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Overcoming anxiety with mindfulness

The low-down about anxiety and how mindfulness can help…
Anxiety is an inevitable part of every-day life for most of us.

“I have experienced many terrible things in my life – some of which actually happened.”

Mark Twain

 

 Does this ring true for you? If so - you are not alone!

It is hard wired into us whenever we feel a threat. As an experience, anxiety consists of:

  • strong emotions - fear, dread, and even panic
  • unpleasant body sensations – butterflies in the stomach, a pounding heart, sweaty palms
  • scary images and thoughts – worrying and relentless imagining of the worst thing that could happen
  • urgent impulses – the urge to get away and avoid the things that make us anxious

Some of us have more anxiety than others because of our genes – we are just made that way. And some people are anxious because of our experience of the past – as kids or even as adults. If we have had bad experiences at previous workplace, we may feel anxiety coming up when we move into a new job.

If anxiety is so unpleasant, and seemingly unhelpful, why is it is hard-wired into each and every one of us?

Because under threat, we need a quick response to make sure that we either fight, flight or freeze to make sure we have the best chance of survival. The problem for most of us, is that the threat is not a tiger – that we could actually run away from, but a frown from the boss, a thought that we aren’t the right shape, or that our kid won’t get a good enough ATAR or that we will never be able to afford a house.

These thoughts can arise at any time, and the more we practice them, the better we get at them. The point is not that any of these thoughts are true or not, but that they are unhelpful if practiced in a repetitive way as they undermine our confidence and our ability to effectively manage our problems. Anxiety is part and parcel of human life – because things are uncertain, damn it!

Although we can do many things in our life to make ourselves feel secure, there is always going to be uncertainty about how things turn out. And sadly our very thoughts and sensations can become triggers so that we are constantly fending off threats – that are being generated in our own bodies and minds.

Snoopy cartoon about worrying about the future

It’s not your fault!

If you feel anxiety regularly and it is impacting your life, it is not your fault! Listen to this to find out how the very structure of the human brain works to perpetuate anxious states.

So what is it about mindfulness training that help us step out of a pattern of anxiety and begin to forge new ways of coping and responding to threats.

Mindfulness first aid for anxiety

1. Opening up to the senses in the moment

Being in the moment is all very well, but when we are anxious most of us really want to be in another moment all together – a moment when we are not anxious. Also, our attention can get high-jacked by the intense body sensations and thoughts that are racing by. So it is good to open up to all the quite neutral things going on in the environment - to settle in the moment.

Seeing

  • Take a moment to really look around and orient to your immediate surroundings. This brings us into the present moment and helps the brain and nervous system feel a bit safer. It may provide the info that “I am safe right now.”
  • Notice three shades of blue.
  • Notice three bits of nature.
  • Notice three things made out of plastic.
  • Taking a moment to be in touch with the activity of seeing, even getting a bit curious about the light, the shapes, the colours that are in front of you.

Hearing.

  • Taking a moment to really open your ears. Slowing down to really take in the sounds that are arising and falling away each moment.
  • Check out sounds that are rhythmical in the environment.
  • Any that are random?
  • Notice three sounds from far away.
  • Three sounds from nearby.
  • What sounds really attract you? Which ones are unpleasant?
  • Listen to see if there are any bird sounds here, now.

2.Exploring the sensations in the body

This can feel counter-intuitive as often when we are feeling anxiety, we already feel overwhelmed by the horrible sensations and we want to avoid them. But follow this two-step process and see what happens.

ONE - Firstly, bring attention to the lower part of the body – the feet, legs and pelvis. You will probably notice that you discover some sensations here feels relatively calm, supported and open. Really drop into sensing any sensations that feel relatively neutral or even a little bit pleasant here. Deliberately choose to get curious and place your attention in any place of relative ease, calm and rest. Notice if this effects how you are feeling emotionally.

TWO -  Then bring attention to the part where you are feeling those uncomfortable sensations. You will probably feel these in the belly, chest, throat and face. As best you can, bring some curiosity to them exactly - in the chest is it heavy or light, are the sensations moving (pulsing, tingling, throbbing) or still, are they dense or vague, and are they hot or cool? Tyr to observe with the ind of a scientist…with precision, openness and curiosity.

3.Checking out the thoughts

Now check out the thoughts. No need to go into battle with them. When you notice thinking, notice what you are thinking. Thoughts can feel compelling but step back and check them out. You might even use this phrase to get some distance from them: “I am having the believed thought that ………….”

And then deliberately come back to feeling the lower half of your body.

Mindfulness training for anxiety

The best way to make a real ongoing change in your pattern of anxiety is to do some proper training. This involves doing mindfulness practice each day over a couple of months. There is a lot of hype about mindfulness these days, and how it can help anxiety but it is good to do a course that actually has some evidence behind it.

In the course you will work in a systematic way to help you to:

develop a mindfulness practice which will calm your nervous system so that you can sleep better and calm yourself in stressful moments
desensitise to your anxious thoughts, and the accompanying emotions and body sensations.
get familiar with the behavior that generates anxiety for you
take risks and get more comfortable in your own skin 

Find out more about Openground's Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course
 


Find Mindfulness Training near you.