When anxiety starts to creep up on your, it can feel like it spirals downhill very quickly, and thinking clearly becomes an almost impossible task. Many people struggling with anxiety, feel totally alone and isolated, and live in constant worrying of an anxiety attack getting in the way of living their life to the fullest.
Whilst it can feel like an all-consuming and totally isolating experience, there are countless people around the world who understand exactly what it feels like to live with something as debilitating as anxiety. In fact, it’s estimated that 275 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety disorders.
Mindfulness has become an increasingly popular tool used to combat anxiety. It focuses on keeping the mind and body firmly fixed in the present, where you are and what is around you, for example. By keeping ourselves grounded, we can begin to distance ourselves from the negative thoughts and anxieties clouding our minds and preventing us from thinking logically about the situation we’re anxious about. One of the benefits of mindfulness is that it’s non-judgemental, meaning it doesn’t categorise certain thoughts and feelings as ‘bad’, which makes it easier to understand and accept them, and then move past them.
The best thing about mindfulness is that it’s NOT reserved solely for combatting anxiety disorders. In fact, 200-500 million people around the world are estimated to practice meditation, which means it’s a super effective tool used by millions of people to keep their mental state in the best condition possible. So, even if you don’t struggle with extreme anxiety, there’s nothing stopping you from having a go!
How does mindfulness work?
Before you dismiss it, no, you don’t need to contort your body into all sorts of different positions while saying “uhmmm” (unless that’s something that helps you relax then go for it!). Mindfulness is actually a lot more discreet, and can be practiced almost anywhere, at any time!
Mindfulness is typically about turning down the volume on everything rushing through your head, and zoning on the body. Focusing on what your body feels like, where you are, and what is going on around you, takes the emphasis away from all the anxious chatter in your mind. In doing so, the anxiety that was overwhelming a minute ago suddenly seems very small and insignificant in comparison to everything else going on around you.
However, one of the most positive aspects of mindfulness is that it doesn’t expect you to reject your negative emotions. Instead, it allows you to acknowledge what you’re feeling in the moment, accept it, and then move past it. When we’re faced with a situation that elicits anxiety or stress, our logical thinking and problem-solving abilities are hindered making it really hard to assess the situation for what it really is. By taking the time to feel our bodies and bring ourselves back around to reality, it frees up some space to reevaluate the situation and start to find a clear path to solve the problem.
How to practice mindfulness for anxiety
There are lots of different techniques involved in mindfulness, you can try them all or pick the ones that work best for you! The beauty of mindfulness for anxiety is that it’s non-invasive and can be practiced anywhere and at any time. Because anxiety has no care for where you are or what you’re doing, it can come on at any point so mindfulness is a great tool that you can use whether you’re sitting on the tube or in a café to stop it spiralling out of control.
Here are 4 mindfulness exercises to keep you grounded and help you to overcome your anxiety:
- Connect with your breathing
When we focus on our breathing, we are offering our minds and bodies a chance to slow down. Breathing is something we always do, and need to do to stay alive, so it’s a good constant to focus on. Follow the movement of each breath and try to keep a consistent rhythm. By following each breath in and out, you are automatically connecting yourself to the present moment, and from here you can start to branch out and feel other parts of your body. Hone in on any sensations that you might be feeling, don’t try to correct them but just acknowledge them and feel them for a moment. From here you can start to branch out to your surroundings such as the temperature of the room, the feeling on whatever surface you’re sitting or standing on, or the weight of your body for example.
- Mind–body connection
When fear or anxiety takes over, the sympathetic nervous system is activated which alerts the body that a threat is imminent and in doing so, the fight or flight response is triggered. Very quickly, the mind and body are flooded with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, preparing you to face or flee the supposed threat, and it’s enough to make us feel out of control…
With a little help from mindfulness, we can tune into our mind–body connection and interrupt it. Now we have noticed it bubbling, we can pause, tune into our breathing, and feel the sensations in our body. From here we can better understand the feelings and emotions we’re experiencing and become aware of why they are occurring. From here we can break the cycle of the sympathetic nervous system and start to assess the ‘threat’ for what it really is.
We can all jump to conclusions or fixate on the worst-case scenario. We do this as a way to try to control the situation, by pre-empting a disaster we are instinctively trying to predict the unknown and prepare ourselves should the worst case occur (here’s a hint: it very rarely does!). Even though it’s not always trustworthy, we tend to believe our thoughts and visions of everything going horribly wrong can send us into a frenzy of anxiety.
But instead of letting them overrun your mental narrative, mindfulness can help us assess them as thoughts as nothing more, taking away their power to conduct our reality. Imagine you are lying in a field and staring up at the clouds as they pass by, taking stock of their different shapes and textures. This is how we want to see our thoughts, watch them come and go whilst assessing and acknowledging them for what they are rather than automatically reacting to them. Try not to get wrapped up in the emotions that follow the thoughts, whether they are negative or positive. Just objectively acknowledge them as thoughts and nothing more. Your breathing exercises will work well with this to keep you grounded and prevent them from spiralling out of control.
- Note how you feel
Just because you might experience a negative emotion or be feeling anxious about a particular situation, it doesn’t mean we have to let it consume us. Instead of letting the anxiety take over, note that you’re feeling a little anxious or worried, and then let it go. In doing so, you are allowing yourself to coexist with your thoughts, without letting them run rampage though your mind. Noting is like a muscle we need to exercise, so the more you practice it the stronger you’ll become. This is a good trick to test throughout the day, even when anxiety or worry is not present. If you feel happy or excited, note those too! The more you identify your thoughts and feelings, without letting them take over, the more you’ll be able to separate yourself from them in stressful situations and retain your ability to think clearly.
How do I know if I need to practice mindfulness?
One of the best things about mindfulness is that anyone can practice it! You don’t need to be in a stressful situation or struggling with anxiety to get the most out of it. It’s so important to remain grounded in the present and stay in tune with your body. Using some of these mindfulness tools will help you to listen to what your mind and body are feeling.
If, however, you’re one of the 6-18% of the population battling an anxiety disorder, then you might experience feelings of nervousness, overwhelm, butterflies, or agitation. You might also experience more physical symptoms like muscle tension, sweating, dizziness, or a racing heart for example. When you start to notice these feelings creeping toward you, that is a good time to start practicing your mindfulness. Nipping your anxiety in the bud before it has a chance to escalate and take over is really important, and mindfulness is a fantastic exercise to do this. Even if you aren’t experiencing an anxiety attack at that moment, you can practice a few mindfulness tricks here and there to make sure you’re listening to what your body and mind are saying.
Have you downloaded the Morale app yet? If you haven’t then this is your sign… Send and receive daily affirmations from those in your network to make sure everyone is on the same page. You know what they say, ‘what goes around comes around’. So, by sending mindset-boosting affirmations to those in your contact list, you’re also promoting your own mental health at the same time. It sounds like a win-win to us!
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