Happy New Year!
Most people start the New Year (how is it really 2020???) with some kind of reflection and resolution. I think this is a wonderful habit and fits well with my belief that reflection leads to change and growth while resolutions are linked to goal setting and the creation of positive habits. What I have learned over the years is that with proper care and attention reflection can lead to meaningful learning and with consistent focus and clear objectives resolutions are better maintained.
No matter your resolutions for 2020 the exercise below will help you to reflect with greater depth and clarity and maintain resolutions in your conscious awareness so that it is more likely that you maintain them over the course of the year.
Using a mindfulness exercise like the one below will help to clear your mind and calm your body so that you can reflect on your life and relationships with acceptance and clarity. Anxiety is a force that pulls us out of our bodies and into the past or the future. By using deep breathing, visualization, and grounding with our five senses we can stay in our bodies and the present moment to think logically and rationally through our thoughts and feelings. By relaxing our body and lessening our anxiety we can fall asleep more easily, stay asleep more deeply, and improve our relationship with ourselves and others in our life.
So, with that in mind, I am sharing a mindfulness exercise that includes some simple instructions for deep belly breathing, visualization, and grounding techniques. Each of these components could be its own separate exercise but for now I am sharing it all at once to get us started in the new year. Please reach out with any questions, comments, or feedback!
This exercise will help you to feel more calm, reflective, and peaceful. It will also address anxiety and sleep disturbance so use it before bed or when feeling stressed. This will teach you how to relax your mind.
Anxiety is linked with stress, poor sleep, bad eating habits, damaged relationships, diminished capacity for intimacy, and poor work performance. If you are suffering from the fallout of anxiety try this exercise and feel better in 2020. All of these symptoms can be addressed by practicing mindfulness and using Therapy to talk through your feelings and relationships.
To address anxiety it is important to cultivate practices and skills that help increase connection to our bodies, bring calmness and clarity, and can be practiced easily and consistently. The practice below is simple, straightforward, and can be practiced just about anywhere that is quiet and you feel safe.
The mindfulness practice shared below has three main parts:
1. Proper deep breathing
2. Establishing a ‘safe place’ to visualize
3. Exploring your five senses
Let’s start with a full, deep, and slow breath. Breathe in through your nose. Constrict the back of your throat slightly so that the breath is slowed to a graceful and audible flow. Fill your belly like a balloon (holding your hand on top of your stomach will help with this) and then open your chest and shoulders so that your whole torso is full to the brim with air. Hold your breath for a moment at the top of your breath. Now, slowly and audibly release the pent up air from your mouth. Your exhale should be at least one or two seconds longer than your inhale. Lightly shake your heads and arms as you exhale so that you are physically letting go of any lingering tension in your body.
Visualize a calm, peaceful, safe, and detailed setting. A place that you are familiar with and have positive memories. It helps if it is outdoors. This place could be a room in your house, a place you traveled to on vacation, or a favorite nearby park or hiking spot. The more detail you can visualize the place, the better and more powerful this exercise becomes. With time and practice you will become better at visualizing your surroundings.
Now, you are ready for this grounding exercise. While holding the image of your safe place in your mind you will slowly reflect on each of the five senses.
What do you see? Be as detailed as possible. What colors and shapes do you see? What feelings does this scene evoke? How bright is the setting? Zoom in to parts of the scene that are far away and zoom out to take in the whole picture. Use your vision like a telescope and microscope to notice your control and awareness of the setting.
What sounds are present? Are there loud and soft sounds? What impact do these sounds have on your thoughts and feelings in this place. Are you able to zoom in and out to different sounds? Is it your own voice you hear or others? What age is the voice you hear? Is it your voice from the present or your voice from an earlier age?
This is the most underutilized sense for most people. It is only when we truly slow down and pay close attention to our surroundings that we tap into our sense of smell. Notice how the inside of your nose changes in temperature when you breathe in and out. How does that impact the experience of being?
Depending on the setting this can be a profound or subtle sensation. Take the time to notice the inside of your mouth. Where is your tongue? When you exhale with an open mouth what tastes are in the air?
This can be as simple as the texture of the clothes you are wearing or as complex as imagining the feel of the surfaces in your setting. Imagine yourself interacting with and feeling the physical objects in your safe place.
After going through each of the five senses try to take in all of the senses at once and integrate them fully to your experience. Continue taking the full and deep breaths described above. When you are ready, open your eyes.
How do you feel now? What is different in your body after completing this exercise? When during the day could this exercise be used to help you best?
This exercise will help you in the short term by slowing your breath and calming your body but by talking regularly with an experienced professional you can address the underlying reasons for your anxiety and learn even more skills to help you cope in the long run.
If you are ready to tackle your anxiety, improve your sleep, and deepen your capacity for intimate relationships then schedule a session with me today!
Dr Dan Sneider-Cotter