The word “mindfulness” is popping up everywhere today. Maybe because I am in the field of psychology and I practice mindfulness myself, but it definitely feels as if no one can get enough of mindfulness. But how does this translate to kids and anxiety?
John Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as, “Paying attention in the present moment without judgment.” Fair enough, but what does this mean and how does this help kids struggling with anxiety? Mindfulness can feel simple and, at the same time, totally out of our comfort zone all at once. For kiddos (and other ages alike), mindfulness can be practiced by paying attention to the senses. When children are anxious, they are very much stuck in their thoughts and not aware of what is happening in the present moment. By coming back to what is happening in the here-and-now (which can be extremely difficult no matter how old you are), children and adults can refocus their attention to what’s happening in the present instead of thinking about the past or future.
One exercise that I love to do in therapy is called the “5-4-3-2-1” grounding exercise. In essence, this is how it goes. Look around the room that you are currently sitting in and identify 5 things you can see (i.e. I see a cup, I see a computer), 4 things you can feel (i.e. I can feel my back on the chair, I can feel my feet on the floor), 3 things you can hear (i.e. can hear the traffic outside, I can hear my dog making silly noises), 2 things you can smell/like the smell of (i.e. I can smell mom cooking in the kitchen OR I love the smell of chocolate), 1 thing you can taste/like the taste of (i.e. toothpaste from brushing your teeth OR I love the taste of chocolate).
Why is this exercise or using mindfulness in treating kids with anxiety important? It helps them return to the here-and-now. With anxiety, it is so easy to get inside your head and be out of touch with the reality of the present moment. Using mindfulness, we can return to what’s actually happening and leave behind those things that we think are happening.
~ Dr. Lindsay Haig ~