Practicing Mindfulness for Anxiety, Fear and Worry
You cannot practice mindfulness and also experience fear or anxiety at the same time...
Mindfulness is becoming an increasingly popular practice for improving mental and emotional well-being. So, what exactly is mindfulness?
In essence, mindfulness is the combined practice of deliberately focusing your attention onto something, and developing your awareness of what is happening in your personal experience.
Let's explore how this process can benefit your mental and emotional well-being, and reduce your levels of fear and anxiety.
How is fear showing up in your life?
Think for a moment about how anxiety shows up for you, and the impact which it has on your life.
Fear and anxiety can range from being barely noticeable - operating on a constant, but low level. This type of fear is often subconscious - it is functioning under your radar of awareness. It shows up as feelings of discontent or a general dissatisfaction with life. Or low level feelings of anger or frustration which surface intermittently. Or the subtle avoidance of certain triggers; like hiding deep feelings of inadequacy or lack, by staying in the shadows of life so that our feelings are not exposed.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, anxiety can be an ever-present and very real companion in your life. Severe anxiety can make you ill, interfere with your ability to work, or create strain within your relationships. It can stop you from sleeping, make you feel depressed, and take away your joy.
So, overcoming anxiety is important. Mindfulness is a great way to do this, and to start to regain some control over your life.
How to use mindfulness to reduce anxiety
So, how does using mindfulness for anxiety work? Well, first let's think about anxiety. When we experience fear or anxiety, it can feel so overwhelming that often we don't notice what is actually happening. We simply want this unpleasant emotion to stop. So, we develop ways of coping which are self-protective. Distraction is a common one - busyness, watching television, listening to music.
But, if we stop and notice what is actually happening when we feel anxiety, we can see that there are three main components which occur: physical sensations in the body, thoughts or beliefs, and our reaction to the emotion.
These events are usually so automatic that we have little, or no awareness, of them actually happening. This is where mindfulness can help...
The benefits of mindfulness
One you become aware of the nature of the mind, you quickly come to realise that the only thing you have absolute control over is where you place your attention and focus.
The cycle of anxiety is kept active in 3 ways:
- Focusing attention on the thoughts and beliefs which fuel the fear, and replaying them over and over again.
- Preventing the stress response from being fully processed in the body - by repressing the emotional charge which accompanies it
- Responding in ways which exacerbate fear and anxiety - like avoidance or distraction.
Mindfulness is a practice which places your complete attention on the present moment. Here's how to use mindfulness for anxiety:
- Increasing awareness of what is happening to trigger the anxiety
- Developing insight into how your beliefs and perception might be contributing to fear-based thoughts
- Prevents dwelling on past events or projecting your thoughts or expectations into the future
- Allows the emotion to be fully processed
- Provides insight into coping patterns, so that you can change them
Integrating mindfulness into your life
Mindfulness is essentially a practice of becoming more aware of how you go through life, as well as an effective way of understanding the nature of who you are. Developing the ability to place your attention on the things you want to experience, and taking it away from the things which trigger or fuel your anxiety.
If you want to really change your life, it is essential to make mindfulness something which you do regularly. It has to become a way of life, and a natural part of who you are. Mindfulness is less effective as a one-time event, or something which you do for a short period of time each day.
So, as you go through your day. simply become more conscious of how anxiety is appearing for you. Notice how you feel, how you think, and how you react to situations, people and events in your life. What are your triggers? Why are they making you anxious? What thoughts and beliefs are attached to these feelings? Are they inherently true? Or based on your past experience?
By developing the skills to remain fully present to each moment, you can let go of the past, and learn to live life fully now. This is the key to long term inner peace.