How often have you woken up feeling anxious not about anything in particular? You have no worries in the world, but there’s still that knot in the middle of your stomach. You have a great job, happy family and devoted friends. But, from time to time you isolate yourself from your friends, since engaging with them heightens your anxiety. Even watching the daily news broadcast, gets you anxious, even though you have no connection to any of it.
Have you tried giving mindfulness a shot? I’ve found the practice helps with my anxiety by simply training the brain and mind to bring attention to the present moment.
Sounds simple? It is.
But, like most things in life, your shift in anxiety will slowly come only after consistent, daily, bi-weekly, or weekly practices. You decide what’s best for you. This is not a race, rather think of it like a marathon. Do you get up one day and decide, “Today I’m going to run a marathon?” Of course not. You train and practice day after day, month after month, until you gain the strength and stamina to complete your marathon. Practicing mindfulness uses the same techniques. You have to train your mind to accept and embrace your anxiety. It’s not about trying to ignore it, or trying to make it go away, if it is you’ll find yourself becoming more anxious about having anxiety!
Doing your mindful practice at the same time of day, consistently, may help you accept your anxiety for what it is, while at the same time, allowing you to stay in the moment, and stay present.
First, try slowing your breathing for a period of at least five to 10 minutes. It helps if you also lengthen your out breath to about twice the length of your in breath. If you like, you can do a count of three or four on the in breath and a count of six to eight on the out, or whatever count feels right to you. In the beginning you may feel comfortable only doing this exercise for two or three minutes. That’s all right. When you feel ready you can work the exercise up to five minutes, and over time, you will be surprised that your practice lasts ten or more minutes!
Now, I’d like to share this simple exercise by Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD, Assistant Professor of Psychology, part-time at Harvard Medical School, that I’ve used many a time.
“Start by bringing attention to some sensation in the body – perhaps the breath or another object of attention. Continue gently returning the attention to this object for a few minutes.
Next, see if you can locate some anxiety within the body. Just notice how it feels.
If you can’t find any anxiety, generate a scary thought or an image to help conjure it up. You want to get the anxiety going strongly enough to be able to practice feeling it, but not to be overwhelming.
Once you’ve got some anxiety going, just breathe, and feel it. Notice how it feels throughout your body. Greet it like an old friend, “Oh I know you, you’re my old pal fear. You’ve visited me on so many occasions. Welcome back.”
If the sensation of anxiety starts to fade, do whatever you need to do to bring it back. Keep breathing, and keep practicing just welcoming and feeling the fear.”
This exercise teaches you how you can minimize your anxiety, by just noticing it, and being non-judgmental about it, just allowing it to be, while focusing on your breathe.
I’ve found that often, my anxiety comes from my thinking mind – ruminating about the past, and worrying about the future. Mindfulness meditation has become a powerful and effective tool for me, but at times can be difficult to practice, especially when I find sitting still for any length of time difficult. I’ve learned to not be hard on myself at these times. At least I tried. There’s always tomorrow. Doing my mindful practice consistently, at the same time every morning, leaves me with a sense of peace and oneness with myself.
It took me some time make this practice a habit, (yes, some days it feels like a chore) but I now feel more confident about myself and my actions.
I encourage you to keep practicing these two mindfulness techniques, and you’ll find you will keep edging your anxiety out, a little bit, and then a little bit more.
Remember, the past is gone, let it go. Stay in the present and move forward.