Let me start by stating the obvious – Anxiety is a condition afflicting millions and millions of people worldwide. In the US alone, some estimates put it as high as 40 million people with anxiety severe enough to disrupt the normal day-to-day function of their lives.
You may not be surprised to learn that most of those afflicted go untreated. Many just try to cope and work through their episodes.
Others try medication. But as I have mentioned in other articles, this approach is an attempt to manage symptoms while trying to avoid negative side effects.
Too often the common denominator with anxiety disorders is the underlying fear or worry about ‘something’ that is really beyond our immediate control. Our own internal logic may even be telling us that something is beyond our control, however our mind needs a mechanism to ‘switch off’ the self-talk, which is feeding our anxiety.
Mindfulness is a way for us to create a space between our anxiety and ourselves.
When we respond to anxiety with mindfulness then we are giving ourselves the power to not react in the old (habitual) way. We can instead choose a better more constructive way of dealing with the anxiety. We are not talking about changing the cause of the stress, but about mindfully changing our response to the situation.
Here is a very easy two-part mindfulness exercise you can use to ease anxiety.
1. Firstly we need to anchor ourselves. We do this by focusing our attention on the lower extremities of our body. How do your toes feel? Comfortable, sore, tired? Your ankles next. Just let your mind think about the feeling. Move up to your calves, shins and knees.
If its easier, you can keep your eyes open while perform the anchoring process. By the time your focus gets to your thighs you should be more aware of your breathing. You should be slowing it down while deliberately inhaling and exhaling fully.
2. The second part of the exercise continues with the breathing, however we now start to count the seconds between breaths. Count slowly up to 8 on both the inhale part and the exhale. Keep this process going for a couple of minutes at least as you feel the anxiety subside.
This technique is used to bring you into the present moment and slow down your breathing and heart rate. Essentially, we are trying to restore our emotional and physical balance at the same time. This exercise is not just for severe levels of anxiety. It can be effective for many day-to-day experiences of anxiety and panic. We can apply it anytime we feel that our repetitive worry getting the better of us.
Why does this work?
Because we are deliberately moving our attention away from our thoughts and into the physical realm of our breathing. We are moving out of our thinking mode and into our sensing mode, which alters our emotional response. The beauty of this exercise is that the more we practice it then the more we are able to use it almost automatically on a subconscious level.
All mindfulness exercises are really a mechanism for allowing us to pay attention in a deliberate way, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. The results can often be experienced immediately and produce a marked reduction in anxiety levels.
This has been backed by research that shows that practicing mindfulness activates certain areas of the brain that govern thinking and emotion.
Anxiety is usually future based and sometimes past based. Out minds are wrestling with something that is taking us away from experiencing the present moment. This future focus can become a habit as we plan our lives and work our plan! Mindfulness is a way of bringing us back to the present moment. We become able to acknowledge our anxieties as something separate from us.
Here is another practical exercise:
1. Find a quiet place where you wont be distracted. Turn off your electronic devises. Sit comfortably and focus on a spot in the room.
2. Allow yourself to be conscious of your breathing as you slowly inhale and exhale deeply.
3. Your mind will likely have a flood of thoughts going through it at this point. When a negative anxiety comes up, focus on it as just a thought – nothing more. Is the thought producing any physical reaction? If so, then give the thought a name like ‘Fear’ or ‘Concern’. How strong was the thought? Was it connected to a person or thing? Either way, we have labeled it and can release it.
Of course the thoughts we release can reoccur. However, what we are doing each time we practice mindfulness is we are training ourselves to get to know our fears and stresses on a higher level. We are dealing with them as separate entities to us and in time we will be able to control them, just as they try to control us.
I’m sure that as you repeat these exercises, you will achieve better and control over your thought processes.
As with anything, mastery requires persistence and repetition. Allow your self to fail in the beginning. Just don’t give up!
I hope you have found this article thought provoking. If you would like to learn more about applying practical mindfulness exercises please visit: Everyday Mindfulness Exercises.