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How to Use Mindfulness Therapy for Anxiety: 15 Exercises

Mindfulness for anxietyAnxiety can leave a person feeling totally alone.

Countless people worldwide understand what it’s like and share the same fears, struggles, and behavioral tendencies (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016).

While anxiety may feel unavoidable, mindfulness practices can significantly benefit psychological, cognitive, and physical health and manage experiences of anxiety (Shapiro, 2020).

Mindfulness helps clients cope with tough times and encourages and enhances their moments of joy. It can enable them to put anxiety in its place and make it a smaller part of life.

This article explores how mindfulness therapy can help those with anxiety and introduces techniques and exercises for use inside and outside treatment.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Mindfulness Exercises for free. These science-based, comprehensive exercises will help you cultivate a sense of inner peace throughout your daily life and give you the tools to enhance the mindfulness of your clients, students, or employees.

Mindfulness Therapy for Managing Anxiety

Many people with anxiety live happy and fulfilling lives. They find ways to free themselves from intense thoughts and feelings, and don’t let “anxiety, fear, worry, panic, painful memories, and the like stand in the way of doing what they care deeply about” (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016, p. 2).

But how? Why do some people get a handle on their anxiety while others live in its grasp?

Combining mindfulness and acceptance helps many change their relationship with and response to anxious thoughts and feelings.

Mindfulness therapy encourages clients to (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016):

  • Stop trying to cope with anxiety.
  • Leave anxiety alone instead of experiencing it as an emotion, feeling, thought, or sensation.
  • Not act on anxiety, preventing it from controlling what they do.
  • Nurture compassion toward themselves and their emotional life.
  • Move away from a constant state of anxious discomfort.

Mindfulness has the potential to switch off or manage emotional reactivity to anxiety-inducing situations; it helps people pause, rise above the turmoil, see with greater clarity, and respond with freedom (Shapiro, 2020).

Mindfulness-based therapy helps clients find a way to live with anxiety and follow a more meaningful path in life by developing psychological flexibility. Mindfulness allows individuals to shift their attention to what is happening in their current situation, rather than being drawn into physiological sensations (Twohig & Levin, 2017).

Mindfulness-based therapy has “showed large and clinically significant effects in treating anxiety and depression” (Khoury et al., 2013, p. 769). These positive mental health changes also appear to last.

 

2 Mindfulness Techniques for Helping Clients

Mindfulness techniquesMindfulness techniques can help clients manage and move on from anxiety.

They will learn to benefit from the following (Shapiro, 2020):

  • Mindful pause: a moment of hesitation between stimulus and response, stopping automatic and often adverse, fast reactions.

  • Witness state: a chance to step back and view the situation more objectively.

Together, these techniques help free individuals from ingrained, automatic reactions, often present in emotionally charged situations (Shapiro, 2020).

The following two related techniques can also help clients manage their relationship with anxiety.

 

Accepting, choosing, and taking action

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers clients a mindful way out of their fears and anxiety and the opportunity to regain control over their lives in three steps (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016):

  • Accept
    Using mindfulness to accept the anxiety being experienced. Mindfulness has the potential to disarm the struggle between unwanted thoughts and feelings (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016).

  • Choose
    Choosing a direction in life by identifying values and life goals.

  • Take action
    Taking the steps required to realize those goals and committing to action and change.

ACT does not perpetuate the struggle through managing emotional and mental pain; instead, mindful self-compassion changes the client’s relationship with anxious discomfort and how they act in its presence (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016).

 

Changing the relationship with anxiety

Anxiety is inevitable. It is the struggle with the emotional pain associated with it that can have negative effects, including the following (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016):

  • Increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system, causing a feeling of high alertness and physical stress.
  • Nonproductive, unhelpful, and unsuccessful hard work in managing anxiety.
  • Often only works in the short term, providing temporary relief.
  • Doesn’t change the nature of the negative thoughts and feelings.
  • Reduces the quality of life, leaving the individual feeling stuck and inauthentic.

Mindfulness therapy can change relationships with anxiety by replacing unhelpful thinking and behavior with positive alternatives (Khazan, 2019):

Unhelpful thinking and behavior:

  • Arguing with anxious thoughts
  • Reassuring ourselves that our fears will not come true
  • Answering all the questions and what ifs
  • Trying to control and fight anxiety
  • Practicing self-blame and avoidance

Helpful thinking and behavior:

  • Looking beneath the surface of the anxiety message and checking in with personal values
  • Practicing acceptance
  • Allowing anxiety to be and becoming willing to experience it
  • Allowing anxiety to be seen as an overprotective caregiver
  • Practicing self-compassion
  • Changing intention from one of distraction to one of self-care

Why not offer these thoughts up during therapy, encouraging the client to mindfully show compassion and kindness to the emotions and feelings they experience during anxiety?

 

2 Exercises to Try in Your Sessions

Grounding exercises and breathing techniques are closely aligned with mindfulness and have incredible potential for helping clients handle their background level of anxiety and specific anxiety-causing situations.

 

Grounding

Grounding helps us stay present and centered when practicing mindfulness techniques or during situations that cause anxiousness (Decker, Brown, Ashley, & Lipscomb, 2019).

Grounding tools and practices help clients detach from the anxiety they are experiencing and focus on what is within their control. Here are some examples (Allen, 2020; Najavits, 2011):

  • Mental techniques involved in focusing the mind
  • Physical techniques that encourage a fuller experience of the senses
  • Soothing techniques that foster self-compassion and self-kindness

To try it out, download this grounding and centering exercise.

Grounding, rather than trying to resolve the cause of anxiety, can provide temporary and long-term peace from its effects. Here you will find more suggestions for anxiety tools to help clients cope.

 

Breathing techniques

Through mindful breathing techniques, it is possible to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and calm both body and mind while releasing feel-good endorphins (Cuddy, 2020).

Try out the following in your sessions with clients. Ask them to include the practices on a daily basis before or during events that are likely to cause anxiety:

  • Square Breathing
    This breathing technique encourages mindfulness and feeling present and can be easily performed in any situation.

  • Triangle Breathing
    Similar to square breathing, this useful technique brings awareness to your breath and helps regain control during anxiety.

  • Breath Awareness
    Learn to observe movements and sensations in the body with each breath to regain calm and a sense of control.

Breathing techniques can be learned quickly and become more automatic with practice. They are powerful tools for accepting and moving on from feelings of anxiety and are equally helpful when associated with pain related to illness or injury (Lewis, 2004).

 

Best Mindfulness Meditation Scripts

Best mindfulness scriptsThe following free meditation scripts target multiple age groups, providing moments of calm and peace, a break from anxiety, and the opportunity to stay in the present.

Five Senses

This simple, practical, and versatile mindfulness script is valuable for evoking a mindful state in adults and is especially helpful with children.

Use it when preparing for events known to cause anxiety or for a much-needed break in times of stress.

Raisin Meditation

This is a classic meditation script for bringing anyone back to the present by focusing on food: its taste, smell, and texture.

Meditation Grounding Scripts for Children

There are two versions of this practical grounding script: one for younger children and one for older. Use it to teach young people to look inside themselves for inner peace, finding calm and self-compassion.

 

6 Mindfulness Workbooks & Worksheets

The following workbooks and worksheets can help clients develop awareness and compassion without judgment regarding their anxiety.

 

FLARE for Anxiety and Fear

Self-acceptance, self-compassion, and a willingness to experience anxiety take practice (Khazan, 2019).

The FLARE for Anxiety and Fear worksheet encourages clients not to fight anxiety but to accept it mindfully.

This exercise aims to allow anxiety to just be without engaging with or judging it (Khazan, 2019).

 

The Documentary of You

Mindfulness can be used to view life and who you are with compassion and forgiveness (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016).

The Documentary of You worksheet helps reduce the anxiety associated with how you feel.

You may begin to see that the sensations, thoughts, and feelings associated with anxiety are like words on a page. We can observe them without letting them control our thoughts, feelings, or behavior.

 

‘I Am’ Mantra for Anxiety

Becoming a good observer is vital because it offers a helpful perspective and practical experience for anyone struggling with their worries, anxieties, and fear (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016).

The ‘I Am’ Mantra for Anxiety worksheet helps clients observe how they react to difficult descriptions of themselves. “I am neither this nor that, but instead I Am” (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016, p. 192).

 

Who Am I Beyond My Anxiety?

When struggling with anxieties and fears, the focus is typically too much on what is wrong. As a result, other essential aspects, such as likes, values, and strengths, are often missed (Forsyth & Eifert, 2016).

The Who Am I Beyond My Anxiety? worksheet focuses on how to describe yourself.

 

Breath Awareness While Waiting

Anxiety can increase when we are waiting for something to happen, whether about to speak at a presentation or simply at a stoplight (Peterson, 2018).

The Breath Awareness While Waiting worksheet uses our breathing to manage those times when we have no focus and anxiety can get the better of us (Peterson, 2018).

Breathing techniques help in several ways: calming the sympathetic nervous system, increasing the perception of control, and providing a focus.

 

Creating a Mindfulness Anxiety Plan

“Part of managing our anxiety is anticipating when it might show up and coming up with a plan to deal with it when it does” (Peterson, 2018, p. 170). Making mindfulness a habit can help reduce the response to triggers that cause emotional upset, fear, and panic.

The Creating a Mindfulness Anxiety Plan worksheet explores anxiety triggers and mindfulness activities that may help.

 

Fascinating Books on the Topic

There are many wonderful books about mindfulness and managing anxiety. We have chosen three that combine both.

 

1. Biofeedback and Mindfulness in Everyday Life: Practical Solutions for Improving Your Health and Performance – Inna Khazan

Biofeedback and Mindfulness in Everyday Life

This fascinating book helps train your body to manage its involuntary actions, such as breathing and heart rate, to handle anxiety, fear, and insomnia.

Khazan’s book teaches the reader valuable techniques for applying the mind–body approach to take control of their overall health.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

 

2. The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – John Forsyth and Georg Eifert

Mindfulness Anxiety book

Learn how to calm your anxious body and mind using a combination of acceptance (mindfulness) and commitment techniques.

This book is hugely powerful for getting your mind unstuck and tackling anxiety and fear by nurturing your capacity for acceptance, kindness, and compassion.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

3. The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety: The 8-Week Solution to Help You Manage Anxiety, Worry, and Stress – Tanya Peterson

The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety

Mindfulness is an effective technique for reducing and relieving anxiety (Shapiro, 2020).

The practical methods within Peterson’s book offer effective and lasting relief and a focus for peace and wellbeing.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

 

Top 3 Apps to Recommend to Your Clients

The following three apps are all designed for easing and handling anxiety through mindfulness and other relaxation techniques.

 

Breathe2Relax

Breathe2Relax

This powerful app teaches users how to manage their stress through guided breathing.

It is valuable as a standalone stress reduction tool or in clinical care when directed by a healthcare worker.

Find the app in the Google Play Store.
Find the app in the Apple App Store.

 

Headspace

Headspace App

Headspace offers over 500 meditations to help people overcome stress and anxiety and build resilience.

This app can help mindfulness become part of a daily routine.

Find the app in the Google Play Store.
Find the app in the Apple App Store.

 

Anxiety Solution

Anxiety Solution

This fantastic app offers the user a complete anxiety toolkit to help manage anxious thoughts and behaviors.

Its powerful anxiety toolkit includes interactive breathing tools and over 70 mindfulness, meditation, sleep stories, and fitness routines.

Find the app in the Apple App Store.

 

We recommend taking a look at this article: Best Apps for Psychologists that practitioners can use to improve the outcome of clients’ treatment.

 

Our Best Resources: Mindfulness X & Toolkit

Practicing mindfulness helps us regain control over our anxiety and improves our overall physical and mental wellbeing (Shapiro, 2020).

We offer an essential training bundle called Mindfulness X© that covers eight pillars of mindfulness in detail and provides professionals with the knowledge and tools needed to offer mindfulness training. Use it to introduce your clients to the here and now, awareness of automatic thinking, and cultivating a caring and compassionate relationship with the self.

Also, why not download our free mindfulness tool pack and try out the powerful tools contained within? Here are some examples:

  • Leaves on a Stream
    Learn how to separate yourself from your thoughts and practice letting go instead of remaining caught up in them.

  • Eye of the Hurricane Metaphor
    Focusing your attention inward can be a great way to learn how to disengage from a busy life, generating more inner peace.

Other free resources include:

  • Signs of Emotional Discomfort 
    Stress causes us to become agitated and anxious, reacting without care or consideration. This worksheet helps you spot the warning signs early and take action.

  • Responding With Fear and Worry 
    Sometimes how we respond seems automatic and outside our control. Reflecting on our experiences can help us revisit such times and explore whether our reactions were helpful or unhelpful.

More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:

  • Strengthening the Work–Private Life Barrier
    Those who struggle to balance work and home life may experience stress and anxiety. This worksheet helps create a clear barrier between the two and protects against anxiety spill-over:

    • Step one – What holes do you have in your work–life barrier?
    • Step two – What can you do to fill those holes?
    • Step three – How can you take action, starting with small steps?
    • Step four – Reflect on how the barrier now feels, having answered the questions, and consider what further actions are needed.

  • Self-Compassion Miracle Question
    Learning to be kinder to ourselves can reduce inner challenge and the sense that we are not performing or managing life well.

In this exercise, clients are asked to imagine that by some miracle, they no longer talk to themselves in a negative, self-critical way. Instead, they treat themselves with kindness and compassion.

  • 17 Mindfulness & Meditation Exercises
    If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enjoy the benefits of mindfulness, check out this collection of 17 validated mindfulness tools for practitioners. Use them to help others reduce stress and create positive shifts in their mental, physical, and emotional health.

 

A Take-Home Message

The effects of anxiety can be crippling. However, by combining mindfulness and action, it is possible to accept it and move forward.

It is unnecessary to avoid or tightly control anxiety; instead, it’s important to recognize it as part of life without letting it change how clients see themselves. With an outlook of self-compassion, it is possible to not act on anxiety but to see it as a mental or physical response to situations that have happened or are yet to happen.

Mindfulness can reduce reactiveness, put life into perspective, and encourage the psychological flexibility essential to build resilience. By creating a mindful pause between stimulus and response and the opportunity to step back and view situations more objectively, we can become free of automatic, unwanted reactions.

This article provides mindfulness exercises and worksheets for your clients to help change their relationships with anxiety rather than attempt to fight or remove it. Explore the mindful techniques, tailoring them to the individual and the situation, and help your clients experience the many psychological and physiological benefits.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Mindfulness Exercises for free.

  • Allen, D. (2020). 7 Simple grounding techniques for calming down quickly. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://drsarahallen.com/7-ways-to-calm/
  • Cuddy, A. J. (2018). Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges. Little, Brown Spark.
  • Decker, J. T., Brown, J. L., Ashley, W., & Lipscomb, A. E. (2019). Mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises: Reduced anxiety for clients and self-care for social work interns. Social Work with Groups, 42(4), 308–322.
  • Forsyth, J. P., & Eifert, G. H. (2016). The mindfulness & acceptance workbook for anxiety: A guide to breaking free from anxiety, phobias & worry using acceptance & commitment therapy. New Harbinger.
  • Khazan, I. Z. (2019). Biofeedback and mindfulness in everyday life: Practical solutions for improving your health and performance. W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Khoury, B., Lecomte, T., Fortin, G., Masse, M., Therien, P., Bouchard, V., … Hofmann, S. G. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(6), 763–771.
  • Lewis, D. (2004). Free your breath, free your life: How conscious breathing can relieve stress, increase vitality, and help you live more fully. Shambhala.
  • Najavits, L. M. (2011). Seeking safety. Springer.
  • Peterson, T. J. (2018). The mindfulness workbook for anxiety: The 8-week solution to help you manage anxiety, worry & stress. Althea Press.
  • Shapiro, S. L. (2020). Rewire your mind: Discover the science + practice of mindfulness. Aster.
  • Twohig, M. P., & Levin, M. E. (2017). Acceptance and commitment therapy as a treatment for anxiety and depression. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 40(4), 751–770.

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  1. Eram Shaikh

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