Mindfulness practices have a long history, reaching back through multiple contemplative wisdom traditions, including Hinduism and Buddhism.
In recent years, mindfulness has received increasing interest from the psychological and scientific community and now forms an essential element of several therapeutic approaches, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; Giraldi, 2019).
Mindfulness frees the client from the “pattern of adding suffering to existing difficulty and pain” and has successfully treated various groups, from children to military veterans (Crane, 2009, p. 3).
In this article, we share over 30 mindfulness exercises and worksheets for use with adults, children, and youths, in educational, health, and workplace settings.
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 is a powerful tool for treating clients with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues in therapy. “It refers to the ability to focus one’s awareness on the present moment without judging the sensations, thoughts, feelings, or other characteristics of the experience” (Baker et al., 2019, p. 2).
“Research on the neurobiology of mindfulness in adults suggests that sustained mindfulness practice can enhance attentional and emotional self-regulation and promote flexibility” (Meiklejohn et al., 2012, p. 291).
The following worksheets are helpful for working with adults. If used with younger clients, take care to ensure the language is pitched appropriately and reworded as required.
Nature Play Nature Play is a mindful walk where time spent in nature is valuable for heightening awareness and promoting mindfulness. These six simple steps encourage the individual to become more present and grounded by immersing the senses outdoors.
FLARE for Anxiety and Fear
Working through the steps identified by the FLARE acronym encourages mindful acceptance of negative emotions (such as anxiety) rather than resistance, along with self-compassion.
Despite the daunting name, this meditation encourages individuals to embrace new challenges as opportunities rather than let life events hold them back.
Emotional Mental Models Mindful visualization can be performed across multiple situations and scenarios to improve emotional awareness and offer deeply personal insights. Reflect on what you would do with one year left to live or if you had enough money to do anything with your life.
Square Breathing Mindful breathing exercises activate the parasympathetic nervous system, invoking calm and relaxation. In this exercise, the adult practices inhaling, holding, and exhaling, each to a count of four, to encourage presence and grounding (Nestor, 2020).
7 Best Mindfulness Worksheets for Kids
Over the last two decades, practicing “moment-by-moment non-judgmental focused attention and awareness—has spread from its initial western applications in medicine to other fields, including education” (Meiklejohn et al., 2012, p. 291).
Mindfulness training has proven valuable for classroom teachers, increasing their sense of wellbeing and teaching self-efficacy (Meiklejohn et al., 2012). Training schoolchildren in mindfulness has shown significant cognitive, social, and psychological benefits.
It positively affects their:
Mood, including lowered levels of anxiety, stress, and fatigue
The following worksheets can be tailored according to the age and skills of the child or for group settings:
Dragon Fire Breathing This worksheet helps children connect how they breathe with how they feel inside. It introduces a simple breathing exercise to enter a mindful state and diffuse physical tension within the body.
We can all have trouble becoming aware and identifying how we feel; this is particularly the case for children. The Feelings Wheel helps them attend to their feelings and describe them in words or drawings.
Fun Mindful Eating
This mindful eating exercise encourages children to slow down and enjoy their food more. They practice attending closely to how their food smells, tastes, and feels and what they hear and see.
Meditation Grounding Scripts for Children
Grounding is a valuable skill that children can learn quickly. It can prepare them for stressful times. We include two scripts: one for older children and the other for younger children.
Mindful Listening Challenge
We typically fail to notice the many sounds surrounding us. In this challenge, the child practices slowing down, paying closer attention, heightening their awareness, and becoming a more mindful listener.
Teaching Others About Mindfulness This fascinating exercise uses the power of teaching to help the child learn and practice mindfulness before sharing with others to form a deeper understanding.
Gratitude Gifts This drawing task encourages the positive emotion of gratitude to foster a more mindful outlook on the child’s environment, including the people, toys, and pets in their lives.
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7 Printable Mindfulness Activities for Youth
As with children and adults, mindfulness is a powerful intervention for youths in groups and as individuals.
Success has been seen across various settings and associated with many different events, including when facing acute or chronic adjustment struggles, such as ill health or educational challenges (Jones et al., 2013).
We have collected some of our favorite activities for practicing mindfulness in youths:
Countdown to Calmness
Use this activity with young people experiencing emotions that leave them feeling out of control. They learn to count down from five to one acknowledging and mindfully embracing each of the senses.
Connect the DOTS
Unwanted thoughts and emotions can damage and upset young people. This exercise introduces four types of strategies for dealing with unhelpful thoughts and painful feelings.
Creating a Mindfulness Anxiety Plan
Youths are more likely to manage challenging emotions when they have a plan in place to deal with them. This exercise involves creating a mindfulness plan to anticipate and manage their anxiety triggers.
Interacting With Your Emotions
Becoming more familiar with emotions can make them less of a struggle when they surface. The clients are given a series of sentences to contemplate, encouraging them to think about the emotions that might arise from the various situations presented.
Mini Mindfulness Bingo This exercise is a fun way to introduce mindfulness practices in a playful setting, especially in a group environment.
Right Here, Right Now This activity would equally work with younger children. The young person takes a few moments to relax and then observes what they can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste.
3-Step Mindfulness Worksheet
This is a valuable exercise for a more informal mindfulness practice involving three steps: stepping out of autopilot, becoming aware of each breath, and expanding awareness outward.
DBT is a modified form of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, encompassing elements of mindfulness and focusing on developing the skills required to manage highly emotional situations and events (Leonard, 2020).
Mindfulness is valuable for entering a calm space to identify, consider, and understand situations and emotions that clients struggle to accept. It helps individuals acknowledge that they cannot control every aspect of their experience and instead can choose to respond mindfully instead of reacting emotionally (Goodman et al., 2014).
DBT mindfulness training skills have proven valuable in reducing sadness, anger, and anxiety (among other mental health issues) in face-to-face and digital settings (Navarro-Haro et al., 2017).
The following worksheets either directly confront issues of negative thinking or help create a state of acceptance and readiness to reflect on them with less emotion.
Observing Anxiety Mindfully
Guiding the client through this script can help them handle their anxiety and self-judgment more compassionately, seeing negative emotions as less impactful and more manageable.
Negative Thoughts Checklist
We all experience negative thoughts. It’s natural, albeit unsettling. Use this checklist to identify those most frequently experienced by the client and begin to recognize and understand their patterns of thinking.
Linking Feelings and Situations
We often find it challenging to uncover the relationships between our thoughts and feelings. This activity is used to identify past situations and uncover emotions that are associated with them.
3 Group Mindfulness Exercises
Even brief (for example, three-session) mindfulness interventions have proven successful in group mindfulness therapy, decreasing psychological distress and enhancing overall life satisfaction (Harnett et al., 2010).
While the therapist can apply the following exercises to individuals, they are particularly valuable in group sessions:
Mindfulness of our thoughts allows us to perceive them as they are: ongoing mental processes rather than facts. The group is tasked with building stronger connections and positive relationships through mindful nonverbal cues.
Squeeze and Release This group activity involves the mindful experiencing and releasing of stress in a positive form, helping groups discover its energizing effect and potential for improving coping.
This simple exercise can be performed individually but is extremely powerful in a group setting, where everyone is engaged and experiencing deep feelings of connection.
How to reduce stress with the 2:1 breathing technique
More Mindfulness Techniques
Mindfulness techniques offer positive and far-reaching benefits for both physical and psychological health, including immune function, stress reduction, better sleep, and our sense of self-compassion (Shapiro, 2020).
Depression can be accompanied by feelings of anxiety. Both can benefit from cognitive and behavioral treatments, particularly when advanced by the application of mindfulness (Hofmann & Gómez, 2017).
As a result, mindfulness-based treatment protocols have been integrated into DBT and ACT for clients with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues (Hofmann & Gómez, 2017).
The following examples are valuable for working with clients presenting with depression or anxiety:
Who Am I Beyond My Anxiety?
Defining ourselves by how we feel can lead to a deeply negative self-view that can exacerbate symptoms of depression. Use this mindful reflection exercise to redefine how clients see themselves.
Three Steps to Deep Breathing
Breathing exercises are helpful for managing negative emotions and remaining more present. Share this activity with the client to help them practice abdominal, thoracic, and clavicular breathing.
Complementary therapies such as breathing and mindfulness practices are increasingly used with those experiencing addiction. Their success may be due to targeting “multiple psychological, neural, physiological, and behavioral processes implicated in addiction and relapse” (Khanna & Greeson, 2013, p. 244).
Consider using the following to manage unhelpful or negative thoughts and emotions and foster a greater perception of control:
This breathing exercise helps us regain a sense of calm and control over our body and mind and encourages increased feelings of wellness.
Practiced for thousands of years, yogic breathing is a powerful technique for improving focus and choosing where our attention sits.
Thoughts and Feelings: Struggle or Acceptance?
Life can sometimes feel like a struggle. It’s helpful to identify what lies beyond our control and commit to life-enhancing actions rather than damaging ones.
When we feel present and strongly linked to this moment, we are more aware of how we feel and what is happening around us. It means we are less likely to be tempted by unhelpful or unhealthy actions or thoughts.
Mindfulness-based workshops have proven successful in treating a wide variety of conditions, from eating disorders (Godfrey et al., 2014) to schizophrenia (Langer et al., 2017).
The following two examples are ideal for sharing and practicing in the context of a workshop:
The Raisin Meditation This eating exercise can be shared with a group to enter a mindful experience. Each person is given a raisin to hold and experience through touch, sight, smell, and taste.
The Five Senses Worksheet
Perform this exercise in a group setting to encourage individual and shared mindfulness experiences. The group is asked to notice five things they can see, four things they can feel, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste.
Research confirms the value of mindfulness in the workplace. A 2018 study exploring the impact of mindfulness interventions in insurance and pharmaceutical firms found marked improvements in morale, empathy, and more successful teams (Karlin, 2018).
Our working environment need not be a place of constant stress; it can be somewhere we can practice and experience mindfulness. In this exercise, the employee considers three elements of mindfulness in relation to their workday.
STOP the Panic
The STOP acronym is a helpful reminder of four steps to manage feelings and thoughts when panicking at work or elsewhere.
If you want to empower your clients and enhance your therapy practice, try Mindfulness X, which offers a comprehensive eight-week training template to transform your approach to mental health and wellbeing.
You will gain access to a tried-and-tested program that can be seamlessly integrated into your existing practice.
Developed by experts in positive psychology, this course has been thoughtfully designed to provide a solid foundation in mindfulness techniques and practices.
If you’re not quite ready to sign up for the course, but you are 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
Mindfulness has been shown to address various mental health concerns effectively while enhancing attention, emotional self-regulation, and adaptability.
Once limited to contemplative traditions, mindfulness now plays a central role in many therapeutic approaches, including DBT and ACT.
Research shows that such practices contribute to physical and psychological wellbeing, bolstering immune function, aiding stress management, promoting better sleep, and nurturing self-compassion.
As a result, mindfulness has become an invaluable tool for fostering mental wellness and treating mental health issues across different settings and age groups, including anxiety, depression, and addiction for adults, children, and youths in educational, healthcare, and workplace environments.
Many of you are already using mindfulness practices with your clients. We invite you to explore some of our many additional resources you may not have encountered before.
For therapists new to these techniques, take a moment to review the article and free worksheets and consider trying those that resonate with you, your practice, and your clients.
Baker, A. W., Frumkin, M. R., Hoeppner, S. S., LeBlanc, N. J., Bui, E., Hofmann, S. G., & Simon, N. M. (2019). Facets of mindfulness in adults with generalized anxiety disorder and impact of co-occurring depression. Mindfulness, 10(5), 903–912.
Crane, R. (2009). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Routledge.
Giraldi, T. (2019). Psychotherapy, mindfulness and Buddhist meditation. Springer.
Godfrey, K. M., Gallo, L. C., & Afari, N. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions for binge eating: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 38(2), 348–362.
Goodman, M., Carpenter, D., Tang, C. Y., Goldstein, K. E., Avedon, J., Fernandez, N., Mascitelli, K. A., Blair, N. J., New, A. S., Triebwasser, J., Siever, L. J., & Hazlett, E. A. (2014). Dialectical behavior therapy alters emotion regulation and amygdala activity in patients with borderline personality disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 57, 108–116.
Karlin, D. S. (2018). “Mindfulness in the workplace.” Strategic HR Review, 17(2), 76–80.
Harnett, P. H., Whittingham, K., Puhakka, E., Hodges, J., Spry, C., & Dob, R. (2010). The short-term impact of a brief group-based mindfulness therapy program on depression and life satisfaction. Mindfulness, 1(3), 183–188.
Hofmann, S. G., & Gómez, A. F. (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions for anxiety and depression. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 40(4), 739–749.
Jones, P., Blunda, M., Biegel, G., Carlson, L. E., Biel, M., & Wiener, L. (2013). Can mindfulness-based interventions help adolescents with cancer? Psycho-Oncology, 22(9), 2148–2151.
Khanna, S., & Greeson, J. M. (2013). A narrative review of yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapies for addiction. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 21(3), 244–252.
Langer, Á. I., Schmidt, C., Mayol, R., Díaz, M., Lecaros, J., Krogh, E., Pardow, A., Vergara, C., Vergara, G., Pérez-Herrera, B., Villar, M. J., Maturana, A., & Gaspar, P. A. (2017). The effect of a mindfulness-based intervention in cognitive functions and psychological well-being applied as an early intervention in schizophrenia and high-risk mental state in a Chilean sample: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials,18(1).
Leonard, J. (2020, June 23). Everything to know about dialectical behavior therapy. Medical News Today. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/everything-to-know-about-dialectical-behavioral-therapy.
Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M. L., Griffin, M. L., Biegel, G., Roach, A., Frank, J., Burke, C., Pinger, L., Soloway, G., Isberg, R., Sibinga, E., Grossman, L., & Saltzman, A. (2012). Integrating mindfulness training into K-12 education: Fostering the resilience of teachers and students. Mindfulness, 3(4), 291–307.
Navarro-Haro, M. V., Campos, D., Linehan, M. M., Hoffman, H. G., García-Palacios, A., Modrego-Alarcón, M., Borao, L., & García-Campayo, J. (2017). Meditation experts try virtual reality mindfulness: A pilot study evaluation of the feasibility and acceptability of virtual reality to facilitate mindfulness practice in people attending a mindfulness conference. Plos One, 12(11).
Nestor, J. (2020). Breath: The new science of a lost art. Penguin Books.
Shapiro, S. L. (2020). Rewire your mind: Discover the science + practice of mindfulness. Aster.
About the author
Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.