Mindfulness and Anxiety

‘Mindfulness’ may be a term that you have come across recently and wondered what it was all about. From Anderson Cooper to the Huffington Post, everyone seems to be buzzing about mindfulness. So what’s the big deal?

Mindfulness essentially means being fully aware of the present moment. Many of us spend majority of our days multitasking and being distracted by any number of electronics and are not fully present in our lives. In mindfulness we are concerned with noticing what is going on now, at this moment. To balance, this does not mean that we are no longer concerned about the future or the past but when we do think about those times it should be done mindfully as opposed to worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. Past experiences can be thought of objectively and with curiosity about the experience.

When we do get caught up thinking about the past we are often engaging in reviewing something that no longer exists. When we start worrying about the future we are fantasizing about something that may or may not happen. Instead, mindfulness is about being a part of the one moment that we can directly experience, which is the present moment. When we are able to direct our awareness towards the present moment and away from the past or future, we decrease the effects that the thoughts regarding past or future have on our lives and allow for a fuller experience in the here-and-now.

Another component of mindfulness is taking a non-judgmental approach to experiences in the present. We as people have a tendency to attach labels such as “fun”, “painful”, “good” or “bad” to our thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Along with these labels often comes the urge to either pull away or get closer to that experience. For example, public speaking creates anxiety for a lot of people. A presentation in front of a large crowd could evoke such labels as “scary” or “embarrassing”, which in turn might cause an individual to avoid going to places where public speaking would occur. However, mindfulness can be used to observe the situation objectively while trying to refrain from attaching labels to the experience. Therefore, instead of describing emotions or thoughts as “good” or “bad”, one might instead describe the physical symptoms or simply acknowledge the presence of an emotion without taking any action to modify the experience.

The most effective and most researched treatment for OCD is Exposure with Response Prevention. When mindfulness is added to an established evidence-based treatment for OCD and anxiety disorders, individuals learn to observe the thoughts and emotions related to anxiety and are then encouraged to objectively stay present with these experiences while refraining from doing anything to modify the present moment. Clients learn to approach the current experience with curiosity and acceptance rather than feeling threatened by it.

Click here for mindfulness exercises and for more information about mindfulness.