Mindfulness can really help with anxiety. Here’s a quick way to start.
Mindfulness works for anxiety.
Mindfulness gets a lot of press and I think that’s a good thing. It’s touted as beneficial for a variety of physical and mental health issues and for promoting overall well-being. I have seen the difference it can make in helping my clients manage their anxiety. So how can mindfulness help you in dealing with anxiety symptoms?
Mindfulness soothes your nervous system
The experience of anxiety can range from a mild uneasiness to full blown panic. In all cases the nervous system is turned on, preparing your body to deal with something feared. Of course, if you experience anxiety you know that your nervous system can make you feel like something bad is going to happen even when you rationally know that everything is OK. Mindfulness can help to soothe your nervous system, reducing stress hormones and blood pressure, slowing your breathing down and calming your mind.
Mindfulness promotes present moment awareness
When you have anxiety it can be easy to get lost in fearful thoughts about the future or scary experiences from your past. Mindfulness brings awareness back to what is actually going on in the reality of the present moment, a place where you actually have control.
Mindfulness creates focus
For some the experience of anxiety is a stream of intrusive thoughts. You may find yourself chewing on the same distressing thought over and over and it can be hard to move your attention away it. Regardless of the type of mindfulness practice you engage in, you are practicing focusing; bringing your attention to your breath, your body, or your senses. Mindfulness can help you shift your focus away from anxious thoughts and lessening their influence.
Mindfulness creates space
When you can get out of the whirlwind of anxious thoughts that are happening in your head, you might notice some spaciousness. Having soothed your nervous system and untangled from your thoughts, you have the space to make choices and take actions that are meaningful, rather than just reacting to and struggling with your anxiety reactively.
How can you get started with mindfulness?
You may have ideas of mindfulness being a challenging or time consuming practice. Perhaps you’ve tried it before and given it up because 30 minutes sitting on a cushion just wasn’t working. The good news is that a little mindfulness goes a long way and there are lots of practices you can try. As you begin to experience the benefits, you can grow your practice into one that feels manageable and helpful.
There are many practices you can try including insight meditation (also known as vipassana meditation), walking meditation, mindful yoga, and many others. One of my favorites is the S.T.O.P. method. It is simple, quick, and can be done anywhere.
Stop what you are doing
Just stop. Take a pause in your workday, a quick break from social media, or step out of the rush off to wherever you are going.
Take some breaths
Take a few deep breaths. If it feels comfortable try lengthening the exhalation. This will help to soothe your nervous system and bring some focus.
Observe what’s happening
There are two realms you can observe.
What’s going on inside of you right now?
What feelings are you noticing? What sensations are you experiencing in your body? What thoughts are you having? What urges are you experiencing?
What’s going on around you?
We often are oblivious to our surroundings. What do you notice in the world around you? What is registering with your senses? What colors do you see? What sounds do you hear? Is there beauty in what you are observing?
Proceed in your valued direction
Now that you’ve stopped what you are doing, taken a few breaths, and observed what’s going on around you and inside of you, you can proceed with your day. But don’t just automatically return to what you are doing. Take advantage of the space you have just created and ask yourself what is most meaningful right now? Perhaps what is most important is to return to the task at hand with renewed focus, or you could decide that what is meaningful is to choose a different behavior and change course.
Give this practice a try and notice what happens for you. Do you feel more spaciousness or a refocusing on what matters to you? You can practice this as often as it feels helpful. When challenged with anxious feelings or thoughts see if you can notice a different experience or response after trying this practice.