experiencing your present moment without evaluating and judging it. It means you let go of value judgments about yourself and how you are feeling and allows you to begin your work from a more balanced starting block.
This attitude refers to the willingness to accept a situation or experience as it is, without trying to change it. To combat your anxiety, you must first be present with it and accept your current state.
The mindset of self-reliance is characterized by trusting yourself and your ability to handle your feelings. Cultivating your self-reliance will allow you to more easily acknowledge, experience, and let go of your anxiety.
- Letting be or allowing
Similar to the attitude of non-striving, letting be or allowing refers to the mindset of allowing yourself to feel anxiety. Often it is more effective to work with your anxiety than expend energy trying to fight against it.
As mentioned earlier, showing yourself compassion is an important part of mindfulness. Being kind to yourself, as you would be kind to a dear friend or family member, can help you to decrease your anxiety by being a support for yourself.
- Balance and equanimity
These are attitudes that allow wisdom to develop through a broadening of perspective and an understanding that your whole experience is so much more than your current feelings, whether positive or negative.
To practice each of these mindsets, first read the full description of each mindset then try to embody each mindset or attitude. Take note of how you feel. Afterward, reflect on your experience and describe it, with a special focus on your feelings during the process.
For a rather more simple method of applying mindfulness to anxiety, you can try this quick exercise:
- focus on the sensations that arise in your body when you are anxious.
- be present and in the moment,
- allow yourself to think the anxious and distressing thoughts, don’t fight them.
By recognizing these thoughts for what they are, you may come to realize that they are not true, and consequently be able to let them go (Hofmann, 2013). If you are interested in trying other mindfulness exercises to address anxiety, you can use this free short document or this extensive workbook (PDF).
If you would like more information on anxiety, and how to approach dealing with it through mindfulness you can also take a listen to Dr. Kim Taylor Show as she clarifies the signs, symptoms of anxiety and suggests viable techniques, resources which can aid the treatment and management of anxiety. Take a listen:
Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT)
Another mindfulness-based therapy is the Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Therapy (MB-EAT). It was invented by the psychologist Jean Kristeller in the early 1980s. It should be used in case of emotional eating disorders. It combines mindfulness training with cognitive behavior therapies to make people more aware of their eating behavior. The goal is to give people a more healthy eating behavior and to treat eating disorders like diabetes, obesity or binge-eating. Cognitive behavior therapies usually also include teaching participants the risks of their daily behavior. In their daily life participants should avoid risks like unhealthy meals or unbalanced sleep. They should avoid mood-altering drugs and try to deal with their emotions by themselves. It is also helpful to do exercises which improve their body image and lead to a higher endorphin level which gives people a feeling of happiness.
Mindfulness Techniques for Addiction
Addiction is a serious issue that should be addressed by a mental health professional or an institution that has proven effective in treating addiction. However, there are some mindfulness techniques you can use to supplement addition management.
Mindfulness has been shown to help those suffering from addiction in decreasing their usage and reduce the occurrence of more long-term psychiatric problems (“Extinguish addiction”, 2016).
The practice of mindfulness was found to result in these outcomes through increasing the number and strength of connections in the brain, allowing us to become more aware of our body and more effective at regulating our emotions.
In addition, mindfulness helps individuals recognize, tolerate, and cope with negative emotions (“Extinguish addiction”, 2016).
Just as with other struggles, there are many mindfulness techniques that aid in dealing with addiction, but there is one technique that is specifically crafted for those suffering from cravings. There is a theory that people develop cravings through incentive sensitization, a process that occurs in four steps:
- Repeated exposure to an addictive substance results in hypersensitization, meaning that the substance or substances will have a greater effect on neurobehavioral response in the future.
- Hypersensitization leads to incentive salience, a desire for the substance that is well beyond a simple preference.
- The incentive salience all but guarantees the individual will repeat the behavior.
- This unconscious process develops into a conscious craving for the substance.
The result of this process is a very strong association between the substance and the “reward” (the feeling an individual gets when s/he uses the substance).
This is where mindfulness can come in
Following this theory, it is not the fault of the individual that they experience cravings. They are not punished with cravings for being weak, or lazy, or unwilling to stop. Cravings are like intruders on the mind, uninvited guests that try to influence behavior.
Taken in this light, those struggling with addiction can use mindfulness to pause, identify the cravings and label them as intruders, and thereby give themselves permission to ignore them. Mindfulness can turn the cravings into passing thoughts that may disappear simply by acknowledging their presence (“Mindfulness meditation”, 2017).
For more information and a guided meditation on dealing with addiction cravings you can watch this short video by Jessica Graham:
The SMART Recovery website also offers helpful resources for incorporating mindfulness into addiction treatment.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a more comprehensive information on the neurological origins of our addictive behaviors and how we can challenge addiction a the level of the brain, you can watch this fascinating talk by Dr. Judson Brewer:
A Take Home Message
I hope that I have sufficiently provided you with enough techniques, exercises, and activities to start bringing you and your clients the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness can be used in a variety of populations including those on any part of the spectrum of mental well-being from dialectical behavioral therapy treatments for borderline personality disorders to group-based mindfulness for beginners.
Mindfulness is a relatively easy practice that can encourage participation regardless of budget, occupation, or diagnosis and can deliver significant results in the form of enhanced quality of life, self-confidence, and peace of mind, among many others.
While mindless distractions can certainly have a place in a healthy life, it can’t hurt to try an activity that helps us become more aware of our bodies, our thoughts, and our selves.
I wish you good luck in cultivating mindfulness, and I hope you find what you desire from your practice. Please leave me your comments and experiences in the box below.
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