Practising mindfulness to help manage anxiety

Merry Gibbons, a Macmillan teenage and young adult wellbeing specialist and psychotherapist, tells us how mindfulness can help us manage difficult or unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and shares some exercises to help you feel more in control.

Mindfulness is a technique that can help you stay in the present. It can help if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

Merry Gibbons, a Macmillan teenage and young adult wellbeing specialist and psychotherapist

In the video below, Merry Gibbons, a Macmillan teenage and young adult wellbeing specialist and psychotherapist, shares some exercises that focus on being kind to yourself and staying in control during times of challenge or stress.
You can also read more about mindfulness and how it helps us below the video.

What makes us feel overwhelmed?

It can be helpful to understand what causes us to feel overwhelmed in different situations.

The stress response, sometimes called the ‘fight or flight’ response, is when your body experiences a big surge of adrenaline.

Your breathing will get quicker, your heart beats faster, and these things all help your body if you need to outrun danger.

But if you’re experiencing these symptoms when you’re facing something less immediately dangerous, like waiting for some scan results, sitting an exam, or waiting to take your driving test, this response can be too big for that moment.

How can we reduce the stress response?

The relaxation response is something you can bring to your body through your breathing.

By focusing on your breathing, it will naturally start to slow down.

As your breathing gets slower, your heart will start to beat at a slower pace too. This tells your body that you’re out of danger, and it stops putting all the adrenaline into your body.

These physical changes can help you to feel more in control of the moment you’re in. 

How do you detach yourself from negative thoughts?

When it comes to the thoughts in our head, engaging with them can be useful when we’re answering an exam question, for example.

But when those thoughts are negative, we can start to ‘catastrophise’ (think everything is going to go very wrong) and get into an unhelpful cycle of thinking.

One way to detach from negative thoughts is by imagining that our thoughts are actors on a stage and we’re in the audience, only watching.

This can help us to separate ourselves from what we’re thinking in the moment.

How can mindfulness help when we feel overwhelmed?

Mindfulness exercises, like those shared in Merry’s session above, can help you to: 

  1. Feel centred and calm in moments where you might otherwise feel a bit frazzled or worried, or even if you’re having a panic attack
  2. Feel able to give yourself permission to listen to what your body is telling you, and to stop and take time for yourself if you need it
  3. Feel able to adjust your mindset to be kinder and more compassionate towards yourself.

The exercises in Merry’s session take about 25 minutes to complete. So why not find somewhere comfy, settle in, and press play.

Being kind to ourselves

One way of bringing mindfulness into your routine is to think of one thing you can do to care for yourself today.

One moment where you can be kind to yourself.

Maybe that’s a warm bath or eating something you’ll really enjoy. Ringing a friend for a chat or starting a good book or TV series.

Whatever it is, just one act of self-care in your day can help bring your mind to the present.