Medically reviewed by Susan Vachon, PA-C on January 10, 2022
If you’ve got depression or anxiety, you know just how harmful your own thoughts can be. You might overthink situations or linger on the past or future. This type of mindset is known to cause stress, further worsening your mental symptoms.
Luckily, research has shown that mindfulness is a great way to combat stress. By using these stress-reducing tips as a part of your overall treatment plan, you may be able to help lessen your depression and anxiety symptoms and start feeling better.
What Is Mindfulness?
Before you can practice mindfulness, you’ll need a better understanding of what it is. At its core, mindfulness means being focused only on the present. This means no brooding over your past mistakes or dreading the challenges of tomorrow. Instead, you just need to focus on the here and now.
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The exact practice of mindfulness has varying definitions among the scientific community, from being a meditation-based internal practice to a more external practice of focusing only on what’s in front of you. However you define mindfulness, numerous studies suggest it can help you increase your self-compassion and take control of your negative patterns of thought.
The Top 5 Ways to Be Mindful and Reduce Stress
Ready to try practicing mindfulness? Use these five tips to get started to see if it helps with lowering your stress levels.
1. Stay Focused in the Present
Staying focused in the present is easier said than done. It’s likely something you’ll need to practice quite a bit before you master it. But whenever you feel the pull of stress tugging at you, take a breath and push away thoughts of fear and anxiety. Focus your mind, and let these thoughts drift away.
It if helps, try focusing on your body and how you feel in the moment. Can you feel the sunlight on your skin? Do you hear a dog barking across the street? Noticing these things will help keep you grounded in the present moment rather than letting your mind drift off into dark places. You may even want to light a candle so you can have a singular point of focus or listen to some calming music to center your brain.
2. Do Deep Breathing Exercises
Breathing is good for a lot of reasons. When you’re stressed, you’re likely taking shallow, irregular breaths. This is because your breath is controlled by your sympathetic nervous system, which also controls your fight-or-flight response. This response is activated when you’re stressed. When you take deep breaths, it helps to calm down the sympathetic nervous system and reduce your stress and anxiety.
So how do you deep breathe? One easy way is to try counting your breathing. For example, breathe in for four counts, then out for six. You can increase the amount as you get calmer, or add a few-second hold before you exhale.
You can also try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Keep in mind, there’s no count or method that’s best. Find a combination that works for you, and stick with it.
3. Maintain Regular Yoga Practice
Yoga is an excellent tool for those suffering from depression and anxiety because it combines our first two tips with exercise. Exercise is another way to help alleviate stress, so doing yoga is one of the best ways to stay mindful.
With yoga, you’ll do a mix of stretches, balances, and other poses, with all movement linked to your breath. Your breath should be what guides you through your practice. It should help you stay focused on the present as you work through your flow.
The good news is that if you don’t feel comfortable or have enough motivation to make it to an in-person yoga class, there are plenty of other options. You can find plenty of free yoga videos on YouTube or other sites to help guide you through a calming practice.
4. Try Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
There’s a relatively new form of therapy called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MCBT). It was designed over a decade ago, and its purpose is to help you change the typical negative patterns of thought associated with depression. MCBT is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is a more well-known therapy for changing patterns of thought.
The program is typically eight weeks of mindfulness practice. It includes things like yoga, body awareness, and keeping track of your daily activities. Throughout all of this, you are meant to stay focused on everything you are doing.
So far, MCBT seems to be a very successful tool in helping to prevent depressive symptoms without relapse. But to know if it’s the right plan for you, make sure to check in with your medical provider.
5. Take a Walk
Walking is a repetitive action, and for most of us, we don’t have to think about doing it. Our feet move forward without any conscious effort. Because of that, it’s an excellent activity for practicing mindfulness.
On a walk, you can take in everything around you — whether it’s the changing of the leaves or the scent of wildflowers. This kind of stimuli can help you stay grounded rather than letting your thoughts drift off in a bad direction.
If you do decide to take a walk, try to make it a regular habit. The repetition might seem tedious at first, especially if you go at the same time of day. However, after a while, you’ll begin to notice all the differences from day to day, helping you live in the present even more.
Consider a Balanced Treatment Plan
Keep in mind that if you are diagnosed with depression and anxiety, taking steps to alleviate your stress is just one piece of the puzzle. You’ll need to take steps in other areas of your life, including working with a medical provider to find depression or anxiety treatment that’s right for you.
Things like reducing stress, eating right, exercising, and medication all work in tandem to help you feel better. That said, everyone is different, so make sure to talk with your healthcare provider to see which combination of treatments is best.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes.