How to Relieve Your Anxiety in 30 Seconds with the Mindful Pause

Anxiety can really suck. Here's a quick, easy meditation practice that can give you some relief. It's called the Mindful Pause. 

The Mindful Pause is a great "spot treatment" for times you're feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed. It can take as little as 30 seconds, and you can do it anywhere. You can be sitting, standing, lying down, whatever. No one will even know that you're meditating.

The Four Steps of the Mindful Pause

1. Deep breath

Take a deep, slow breath, filling your lungs from bottom to top. Inhale into your lower belly and then fill upward through your mid-torso and chest. 

We're taking advantage of the well-documented connection between our breath and our mood. By slowing and deepening our breathing, we encourage feelings of relaxation and calm. 

2. Turn toward the body 

Next, open your attention to the sensations in your body. Let yourself notice whatever comes up: warmth, coolness, tingling, pressure, the touch of clothing, etc. There's no need to evaluate the sensations as "good" or "bad." Itching is simply itching. Coolness is simply coolness. 

If you notice a complex array of sensations: perfect. If all you notice is the feeling of your butt on the chair: also perfect. 

If you notice sensations that seem connected to stress or anxiety, those are especially good to turn toward. Most of us pull away from those sensations. This resistance is what creates suffering, not the sensations themselves.

This step needn't take longer than one in-breath or out-breath. Stay with it longer if you like, but it can be that quick. 

3. Rest attention on the breath 

Rest your attention on the sensation of air touching your nostrils as you breathe.With gentle curiosity, watch the flow of changing sensations at the nostrils. These sensations anchor you in the present moment. 

In this step, there's no need to deepen or slow your breath. Let your body breathe however it wants to.

Just like the last step, this step can be as short as one in-breath or one out-breath. You might feel like staying with it longer. Up to you. 

4. Carry on

The last step is simply to reengage with the world, without hurry. Open your eyes if you had closed them and carry on with your day. See if you can maintain the groundedness that you've cultivated. Don't lunge for your phone or speed off to your next activity. Take a few seconds sitting or standing there quietly, and then move at a leisurely pace. 

The Benefits of the Mindful Pause

The Mindful Pause does a bunch of useful things:

It interrupts emotional spirals and thought loops. When you're spinning out, sometimes you just need to interrupt the process. Inserting a pause gives you the opportunity to collect yourself.  

The Mindful Pause also guides us to turn toward discomfort rather than flinching away from it. When we feel an uncomfortable emotion like anxiety or fear, we usually try to escape it somehow. We fight the emotion, flee from it, or try to problem-solve our way out of it. These strategies usually just agitate us more. 

A better approach is to feel the difficult emotion fully rather than fighting it. We do this by paying gentle attention to the sensations in the body that arise with the emotion. Emotions often have a strong bodily component. Maybe it's a twisting in the gut, or a tightness in the chest, or warmth in the face. It's different from person to person, and from moment to moment. We can stay with these body sensations and avoid taking the bait of anxious thoughts.

This approach is counter-intuitive, but it reveals a critical truth: Our suffering doesn't come from our emotions, but from our resistance to them and our evaluations of them. Even a difficult emotion like anxiety stops being a problem when we meet it without resistance.  

"Suffering = Pain x Resistance"
-Shinzen Young

The Mindful Pause is a simple method that doesn't require much thought. This simplicity is key because anxiety and stress make it hard to think. The Mindful Pause has four clear steps, so we can remember how to do it even when we're feeling foggy.

When to Use this Practice

Because the Mindful Pause is so quick and discreet, you can do it almost anywhere and at any time -- at your desk, on public transit, at a red light, in a box, with a fox, etc. The hardest part is remembering to do it. The moments when we need it most are when we're likeliest to forget about it. 

The solution is to practice the Mindful Pause when we're not stressed. Start tossing them into your day. A few of my meditation students struggle to find time for formal meditation, but they do Mindful Pauses all the time. They set reminders on their phones. 

One strategy for including Mindful Pauses in the day is to link it to specific moments that recur on a daily basis. For example, I take a mindful pause when I first sit down at my desk every morning, before I turn on my computer. I take another one before I get up from my desk for lunch. 

Final Thoughts

I called this article "How to Relieve Your Anxiety in 30 Seconds," and that's accurate. But we need to drop the idea that "anxiety relief" means making the feeling of anxiety go away. I can't stress this enough: resisting anxiety just prolongs and intensifies it.

I used to fall into the trap of using the Mindful Pause as another way to resist anxiety. I'd do the four steps then think to myself, "What the hell? My anxiety is still here! The stupid thing didn't work." That was me misunderstanding what the Mindful Pause is for. The Mindful Pause doesn't flush away our feelings. It lets us relate to them in a way that doesn't hurt as much.

The trick is to accept that these feelings of anxiety are here and drop our resistance.By turning toward our emotions rather than flinching away, we find relief in the midst of the emotions themselves. The Mindful Pause helps us do that. I hope you find it useful.

"Whatever it is, it's already here. Let me feel it."
-Jon Kabat-Zinn

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