Toddler laying on pregnant mom

“I’ve heard that mindfulness can help with anxiety. What is mindfulness?”

Being mindful means paying attention to the present moment, exactly as it is. It’s a lot harder to be anxious if you are completely focused on the present moment (that is, what you are doing and sensing right now). Mindfulness also means paying attention to current experiences, without making judgments or evaluations about them: for example, if you were in front of a tree and were going to look at it mindfully, you could notice how tall it was, that the leaves were lime green, the way the sun sparkles between the leaves, and how the bark on the trunk is rough, rather than evaluating whether the tree is beautiful or ugly.

Being in the present moment is very different than what we usually do when we are anxious: live in our heads and think about all the things that could go wrong in the future, or ruminate and dwell on regrets from the past. Our brain is very creative, and can come up with the most amazing worst-case scenarios and the harshest criticisms.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn

Important: It is completely normal that your mind will drift when you are trying to be mindful. Imagine a leaf floating on a pond; it will naturally drift. Part of the practice of mindfulness is noticing when your mind is drifting and learning how to gently bring your attention back to the present moment. When you catch yourself being caught up in worries about the future, or guilt or regret about the past, non-judgmentally notice that it is happening and gently guide your attention back. Take a calm breath and focus on what you are doing right now. For more information on letting thoughts be, see R.O.L.L with Anxious Thoughts.

We have included some mindfulness exercises that you can try.You can also find audio and video resources on Mindfulness at Simon Fraser University’s Health and Counselling Service’s Media Library and UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center’s Free Meditation Podcasts.

Mindfulness exercises