Mindfulness for Anxiety
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When we think about it, we all worry about something. It may be that you worry about big things such as your job, your relationships, or where your life is headed. Alternatively, you may worry about smaller things such as something you’ve said that you shouldn’t have or how long your to-do list is. These kinds of worries are normal. But when your worries start to take over and you worry at all times, they can turn into anxiety or even panic attacks.
Life as we know is fast and most of us, at one time or another, ponder over various aspects of our lives. We tend to compare, analyse, judge, plan and create goals and reflect upon and assess our emotions. We spend a great deal of time thinking about what has happened in the past and wondering what the future may bring. Our minds tell us stories, trying to understand our experiences and then filling in bits of information that’s missing, which we then ponder on, even though they may not even be real or true.
Anxiety confuses worries for facts
When we end up like this, lost in our worries, we are likely to confuse these worries for facts and don’t realise that they are simply our thoughts. This process then intensifies and a physical or emotional response can occur. It could be that you start to interpret your colleague not saying hello or a relative not calling you back as something more than just the fact that they may be busy. When you start to feel anxious after having such thoughts you can feel your breathing getting shallower and faster, your heart pounding and your stomach tightening. In your fingers and toes you may feel a numb or tingly sensation and you can start to feel lightheaded. Before you are aware, you’re in panic, which is your body’s response to your thoughts. This whole pattern can affect your sleep, how your body repairs itself and can leave you feeling tense and tired.
Mindfulness to help you focus
What’s good is that you can do something to help yourself as soon as you can feel yourself having these repetitive kinds of thoughts, feeling lost in your worries, or feeling nervous or getting tight sensations around the body. You need to move your attention from these thoughts and get yourself into the real world and focus on your actual breathing. By doing this, you are practising mindfulness, and you will find that you automatically change your responses emotionally, physically and psychologically.
Many of us can feel frustrated, angry and upset for having these thoughts and feelings of worry, panic or anxiety and end up trying to resist what we are feeling. This only exacerbates the anxiety. Instead of fighting what you are feeling and trying to avoid getting upset, you need to allow yourself to feel the way that you feel. If you can accept the way that you feel and allow yourself to feel like this, it’s more likely that it will pass and settle quickly.
Quick and easy mindfulness techniques
Here are some simple mindfulness techniques which can help you get away from these worrying thoughts, anxiety related symptoms, and even prevent panic attacks before they begin.
A good way of calming yourself is to anchor yourself. You do this by directing attention to the lower part of your body. Start by focusing on your feet and how they are feeling inside your shoes and socks and against the floor. Move your attention to your lower legs and then your upper legs. Think about how they are feeling – do they feel cool or warm? Numb or tingly? Light or heavy? Now consider your breathing and relax as you exhale. The great thing about anchoring is that you can do this by yourself and at any time. Your eyes can be open or closed and you can do it while walking around or even sitting down.
This particular mindfulness technique can be used alone or in combination with anchoring. Begin by anchoring and then when you next inhale, count to six as you breathe in. When you breathe out, count up to 10. This technique slows down your breathing as it lengthens the in and the out breath. Additionally, it lengthens the out breath more than the in and therefore you release more carbon dioxide. In turn, this reduces your heart rate, calms you down and restores the equilibrium with your emotional state. If you can do 6 and 10 then it’s important to make sure that the out breath is 2 counts longer than the in breath.
If you feel too panicky to count then begin by trying to say ‘in’ as you breathe in and ‘out’ as you breathe out and aim to lengthen the out breath. Aim to do this for at least one minute. This is a very good technique for panic attacks and especially useful if you suffer panic attacks at night.
This is another version of breath counting. With your palm facing you, hold a hand out in front of you. Using the index finger of your other hand, trace from the bottom to the top of your thumb, on the outside of your thumb. Pause when you get to the top of your thumb then trace down the other side as you breathe out. This should be one breath. Now do this for your next finger. This will complete two breaths. Continue to trace along each finger and as you do, remember to count each breath. Once you reach the final finger, go back up that finger and now do it all in reverse.
This mindfulness technique gives you something that’s kinaesthetic to do with your hands as well as something visual to keep the focus on. It’s a highly useful technique if there are lots going on and you can’t focus inwards and close your eyes. Additionally, this mindfulness technique is easy to teach children and teenagers.
These mindfulness techniques are not new and they’ve been used for years by counsellors and psychologists. The fact is that we can now all take something from mindfulness; these techniques are not just beneficial for clinical conditions, as they can be useful in everyday situations and experiences as well.
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