In Pali, the term is sati; in Sanskrit, it’s smrti. British scholar Thomas William Rhys Davids translated this as mindfulness. Sati is literally translated as “memory,” but it’s rarely used alone. It appears constantly in the phrase “mindful and thoughtful” and generally refers to a presence of mind which is expected of a “good Buddhist.” In essence, “mindfulness” refers to both the moment-by-moment awareness of one’s state of mind as well as acceptance of this state of mind without necessarily judging it’s “rightness” or “wrongness.”
The good news is that this ancient Buddhist practice can help one with overcoming anxiety. Jon Kabat-Zinn brought what he called, “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” to the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. The concept was to use this mindfulness to help reduce one’s stress by focusing on the moment instead of worrying over the past or the future.
And it makes sense. Modern America is not the only time or place where humans have had to deal with depression and stress. Ancient humans, too, needed help overcoming anxiety; in many ways, they had even more reasons to be anxious than a modern First World human has.
Mindfulness can help solve perhaps the biggest mistake we all make when we are stressed, depressed, or otherwise suffering from anxiety: we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be stressed. We dwell on it, focus on our stresses and we attempt to plan around them, or plan through them. The key here is that we dwell on the very thing causing our anxiety! Mindfulness techniques help one avoid this trap, by encouraging one to focus on the moment, and not dwell on the future or the past… at least not for a little while, and definitely not during times when we cannot affect the outcomes.
Here are some simple techniques you can use to achieve mindfulness in your daily lives:
Anchoring. “Anchoring” refers to focusing your mind on the current state of your body. Direct your attention inward, starting at your feet and moving up through your body. Do your feet feel heavy, or light? What’s the exact sensation you feel inside your shoes? Flow upward: do your lower legs feel sturdy? Do you feel like you are straining against gravity, or do you feel balanced? Are you warm, or do you feel cool? Slowly make your way up until you reach your chest.
Focus on your breathing. In, and out. Slow your breathing down. If it helps, count up to 10 as you breathe in, then down from 10 as you breathe out. This makes sure you’re breathing in such a way that you can actually focus on it. You likely still intense emotions… how are those affecting your breathing pattern?
With the basics handled, you can focus on the sights and sounds around you. Really pay attention; look for details that might normally slip your notice. Reflect on how your sensory inputs affect your state of mind. From there, you can analyze your thoughts; remind yourself that your emotions are fleeting. How you feel at this moment does not define you! Instead of worrying about the big picture, this helps you focus on the details, which allow you to “decompress” and work through your anxiety.
We encourage you to find more ways to work mindfulness into your lives. These techniques can be used anywhere, at any time, to help you overcome anxiety. If you experience serious depression, or excessive levels of anxiety, you may need to seek assistance from a medical professional. But for everyday anxiety and stress, mindfulness can help keep you centered and focused on the moment, empowered to make your way around the stress into your day and beyond.