image by cesarastudillo
When anxiety is overwhelming your mind one of the first things you probably want to do is escape. But you know you can't escape from yourself and you can't run away from the contents of your own head, no matter how strong the desire to do so.
Since we can't escape from our minds, the next best thing we can do is use distraction or diversion.
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Distracting Your Mind from Anxious Thoughts
There are two ways of doing this. One is a temporary diversion, and the other is a deeper form of diversion that can help you calm the underlying nature of your anxiety. The temporary escape is when you grab your phone and start texting people randomly, or you loose yourself in Facebook, or TV, or start playing Angry Birds - just to do something with your fingers, your eyes and your mind other than having to be tuned in to how you are feeling. Sometimes we want so much to escape from anxiety that we'll distract our selves with as many things as we can. You might sit in front of the TV while texting, and scrolling through your friends Facebook feed all at the same time. Flicking from one to the other just trying to keep your mind away from anxious thoughts and the horrible physical sensations that go with them.
While this screen focused diversion may serve as a temporary escape, it won't help you feel better in the long term because the nature of this type of diversion is jarring to the nervous system and can feed back into your anxiety.
As we have previously discussed, one of the causes of anxiety is an over stimulated, and over-sensitive, nervous system when you have loads of bits of disjointed information coming into your head, it will provoke your nervous system further.
When you're jumping from one form of diversion to another using things like TV, movies, Facebook, twitter etc you are taking your mind away from what's bothering it, but you are also stressing your nervous system.
The other form of diversion involves occupying your mind with one thing that you can give your complete attention.
Lessons in Mindfulness from Baking Bread
I recently read a lovely example of fully engaging with one activity in a post on Tiny Buddha (link) this is something we've spoken about before but this was written about in such a way that really painted a picture of full absorption in a simple task:
"Flour. Salt. Water. Yeast. As I push the warm, soft dough against my palm, I feel the cold stone countertop underneath. I feel my hips leaning up against the cabinets. I hear my breath inside my head.
As I knead the dough, it changes. The dough becomes more elastic and flexible, ready to rise and be baked into a crusty loaf.
As I make bread, I change. My thoughts go quiet. I come into the now.
I have struggled with an inconsistent meditation practice for months. In those moments when I successfully meditate and clear my mind, I feel such a sense of accomplishment and peace.
But as any beginning meditator knows, those moments are few and far between.
Usually, my scattered mind is split between keeping track of the time, trying to quiet the voice in my head, and chastizing my body for fidgeting.
I struggled and pushed myself to meditate properly with little success, until I realized that any act can be a meditation."
Tiny Buddha: How to Meditate without Meditating
Using a Mindful Activity to Calm Your Mind
What one thing can you immerse yourself in completely? Something you find gentle and relaxing. Something old and simple that doesn't involve technology. Do you also enjoy baking bread? Or do you like knitting, sewing, walking, painting, creative writing, playing the piano, or something else.
Try and find one thing that you can practice as an exercise in single minded focus. Something where you can bring your full sensory awareness to the activity. Making bread is a great example because it's a very hands-on process. It's very earthy. Craft activities are good because they involve your hands and your eyes. Working with clay, or wood, or paint can all be totally immersive experiences.
The goal is to bring as many of your senses as you can into the moment. Tune in to what you can feel: temperature, texture etc. What you can see, and what you can hear.
We you practice these simple examples of mindful action you are "meditating without meditating" you are bringing your mind to the present and steadying it.
You will experience diversion from anxious thoughts, but in a grounding and calming way rather than a stimulating way that exhausts you by causing your attention to flicker around all over the place.
If you have a favourite activity that helps you relax please let us know on our Facebook page, we'd love to hear from you.