One of the most practical and valuable skills to acquire is an ability to quiet the mind.
Quieting the mind is particularly helpful for reducing stress and anxiety. When thoughts are stilled, the apprehension that fuels our anxiety is diminished, and the body relaxes.
An effectual way to still our thoughts is simply noticing what is happening in the current moment, without judgment or interpretation. Even a few minutes of present moment awareness, or mindfulness, can soothe our nervous system, helping us get through the day with a bit more equanimity.
The Stop exercise is one way individuals can teach themselves the practice of mindfulness. It takes only three to five minutes to complete, or can be turned into a longer meditative experience:
- Stop what you are doing.
- Take three relaxed, slow belly-expanding breaths (long inhales followed by long exhales).
- Acknowledge what you see, smell, hear, feel, or taste; and/or acknowledge physical sensations (e.g., muscle tension, cold, warmth, knots in the stomach); and/or acknowledge your feelings and emotions—without designating them good or bad.
- Go about your usual business.
Doing the stop exercise or other mindfulness practices when you’re not uncomfortably anxious, helps you use present moment awareness to quiet thoughts when you are. Mindful moments may not end a bout of anxiety, but can take the edge off, or turn down the intensity.