Meditation, exercise and talking to a therapist are some popular ways to manage anxiety, but they aren’t too discreet or easy to do in a pinch, like at a huge family function or right before a work presentation. That’s where small mindfulness activities can come in.

The technique, which involves re-focusing your senses, can alleviate anxiety or even depression. The U.K.’s National Health Service says, “Paying more attention to the present moment — to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you — can improve your mental wellbeing.” That’s both in the short-term, with small exercises, and in the longer term, when working at being more mindful on a daily basis. How do you do it? By “reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience,” whether it’s through sounds, physical sensations, smells or anything else.

A writer for the Foundation for a Mindful Society says when someone is having a panic attack, for example, taking some deep breaths and paying attention to each of the senses can “create some distance from anxious, repetitive thoughts.” The key, however, is simply enjoying the sensations — like feeling a carpet with your fingers or identifying a smell in the air — rather than thinking deeply about them: “See if you can describe them without thinking about whether you like or dislike the sensations.”

Research suggests that mindfulness, a practice linked to ancient Buddhism, is as helpful as cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves talking about negative thoughts. One psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, explained to Harvard Health Publications that in people with anxiety, certain distracting thoughts have a lot of power. “Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that — a thought, and not a part of my core self.”

With this idea of mindfulness from the professionals, here are some discreet ways to use your different senses to practice mindfulness when you’re around other people.


To secretly feel something with a new or different texture, try holding a small stone in your palm and rubbing your fingers across it when you feel anxious. If your hand is under a table or in your pocket, you could even turn over the stone in your palm, once for every inhalation or exhalation.


A way to become aware of the sights around you is to count the number of different colors in your immediate vicinity or read a sign hanging nearby.


Turning on a quick song with your earphones could bring your attention to your sense of hearing, as could listening to your surroundings and trying to identify the quietest and loudest sounds you hear.

Taste and smell

Picking up a hot cup of tea or any fresh beverage could bring attention to both taste and smell. Add touch to the mix by focusing on how the liquid feels going into your mouth, down your throat and into your stomach.

The whole body

Without doing any cardio at the gym, one way to leverage physical movement for mindfulness is to simply walk to another location in the office or at a family get-together, like the bathroom — even if you don’t have to use a toilet. Add touch and smell by washing your hands with soap and drying them off.