Mindfulness has grown in popularity here in the West. The benefits of mindfulness for anxiety have been promoted by Mindfulness ‘gurus’ such as Jon Kabat Zinn.
What is mindfulness?
Despite an increase in mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm, there’s still some confusion about mindfulness.
Mindfulness is about bringing our awareness to the present moment.
Our mind is very good at worrying about the past and fretting over the future. When we go to these places in our mind, they usually make us feel things such as anxiety, sadness, guilt or anger.
Not that there’s anything wrong with feeling emotions. But, what benefit is it giving us to be in these places?
The past has already happened and nothing more can be done. The future is yet to happen, and the thing we’re worrying about may not happen.
Our minds are not very good at staying in the present. Mindfulness aims to help us remain in the here and now.
What mindfulness isn’t
Some people think mindfulness is a form of ‘relaxation’.
And, some people do find they become more relaxed when they practice mindfulness. However, this is not the aim.
Another thing people often assume is that mindfulness is “woo woo” or “mumbo jumbo”. In fact, practising mindfulness has been found to change the connections in our brains!
Mindfulness for anxiety
If we think about anxiety. Being mindful is not about ‘getting rid’ of feelings of anxiety.
It’s about remaining open to ‘allowing’ the anxiety to be here. Take a curious stance and observe how it feels in our bodies. Be aware of the thoughts and emotions we’re experiencing.
The more we try and push the anxiety away the more likely it is to come back, sometimes worse than before.
If we stop struggling with it, and allow it to be there in the here and now, we’re more likely to get comfortable with it
You see, like other emotions anxiety is brought about by the things we’re thinking. These thoughts then trigger emotions and bodily sensations.
And I’m not meaning to minimise anxiety. I experience anxiety quite a lot. But, fundamentally, anxiety is a feeling. It’s not a very nice feeling, but it cannot harm us.
If we can get more acquainted with how our own anxiety feels, we’re less likely to fear it. We’re then less likely to struggle with it and inadvertently make it worse.
There are different ways that can be mindful. Some people may prefer using different methods.
For example, I’ve tried the sitting meditation a number of times, but it just doesn’t gel with me. So, I’ve found other ways to be mindful.
Try a few of these out and see if they work for you.
You don’t necessarily have to go out of your house to do this. Some people might like to go to the park, and others may prefer to do it indoors in the privacy of their own home. Mindful walking is about focusing on the movement of your body as you walk.
Because of this, it’s usually good to slow the movement down.
Be aware of how your body moves and feels whilst you’re walking. How do your legs feel? What’s it like when your feet leave the floor and come back down?
This is the meditation people usually associate with mindfulness.
You’ll need to find a quiet place to practice the meditation. Make sure you’re not going to be disturbed. Close your eyes or have a soft gaze just in front of you.
You could sit in a chair, or sit cross-legged on the floor. Some people do it lying down, although the danger is you’ll fall asleep!
Again, the aim is to focus on the present moment. Be aware of the sounds you can hear around you.
If any thoughts and feelings appear, simply acknowledge them and bring your attention back to the here and now.
Try not to get hooked into the thoughts and feelings. That’s when you’ll be taken away from the present moment.
If you do find yourself drifting, don’t beat yourself up for losing focus. It’s perfectly normal! As soon as you’re aware, bring your attention back to the here and now.
People usually use a raisin or a small piece of chocolate to try mindful eating.
Before you even put the item in your mouth, pay attention to how it looks, how it feels in your hand. What’s the texture like? How does it smell?
Once you put it in your mouth, try to let it sit in your mouth as opposed to chewing straight away. Be aware of the saliva in your mouth.
What is the texture like? Is it dissolving or is it staying whole? What is the taste like? Is it sweet? Salty?
Once you start to chew, how does the texture change? Does the taste change?
Don’t worry, you don’t need to eat like this all the time!
It’s just that we’re often doing other things whilst we’re eating. We could be working, or perhaps just thinking about the next task on our list.
Whatever it is, we’re very rarely focused fully on the experience of eating.
The body scan meditation
I personally really like this meditation. You can do this sitting in a chair, but usually it’s good to do it lying down.
Starting at the top of your head, you bring your awareness to how it feels. You work your way down each part of your body.
Notice how each part feels. Are there are aches? Any stiffness? Whatever you notice, try to notice without any judgement.
For example, if you have stiffness in your elbow try not to think any particular thoughts about it. Simply say “I notice I have stiffness in my elbow”, stay with that for a few seconds, and then move down the body.
I’ve done gratitude practise through the use of a journal. This really helped me focus in on the important things around me. It got rid of a lot of the “white noise” of other things that were happening.
If you prefer, you can also use recordings to help guide you through the practice.
I hope these are some helpful suggestions for trying mindfulness for anxiety. Some of them can feel difficult to do on your own initially if you’re not familiar with mindfulness. So, check out the recommended links where you’ll find tracks to guide you through.