If you find yourself feeling anxious, that is, you start feeling nervous, tense, or restless, your mind starts to race, heart beats faster, breathing increases, you find yourself sweating or shaking, or you have trouble concentrating on anything other than the worry in your head, try this:
First, take a deep breath in from your nostrils, breathing slowly as you feel your belly filling up with air until it’s completely full, and breath out from your mouth. Unclasp your hands. Shake yourself. Try to ease your body of the tension it’s feeling. If it helps, sit down. Then, look around to label:
5 THINGS YOU SEE
“chair…plant…tissue box…coffee cup…person”
4 THINGS YOU FEEL
“the base of my foot against my shoe…the texture of my jeans against the palm of my hand…the feel of the fabric against my chest as it rises and falls…my legs against the chair”
3 THINGS YOU HEAR
“the clock ticking…person typing on the keyboard…my breathing”
2 THINGS YOU SMELL
“my cologne…the pasta she’s eating”
1 THING YOU TASTE
“taste of mint from the gum I was chewing earlier” (or, if you can’t taste anything in your mouth, stick your tongue out and taste the air!)
You can either say it in your head or say it out loud. The point here is to observe without casting judgement. For example, if you see a blue shirt someone is wearing, just notice the color of the shirt and move on to the next thing you see. Avoid thinking, “That color really suits her.” If you smell coffee, avoid thinking, “I shouldn’t have had coffee. It makes me more jittery.” If a thought does pop up in your mind, observe it and allow it to float away so you can focus your attention back to labeling the next thing.
By simply observing and labeling things you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste, you are giving your mind an activity to focus on. When your mind is intentionally made to focus it’s attention on something specific, it has no choice but to let go of what it was worrying about a second ago. This results in you coming back to the present moment and feeling less anxious. The worry, or whatever caused you to feel anxious, might still be there, but it will appear smaller and more manageable.
You can do this mindfulness exercise anywhere and anytime. It could be done silently in a minute or two, without anyone noticing you doing it. So, next time you find yourself feeling anxious in the middle of an important meeting, quietly engage in this exercise to help you focus your attention back to the meeting.