How to Use Mindfulness to Calm Anxiety
Anxiety sufferers don't spend much time in the moment. When the mind is disturbed by high levels of stress and anxiety, it's very hard to focus on where you are, or what you're doing. The anxious mind is always clouded by shadows from past painful experiences or negative predictions about what might go wrong in the future. Anxiety robs us of contentment and of any sense of the present moment.
Absent mindedness and anxiety are good friends. Anxiety loves you to be diverted and disconnected, it wants you to be scattered, distracted and ungrounded. That's how it works best.
Mindfulness and relaxation are also friends. Mindfulness brings awareness of the present moment, it brings groundedness, it brings a sense of connection and contentment. This state of restful focus is stabilising and relaxing; and when the mind feels absorbed and relaxed it doesn't get so anxious.
Anxiety and relaxation are completely opposite states, you won't experience one if you are feeling the other; and that's why mindfulness is the perfect antidote to stress and anxiety
. By turning off busy thoughts and engaging in present moment awareness, you can begin to tame and calm an anxious mind and learn to enjoy feeling relaxed.
Easy Ways to Bring Mindfulness into Your Day
There are some really simple ways to start experiencing mindfulness. Perhaps the easiest, is to start giving your full attention to the simple tasks you perform throughout the day. For example, you can practice mindfulness while gardening by giving your full attention to what you're doing when planting seeds, digging the soil, weeding, or watering. You can bring your mind right into the present moment by noticing how your hands are performing the tasks, noticing what you're seeing with fresh and curious eyes, noticing temperatures, textures, and colours. Gardening with awareness is incredibly therapeutic and relaxing to the mind.
You can practice mindfulness while walking by paying full attention to your feet connecting with the earth, watching yourself move across the ground step by step as you rest your gaze on the path a few feet ahead.
You can practice mindfulness while cooking. For me, cooking can be a very meditative experience. I like to immerse myself fully in washing rice, cutting vegetables, grating ginger, grinding spices, and sizzling cumin seeds and chilli flakes in hot oil to season dahl.
Mindfulness in Daily Tasks
You can practice mindfulness when swimming, by paying attention to the resistance of your hands against the water, by feeling the temperature, by hearing the splash of your strokes. Notice anything that appeals to you. Be playful, be curious, and let swimming become a truly relaxing and meditative experience too.
You can practice mindfulness when washing the dishes. You can practice mindfulness when reading, just give your full attention word-by-word to an inspiring book or article and be fully and completely present, let the writer speak to you and let everything else wait for a few minutes.
The Art of Being Active and Peaceful
Instead of thinking about what you should be doing next, what you should have done before you started, or what you should do next week. You can use present moment awareness to stop it all and give your head a break. You can't pay the phone bill while you're peeling a potato. So just peel, breathe and peel, breath by breath, inch by inch. Drop your shoulders, relax your jaw and complete your task peacefully. You will do it just as fast, but you will do it without stress.
By noticing step, by step, every stage of what you're doing; breaking everything down into tiny tasks, you can stop mental overload and anxiety as you involve your mind fully in the day-to-day pleasure of simple activities. Try it, and you will soon feel for yourself what a relief it is to do one peaceful thing at a time.
What to do with Negative Thoughts
If a thought intervenes, or worry comes to mind, during your mindfulness practice, just try to notice it and let it go. You can't stop your thoughts, but you can stop getting emotionally entangled in them.
When you listen to your thoughts and engage with them, you start to have feelings about them because your emotions get involved, and that's how anxiety and stress can strike in an instant. When you give your attention to a negative thought your stomach starts churning, your heart starts pounding, and you become disturbed immediately.
The way to deal peacefully with negative thoughts is to notice them, but not get emotionally involved with them. You can practice watching your thoughts in a detached way. Like you might watch people you don't know in a public place. You watch them come and go without any emotional investment on your part. You can do the same with your thoughts. Play with imagining a thought to be like a leaf floating down a stream, see it, and watch it float by, don't get involved, just notice. No energy, no emotion, just watching.
Taming the Monkey Mind
It's the nature of your mind to hustle from one thought to another. The mind loves to chatter, constantly chewing things over like a puppy with a squeaky toy - especially if you're trying to relax or sleep!
But you are not your mind. You know this because you refer to it as "my mind". That means you are the possessor of a mind. And if you own something, you should be able to exert some control over it. If you have a disobedient puppy, you can take it to class and teach it to stop wreaking havoc in your home.
The great news for anxiety sufferers is that you can take your mind to class too.
You can learn to be more in control of your thoughts, you can learn to be more peaceful, more grounded, more balanced. You can learn to be more in control of what happens in your own head and stop anxious thoughts in their tracks and mindfulness is a very effective way to start.
image credit: AlicePopkorn