Mindfulness and Anxiety
Anxiety is part of the human experience. It is something which we all experience to varying degrees and it is certainly a natural response which has served us well for thousands of years. Healthy anxiety calls us into action, it keeps us safe in dangerous situations, it even brings about positive change in our actions. It is when the anxiety becomes intense, overpowering and debilitating that we need to recognise there is another way. And one such alternative is mindfulness.
What mindfulness is
Mindfulness is about paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment experience. The deliberate act of focussing on the here and now with openness, curiosity and a willingness to be there for a length of time. Does that mean we have to stop what we are doing? Not exactly. It means that we have to channel our actions and our thoughts into what is taking place. Does that mean we have to stop thinking about all the things that are flying around inside our head? Ideally, yes.
Anxiety is born from stress and worry which continues to plague our mind. It feels uncontrollable and leads us to juggle too many things at any one time. These can quickly mount up, and turn into something much darker and more challenging, like going down the rabbit hole of negativity. It is at this point where mindfulness can really support individuals. It offers to break the cycle through conscious control of our thoughts and actions, the recognition of these (often, but not always) negative feelings and the purposeful management of our response to them. In truth, it can begin to feel quite empowering, when practiced regularly and for an extended time.
What mindfulness is not
There are a few common misconceptions about what mindfulness is, which often put people off. Here are some of the things which mindfulness is not, or does not have to be:
Isolating yourself from others to be able to practice
Being in a completely still place
Sitting crossed legged on the floor
Holding your body or hands in specific positions
So, keep in mind that mindfulness can be different for everyone - some may enjoy engaging in practise which is like above. That’s okay, but it isn’t the only way. The beauty of mindfulness is that it is personal and totally yours.
Ways to be mindful
There are a number of ways to practice mindfulness, each of which bring their own experience and sense of fulfilment and calm.
Creating a journal
Writing about your thoughts and feelings can be an excellent way to recognise and reflect on your wellbeing. Keeping a journal and recording a little each day will bring about a greater awareness of what you are experiencing and will be an avenue for you to express yourself.
Going for a walk
Stepping outside and into the natural environment, where possible, allows us to find a new space where we can be at peace with our thoughts and feelings. This space is also one which we have little control over, so recognising the changes which take place across time is an approach to mindfulness which disengages us from our anxious mind.
Observing your breathing
Taking a few minutes each day, somewhere comfortable, to focus on the simple act of breathing is one of the most fundamental ways to practise mindfulness. By purposefully taking deep breaths, balancing your inhale and exhale, and casting aside your myriad of thoughts and feelings, you are left in the present moment, calmer and focussed.
Probably the most widely discussed and recognised approach to mindfulness, meditation is about slowing down your thoughts, letting go of negativity and becoming more aware of your body and mind. This is often done through guided meditations, which can support anyone starting out.
Focussing on one task
We can easily become stretched thinly across the tasks of day to day life. This increases our stress levels and leads us to jump from one action to the other, without ever really recognising the effort or accomplishment. So, by simply focussing on one thing at a time, we are raising our awareness to what is taking place at that time and will decrease our anxiety over the process.
These are just some ideas on how to practice mindfulness, and with a whole host of other possibilities, there is sure to be a way that works for us all. Ultimately, they are small actions, taken regularly, to establish what in time will become something of a self-care routine
Mindfulness can help
As a way to focus on the here and now, mindfulness can relieve our anxious thoughts and feelings. But it can have further benefits to our wellbeing that make it well worth considering. Some of the physical benefits include reduced blood pressure and improved sleeping patterns. Meanwhile, there are many studies which attribute decreased stress and anxiety levels to regular mindful practice. In the end, mindfulness has more to offer than just easing our anxiety, but it’s impact in this area makes it well worth considering.