8 Mindfulness Exercises to Beat Stress, Spark Motivation and Feel Better

by | Mar 18, 2024 | Mental Health

Mindfulness is no longer just a trend. With countless studies (and experts) verifying the validity of introspection as a powerful tool to safeguard your mind, these restful reps should form a crucial part of your weekly workout regimen. However, with a proverbial pick and mix of mindfulness exercises to choose from, it can be difficult to settle on exactly how you should start flexing those mental muscles.

No worries; we’re here to help. We’ve compiled 14 simple methods that can be smashed out in just a few minutes to net you that daily dose of much-needed zen.

What are Mindfulness Exercises?

Simply put, this practice is a cognitive skill to help you zone in on what’s actually going on in your head. Most people hone this skill through meditation, but meditation itself can take on many different forms. It has a long history dating back Buddhist, Hindu and sati traditions, and there’s a reason it has stood the test of time.

But only recently have researchers begun lifting the lid on these meditative perks. According to studies, regular doses of zen (in any of its forms) is just an effective way to lower anxiety and stress, but might also have a positive knock-on effect for your blood pressure, sleep and pain response. In short, it’s an effective prescription. 

READ MORE: 11 Simple Ways to Lower Your Stress Levels, Boost Your Mood and Start Thriving

Best part? You can bring mindfulness into every area of your life. Yep, it’s not just limited to isolated sessions. A mindful approach to eating, work, you name it can minimise negative emotions or outcomes associated with these activities.

Mindfulness Exercises: How to Get Started

Ready to breathe, observe and bolster your mind? Let’s brush up on some of the methods you can use to start honing your cognitive skills. We recommend trying a few different methods (or all of them) to find one that works for you. 

Keep in mind that mindfulness requires practise, so your first attempts might not give you an instant lift. Ultimately, if this is your first foray into trying these methods, you’ll be flexing mental muscles that have been lying dormant for decades. Be patient, and trust the process, the rewards are worth the work.

1. The Countdown Method

Carve out just five minutes for this super-effective anxiety-buster. Your goal is to countdown slowly from 5 to 1 taking time as you work through the numbers to start developing an awareness of your thoughts, body and the world around you.

First, take time to observe five things you can see around you. Then, take notice of four things you can feel (i.e., the floor against your feet). Listen out for three different sounds. Sniff out two different scents and then, finally, identify something you can taste.

Your goal is to slow down enough so that you are truly tuning into each of your senses. While you can do this at any time, it’s a great tool to break out when you start to feel overwhelmed, stressed or anxious.

2. The Driver’s Seat

During your next commute, turn down your Spotify playlist and try this mindfulness exercise from Calm. Instead of letting your mind wander off to thoughts about work or that leaky pipe back home, draw your attention to the interior of your car. How does the steering wheel feel in your hands? What can you see through your window? What kind of sound is your engine making? If you feel your focus start to drift, just slowly bring your focus back to the tangible world in front of you.

3. Focused Breathing

man doing breathwork as part of meditation mindfulness exercise
Getty Images/Maskot

The breath is a focal point of most meditation exercises, and a reason exercises revolving around this automatic bodily function have remained a staple for centuries. Studies have shown that bringing your attention to the natural rhythm of your breathing can help you relax and give you much-needed clarity. 

READ MORE: Worried Sick: 7 Ways Stress Can (Seriously) Hurt Your Health

All you need is a few minutes (and a quiet spot). On your inhales and exhales, take note of how your chest inflates and deflates with your breathing. Need a guide? Insight Timer is a free meditation app that’ll help lead you through your first breathing exercises and more thorough meditation sessions once you’ve mastered the basics.

4. The Body Scan

This simple exercise is also a meditation staple and it’s dead simple. Find a comfy spot to sit or lie and then scan your body (from head to toe) paying close attention to all the sensations. If you notice any tension, consciously try to soften these areas.

5. The Dishwasher

Want to sharpen your cognitive skills and strike something off your to-do list at the same time? Head to the sink. However, instead of letting your mind drift, pay close attention to the sensations you experience as you suds up your dinnerware. Does the water feel cold or warm? How does the sponge feel between your fingers? How does the texture of the cutlery feel against your skin?

Like many of the other exercises here, tuning into a particular experience will help keep you grounded and could – according to some research on the topic – prevent your mind from spiraling into a stressful space. Even in the short time it takes to scour your dishes, you can snag an effective mental break. Bonus: your dishes will be clean, too.

6. The Stretch Method

If you prefer your mindfulness exercises with a dose of muscle building, drop by your local yoga studio. Most disciplines require precise movements as you slowly flow from one position to the next which will naturally force your mind to concentrate on every muscle as you stretch. 

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that heated yoga, specifically, could be a viable treatment option for those suffering from depression. 

7. The Mindful Walk

man hiking out in nature as part of mindfulness exercise
Getty Images/Westend61

Mindfulness exercises are often seen as stationary activities, but many exercises will get you from A to B both mentally and physically. Taking a walk at a leisurely pace can help you tap into a mindful space, especially if you focus your attention on the world around you instead of letting your thoughts run rampant.

READ MORE: See Exactly Why You Can’t Stop Stress Eating

Double down on the benefits of this cakewalk cardio by swapping your urban strolls for a caper out in nature. Research has found that just spending 20 minutes amongst greenery can significantly lower your stress levels.

8. The Write Method

Spending time journaling down your thoughts can be a massive boon for your mental health. Countless studies have now confirmed that even weekly sessions jotting down your inner monologue can slash your stress levels, ward off depression and keep your anxiety in check.

However, make sure you cap off your writing sessions with a gratitude list to help prime your mind for positive thinking. Try to think of up to five things you are grateful for. This exercise can refocus your attention on the positive stuff happening in your life rather than just fixating on your recent (or future) lows.

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