Mindfulness: Living in the Moment

Both anxiety and depression can keep you worrying about the future or stressing about the past. Fight back with mindfulness.

Anxiety and depression are very different illnesses, but they have some things in common.

Depression and anxiety take your focus away from the present moment
Anxiety often brings worries about future events, while depression often causes people to relive the negative parts of their past.

Depression and anxiety tell you that you can't control your thoughts and feelings
And that out-of-control feeling leaves you hopeless, stressed-out, and overwhelmed.

Depression and anxiety create thought patterns or cycles that keep you down
Worries about the future or negative thoughts about the past become a habit that's hard to break. Thankfully, there are things you can do to break the cycle.

Learn to focus on what's happening now
Because depression and anxiety keep you in the past or future, grounding yourself in the present moment takes away their power. Mindfulness is a term some people use to describe the act of paying attention to the present.

With practice, mindfulness can help you to observe your inner thoughts, without assuming they are correct. You can take a step back, listen to what your brain is saying, and choose thoughts that are true. Keep reading to learn mindfulness techniques so you can stay in the here and now.

Pay attention to your breathing
Anxiety or negative thoughts can speed up your heart rate and make fast, shallow breaths seem natural, but these things send anxious signals back to your brain and can make your anxiety worse. To practice mindful breathing:

  • Find a safe space where you feel comfortable or go for a relaxing walk
  • Breathe in through your nose, in a slow, relaxed manner for four seconds
  • Pause and hold your breath for one second
  • Breathe out through your mouth for four seconds
  • Pause for one more second
  • Repeat the process until you start to feel more relaxed

Stay as focused on breathing as you can. Count the seconds. Make sure your stomach expands when you breathe in. If you can keep your attention centered on what you're doing, there won't be much room in your mind for worries or negative thoughts.

Focus on your five senses
This technique helps you pay more attention to your surroundings. You'll get more out of what is happening, and keep your brain from spinning in a negative cycle:

  • Take several deep breaths
  • Notice the world around you
  • Name five things you can see
  • Name four things you can touch
  • Name three things you can hear
  • Name two things you can smell
  • Name one thing you can taste

Create a personal grounding statement
A personal statement is a reminder you can use to center yourself when fears or negative thoughts try to take over. You'll want to remind yourself of:

  • Today's date
  • Where you are right now
  • The fact that you are safe here
  • Why this moment is different from the past, or scenarios you're worried about
  • A positive affirmation

Here's an example grounding statement: Today is Monday, and the year is 2022. I am safe at my new job. I am having thoughts about harassment at my previous job, but that is over now. I got through it and found something better, which shows that I am strong.

Be mindful of simple tasks
Learning to appreciate the little things that happen during the day can help you to feel less numb, and prevent you from getting lost in anxious or negative thoughts. For example, if you're folding laundry, focus on the way the clothes feel on your hands, and the shapes you create as you fold. If you're driving, pause to breathe at red lights instead of worrying you'll be late. Take a moment, as your computer boots up, to think about how much you will accomplish because your computer is on.

Practice focus as you listen to music
This technique is an excellent chance to try listening without biases or pre-conceived ideas getting in the way. Put on headphones and listen to a song you don't know. Try not to think about whether you like this genre of music or this artist. Go in without expectations, then close your eyes and immerse yourself in the song. Listen to each instrument in the song and how they interact with each other. Pay attention to the vocals and how they sound with the backing track. Try not to let preconceptions get in the way, and just focus on listening.

Practice gratitude
Gratitude, and thanking God for things that you might otherwise take for granted, helps you to notice the positive parts of life. Try thinking of five things or people you appreciate, and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How did this person or thing become part of my life?
  2. What do I appreciate about this person or thing?
  3. What would life be like without it or them?
  4. What role does this person or thing have in the larger world?

Be mindful sometimes, not constantly
Mindfulness is helpful, but keeping it up 24 hours a day would be exhausting. And since exhaustion and stress aren't good for depression or anxiety, use these tools with moderation. Keep mindfulness from causing stress by choosing times to practice being in the present, and times to relax, let your mind wander, watch a TV show, or do nothing at all. Mental rest is vital. Remember that mindfulness isn't a task to stress about; it's a tool to help you feel better. Enjoy the experience of every moment of your life.