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28 Apr 2023

Mindfulness can help tame fears and worries

Mental Health

When your day is derailed by fear and worry, there are techniques to fight back.

Feelings of fear and worry are perfectly natural. However, worrying constantly or excessively about what ‘may’ happen can get you stuck in a cycle of harmful thoughts and behaviours.

Harvard Medical School experts say that by understanding the real reason why you worry, you can take effective action towards feeling at ease and at peace. There are techniques that can help in the process.

Deep breathing
Breathing is something so natural that we barely think about it. In fact, you breathe about 20,000 times a day without conscious thought. You might wonder how something as simple as taking deep breaths can do anything for your fear and worry. Yet the breath, which yogis call "prana," has powerfully calming effects on your brain and the rest of your nervous system.

When you’re anxious, your breathing quickens. Purposefully slowing your breaths helps you gain more control over your mental state. You can do it anywhere. There are several breathing techniques you might try.

Diaphragmatic, or belly breathing

Here’s how to do it:
• Start by sitting comfortably or lying on your back.
• Place one hand on the upper part of your chest and the other hand on your belly.
• Relax your belly muscles.
• Breathe in slowly through your nose until you feel your belly start to rise.
• Breathe out slowly through slightly pursed lips and feel your belly fall.
• Repeat.

Box breathing
• Breathe out while counting to four.
• Hold your breath while counting to four.
• Breathe in while counting to four.
• Hold your breath while counting to four.
• Repeat.

Start with just a minute or two of deep breathing and expand the time from there. Try for at least 10 minutes of deep breathing each day. During each session, focus on becoming aware of the feeling of your breath moving in and out. Observe what happens in your body when you concentrate on your breathing.

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Date Published: April 2023

To be reviewed: April 2026


Meditation takes deep breathing one step further, by combining it with mental focus. Research finds mindfulness meditation helpful for not only relieving anxiety symptoms, but also for improving our ability to cope with the stressors that life throws our way.

Set aside a few minutes each day to meditate. Sit somewhere quiet and close your eyes. Breathe deeply in and out while calming your mind. You might repeat a sound, word, or phrase, like "life is good" or a meditative chant such as "om." If your mind wanders, as it inevitably will, gently steer it back to the present. Think of your intrusive thoughts as clouds. Acknowledge them, but then let them drift away.

Mindfulness seems easy, but that sense of simplicity can be deceptive. It takes effort to still a racing mind. And it might take you some time and multiple tries to accomplish it.

To get started, set a time to practice mindfulness each day. Put it in your calendar. Aim for only two to five minutes your first day. As you get more comfortable with the practice, build up to longer sessions. A good goal is to work up to practicing for 10 to 20 minutes each day.

A positive fact about mindfulness being that almost every adult, regardless of age or health status, is able to undertake the mindfulness techniques of deep breathing and meditation, at the level their body and mind can accommodate at any particular time of their life. There is no right or wrong level per individual, it is self-directed.