Anxiety is pervasive in our world today. From the poor economic climate, to traffic, to tragedy in the news, our culture contributes as well. Our modern society is busting at the seams with stimuli that trigger symptoms of anxiety in our bodies and minds.
Have you noticed that you can go about your day with a sense of anxiety that flares up on an incremental basis? Even as our minds get busy, the physical sensations of anxiety such as muscle tension, tightness in the chest or stomach, fluttering heartbeat are still present. Every few moments our minds do a “check in” to be sure that all systems are functioning properly. When the mind locates the symptoms of anxiety it sends off a “code red” and all of the symptoms feel exacerbated.
The practice of mindfulness can help with this. Mindfulness is defined as a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you exist solely in the moment, noticing what is going on right then to the fullest. The practice of acceptance goes along with mindfulness. In acceptance you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Acceptance is the act of acknowledging the existence of the feeling or sensation without “defining” yourself by it. Instead of saying “I am anxious,” notice the physical sensation and acknowledge that it is there. If you have an unpleasant fluttery knot in your stomach, say “there is anxiety” and gently move your awareness back to what you are doing in the moment.
When we resist emotions or physical sensations they rear their ugly heads and demand to be noticed. The sheer energy of them increases due to our increase in attempt to squash them down. Our bodies were made to allow all energy, negative and positive to move through them and to be expressed in some way, whether spoken through communication, burned off through exercise or relaxed away. Acceptance allows our bodies to naturally self correct and allow that energy to pass through us without resistance.
Mindfulness causes you to be fully present. You really focus on your work, you really engage in conversation, you really indulge in the sensations of the cool breeze, warm sun, etc. that are going on around you. Mindfulness is proven to increase our quality of life by improving our physical health (reducing blood pressure and increasing quality of sleep to name a few benefits) and our mental health (decreased rumination, increased ability to handle daily stress) and out relationships (One study showed that people who practice mindfulness deal with relationship stress more constructively. Another study found that those who employ mindfulness have a lower stress response during conflict, while the state of mindfulness was associated with better communication during conflicts.)
Mindfulness is most frequently associated with a practice of meditation. Even five minutes of meditation daily has been proven to show benefit. You can practice mindfulness in many other ways too. Some of my clients report washing the dishes as being meditative for them, or gardening, or listening to music. Any activity where you can be fully in the moment contributes to your ability to quiet that voice in the mind that causes anxiety.
By being mindful you are not denying your feelings, nor ignoring them. You are integrating them into your “whole self” and allowing your mind to get out of the way so that your body can naturally heal itself.