Mindfulness for dealing with anxiety
Mindfulness is easy to describe. It’s about being present, learning to be totally focussed on the task in hand, however small that is. However, being consistently mindful isn’t as easy as it sounds. For most people, it’s an awareness that can be learned over time.
Where to start?
Once people understand what mindfulness is, they often realise that they are already mindful in some areas of their life. It may be at work, if they have the kind of work that requires complete concentration. They probably enjoy their work; when you are totally absorbed in an activity, it becomes much more enjoyable.
There could be other areas in their life too where they are already mindful; a sport maybe, any physical exercise is good, firstly because the actual exercise promotes dopamine the feel-good hormone. But any activity can be mindful - it could be cooking, gardening, walking the dog, reading a book. Anything which takes our total attention will also make you feel good. Why? Because the activity takes you out of your head, where most of us spend most of our time.
Using thought to analyse and plan, set goals and evaluate, is all good, but when we start straying into the future, worrying about possibilities of events going wrong, ruminating over what has happened in the past, this is when the mind can go into overdrive racing away creating stories. Overthinking becomes a problem.
We all worry at times, but when the worrying gets out of hand and starts to take over your life, then it’s time to do something about it. It can stop you enjoying your life. If the anxiety is really bad, then there can be a physical reaction. Worrying can give you a headache, clenched jaw, tightness at the back of the neck, a racing heart, and a stomach tied in knots. The body responds to 'the emergency' by pumping extra adrenaline into the cells, creating a panic attack. It has no idea that 'the emergency' is not real.
Mindfulness can help you cope with your anxiety, recognising that you are 'overthinking', learning to shift your attention away from your thoughts.
How to do this?
Here are two very simple and quick mindfulness techniques that you can use to help get you to stop worrying, control your anxiety, and even halt a panic attack in its tracks.
In NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), a simple anchoring technique is taught. It’s a simple coping strategy, one that anyone can use in any situation that is making them feel uncomfortable.
Put very simply, I teach clients to imagine a situation where they feel very comfortable and in control, then get them to press the index finger to thumb and anchor this good calm feeling. Then, I ask them to visualise a situation that has made them feel anxious in the past. Next, to visualise themselves using the anchor in the anxiety making situation, and to see themselves facing the challenges and handling them perfectly. Giving a printout of how to do this as well as explaining it within the session is useful, as is reinforcing this new learning within the same session with hypnosis. Clients can record this hypnotic part to take away with them and practice as often as they like.
Visualisation and beliefs are important and can be changed. If we constantly believe that we won’t manage, that we will mess it up, that is the likely outcome. If we learn to use our imagination to help ourselves to learn that we can cope, that can become our new reality.
Again, this is a very simple technique that can be used on its own or in conjunction with the NLP calm anchor explained above.
Sit or stand, and press both feet into the ground. Think about your posture and become very upright with your shoulders back and down. As you inhale through the nose, count to four; as you exhale (also through the nose), slow the out-breath down and count to six. Repeat three or more times until you start to feel yourself relax. Relaxation and anxiety are mutually exclusive states - you cannot be relaxed and anxious at the same time.
If you feel very panicked and can’t manage the counting, say 'in' to yourself as you breath in, and 'out' as you breathe out fully, trying to lengthen the out-breath. Then, again, say 'in' on the in-breath, etc.
These mindful techniques are not new. The counted breathing is a yoga practice that is thousands of years old. Many psychologists and counsellors have been using these tools for years. These techniques are useful not only for clinical anxiety or panic, but they are just as effective for everyday experiences. Try them and see what happens.