We Tried 3 Beginner-Friendly Mindfulness Activities For Stress And Anxiety Relief
Manageable for every age, quick enough for a busy day, and simple enough to master, these mindfulness techniques might be just what you need to make it through this week and beyond
Mindfulness—how many times have you seen this word get thrown around in the last months?
We're not surprised if it's eased its way into your vocabulary during the COVID crisis, because it's encapsulates so much of our first defenses against the psychological, emotional, and even physical stresses that we've experienced during this difficult time!
If you're like most people, you'll like associate mindfulness with activities that combine physical exercise with a form of meditation and deep breathing exercises—which is exactly it! More formally, however, mindfulness is a skill that requires you to be fully present in the here and now, heightening your self-awareness in every way. Mindfulness requires you to be attuned to what your body is feeling at in the moment, the emotions setting the tone for you, and the thoughts you're harboring.
Developed by Buddhists, then adopted by all sorts of cultures and kept alive for thousands upon thousands of years, the practice of mindfulness has made it all the way to the 21st century, and in recent years, science—Psychology, in particular—has acknowledged its validity as an effective way to manage stress and anxiety.
Psychology and mindfulness converge in more ways than one, the most important of which is that both camps agree that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are impossible to separate; the imbalance of one is the imbalance of all, and mindfulness—a.k.a. being able to tell when there's an imbalance at all—is a powerful tool to nip the negative consequences of this in the bud.
From a psychological perspective, there's more to mindfulness than being just present; it requires acceptance of who you are today, right now, down to the last minute and second, and all the thoughts and emotions that come with that—all without judging yourself. It's learning that who you are today is perfectly fine the way it is, and there is no need to tell you that you could have done better in the past, or that you must do better in the future. (Learn more about mindfulness in psychology here).
And in this time of crisis when there is so much pressure to handle stress gracefully/emerge from quarantine as an "improved" person/to push away the anxiety naturally brought on by these circumstances/appear that you have it all put together (when there are days that you just really, really don't), mindfulness could very well be the life-preserving skill that you've been looking for. (Here's an interesting article that lists down many of the ways psychologists have noted the benefits of mindfulness).
The main message? It's alright. It's okay to not be okay. Accept where you're at right now, and just be.
Our favorite part about this? Mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways, at any time of the day, and there are variations of activities for every age group and lifestyle. Busy bees can benefit from 15-minute mindfulness exercises, those who have more time can devote half an hour to 45 minutes, and even kids can appreciate lending 10 minutes of their day for a quick activity.
We tried a handful of mindfulness activities and picked three to recommend to you and your family. Keep scrolling!
Activity: The Raisin Exercise
Timeframe: 5-7 minutes
Great for: Teens and adults
The idea behind the raisin exercise is to train yourself to be free from your surroundings' distractions and be able to focus on the task at hand. In this case, you accomplish this by mindfully eating a raisin—or any food that you've likely grown accustomed to and no longer consider "novel" and exciting.
The exercise requires you to sit in a distraction-free place (no phones please). Don't eat the way you usually would (i.e.: taking a spoonful of something, chewing, swallowing, then repeating until you're full). Instead, use all your senses in appreciating what you're about to eat.
First notice how the food looks, how it feels to the touch, how it sticks to your spoon with ease or slides down the sides of your bowl. What does it smell like? Are there notes of vinegar, is it peppery? Is your mouth watering at the idea of getting to taste a morsel of this food in a few minutes?
When you finally pop a bite into your mouth, what tastes come to the surface? Chew slowly. Notice what side your food naturally moves to as you prepare to swallow. Has its texture changed since you first touched it to now?
Read about the full raisin mindfulness exercise here.
Activity goal: So much anxiety is caused by dwelling on what we did wrong in the past and/or all the terrifying unknowns of tomorrow. If we learned to take things one day at a time, dealing with things for all that they are right now, we would be doing ourselves a huge favor. The skill to pick up from this exercise is that: concentrate on what it's in front of you, learning to filter what's bombarding you from all other directions.
Activity: Five Senses
Timeframe: 15-20 minutes
Great for: All ages
If the raisin exercise helps you develop defenses anxiety over time, the Five Senses exercise is great for immediate grounding—that is, if you feel yourself being overwhelmed by crippling anxiety that you're palpitating and feeling lightheaded, familiarize yourself with this exercise and arm yourself with it. (The same goes for if you notice a family member deeply affected by anxiety).
As its name suggests, all five senses play a key role in this exercise.
First, you lay flat on your back and look around the room. Then in order, you use your sense of sight, touch, hearing, smell, then taste.
This article takes you through what you're meant to do with each sense.
Activity goal: We often don't notice it, but anxiety-related stress is frequently caused by spiraling, out-of-control thoughts. We go down the rabbit hole of negative self-talk, fearing what we can't control, and generally becoming fixated on the unpleasant details of our lives and sooner than later, our breathing becomes shallow, our heart is racing, our temples are pounding, and we're irritable, impatient, unable to concentrate, and restless. This exercises helps reel in our thoughts, and hence our emotions, behaviors too, to bring us back to the present.
Activity: The Squiggly Wiggly
Timeframe: As long as you like
Great for: Young children
A different approach is required to demonstrate mindfulness to children, and while they can't yet understand the words behind the practice, that doesn't mean their minds bodies can't feel its benefits!
Here's an activity that they'll love, and could even treat as a game. Even its name is kid-friendly. The Squiggly Wiggly exercise asks kids to stand in the middle of a room with lots of space, and with five counts, wiggle their bodies any and all ways that they wish to. They can throw their arms in the air, do a little earthworm dance, even stomp their feet and twist their waists left to right.
When the five counts are up, they have to stay completely still.
And then you ask them to tell you one thing they're feeling (Are their hearts beating faster? Are they breathing more deeply? Are they breaking into a sweat? Do they feel warmer?).
They get to repeat the squiggly wiggly for a next around, and you can keep doing this until your kids have tired themselves out or have run out of new feelings to identify.
Activity goal: First and foremost, this is to introduce your kids to mindfulness and instill the habit with them that they'll carry all the way to adulthood. Second, this is to help your kids get back up on their feet when they're having a bad day. They might not understand the pandemic the same way adults do, but in their own ways, they're bummed out about it, too. This is one way to help them through the experience.
If you're interested in discovering more mindfulness exercises, this blog post lists 22 of them. There are a variety of activities out there, so feel free to find the one that suits you best. The important thing is that you do!
Images via Unsplash and Pexels