We all experience anxiety in life, but to varying degrees. It can present as stress and worry, or it can show up as debilitating panic and fear.
Working with anxiety in therapy is a two fold process. On the one hand we want to spend time uncovering the thought patterns and belief systems that produce, or add fuel to anxiety. We do this so that we can begin to rewrite the scripts that we use internally, which can move us away from anxiety and towards what we actually want.
This first aspect of working with anxiety is something that I recommend you only do with a professional therapist. One that you have formed a relationship with and trust.
Anxiety Self Help.
On the other hand we can adopt a very practical approach to managing anxiety and begin to retrain our brains so that we can allow anxiety to pass much quicker when it does show up. To achieve this end I regularly will use mindfulness with my clients, and this is something that you can learn and practice yourself.
Mindfulness is an observation and acceptance of the present moment and all that it contains, without judgement. Those last two words are very important so I’ll say them again. Without judgement.
When we begin to adopt a mindful approach to life, we will find more and more that thoughts and feelings come and go peacefully. When we do not attach or identify with our thoughts, they drift on by like clouds in the sky. When we do attach or identify with our thoughts however, they can elicit an emotion in us which signals to the mind that these thoughts are important. Thinking the thoughts to be significant, the mind then dutifully provides us with more and more similar thoughts, which elicit similar feelings. These feelings in turn attract more thoughts via the mind and the loop goes on.
Step Back From Your Mind.
What we want to do then, is to take a step back from our thoughts. Take a step back and simply observe. We are not our minds, and when we step back and become the observer of our minds, we realise that. We can then see how the mind operates, churning up thought after thought after thought. Researchers debate that the number of thoughts that go through our mind per hour is between 50,000 and 70,000. At the lower end of that scale that’s almost one thought per second. That’s a lot of thoughts!
Generally speaking we are unaware of a lot of these thoughts and a large percentage of them pass by unnoticed. It is when we notice thoughts – and identify with them – that they can become a problem. Using mindfulness we can detach from our thoughts and allow them to pass by harmlessly.
Mindfulness is a practice, and like any practice the more you put into it the more you will get out of it. You will probably notice in the beginning that thoughts seem to come from everywhere, and that’s ok. That’s just your mind doing what it does. As you develop your mindfulness practice you will notice that thoughts come less frequently, and it becomes easier to let them pass by without judgement (attachment) when they do.
You will begin to find a peaceful gap in between your thoughts, which will stretch further the more you practice.
Mindfulness is also an attitude, which can be carried with you through everything you do. I will show you a simple mindfulness meditation practice below, but you can also look around and find ways to be mindful throughout your day. For example you can check out a short blog I wrote on Mindful Walking here:
I would encourage you take up Mindfulness as both a meditation practice and as an attitude.
Simple mindfulness meditation:
Make time in your day for the following Mindfulness meditation. First thing in the morning or during a quiet time in the evening are good times. Be aware that if you practice late at night you risk falling asleep as you do this. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it will not do much for helping you to retrain your mind.
You can also do this meditation at any time during the day, but it is important to at least establish a habit where you regularly practice at a certain time.
Sit back in a chair with your spine straight. Close your eyes bring your attention inwards. Allow yourself to become aware of your body.
Notice how the chair supports you and feel the pressure of your feet planted firmly on the floor. Let your awareness rest in your feet and feel them getting heavier, almost as if they are sinking into the floor.
Now gently bring your attention to your breathing. Don’t try to breathe in any particular way; just simply be aware of your breath.
Notice your stomach rise as you inhale, and fall as you exhale.
Perhaps you will be aware of the feeling of the air as it passes through your nostrils. Cooler as you inhale, and warmer as you exhale.
As you do this your mind will attempt to distract you with thoughts. Understand that this is perfectly ok. It is just the mind doing what it does. Just notice what is happening and gently and kindly return your attention to your breath.
Your breath is your anchor to keep you in the present moment.
It is important not to judge yourself if you get distracted by thoughts or sounds, or to try to force your mind to stop thinking. Always the practice is simply to notice what has happened, and then gently and kindly return your attention to your breath.
Finish your practice by allowing your awareness to expand to the rest of your body. Feeling once again the chair underneath you and your feet on the floor. Become more aware of the room around you and whatever sounds you can hear. When you feel ready open your eyes and bring your presence fully into the room.
Practice this for a minimum of five minutes at a time, and a maximum of twenty.
Focusing on your breathing through mindfulness has the added benefit of activating in your body the parasympathetic response system. This system slows your heart rate, relaxes certain muscles, and puts your body into rest mode.
It is important that we are gentle with ourselves, and particularly when dealing with anxiety.
If you ever feel anxiety rising or increasing as you do this practice then please stop. You can return to it at a calmer time for you. And if this does happen then know that that’s ok too. Go as gently as you need to with this. Be kind to you.
- Be persistent: To get the most from this you will need to practice regularly.
- Be patient: Although most people will feel immediately calmer and more grounded after practicing this Mindfulness meditation, it may take some time before you feel that you are becoming less attached to your thoughts throughout the day.
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