“I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love and abundance. Then, whenever doubt, anxiety or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal – and soon they’ll forget my number.” – Edith Armstrong
Sometimes anxiety enters our experience in the positive and motivating form of eustress, whereas other times anxiety serves to inhibit our overall functioning and hold us back… distress. It is inevitable that we will all experience anxiety in some form at various points in life, but the potential for suffering as a result of that anxiety is entirely optional. Mindfulness is an incredibly useful tool that can significantly alleviate distressing anxiety and bring our full awareness more fully into the present moment.
Think of mindfulness as “an awareness that is sensitive, open, kind, gentle and curious. Mindfulness is a basic human capacity. It arises from paying attention on purpose in a way that is nonjudging, friendly and does not try to add or subtract anything from whatever is happening” (Brantley & Millstine, 2008).
If you notice that you have a particular sensitivity to experiencing the distressing form of anxiety in your life, consider exploring the benefits of a daily mindfulness practice in your regular routine. This can be as simple as practicing a brief mindfulness exercise at a convenient time each day – perhaps when you are first waking up in the morning or before you go to sleep at night. The idea is not for mindfulness exercises to become a chore or a task, but to be considered a regular practice that is part of a healthy lifestyle.
Attitude & Practicing Mindfulness
In Brantley and Millstine’s book, “Daily Meditations for Calming Your Anxious Mind,” they describe the following basic attitudes that form the foundation of an effective mindfulness practice:
- Non-judging / non-striving
- Beginner’s mind
- Letting go
Mindfulness Exercises: Soothe an Anxious Mind
Consider implementing the following three mindfulness exercises to soothe your anxious mind as part of your daily mindfulness practice or in the moment when you observe the internal experience of anxiety:
(1) Just the Wind Blowing
Assume a comfortable, yet alert, seated position. Try to sit in such a way that you feel relaxed and at ease, yet simultaneously alert to your sensations and the present moment. For many people, this meditative posture involves sitting with the back straight, hands resting in the lap, and feet resting on the floor. Take a few deep breaths in and out and visualize the serenity and calming aspects of nature surrounding you.
Brantley and Millstine suggest: “Let all of your conscious experience — sounds, sensations, thoughts, emotions, everything — become the wind. Feel all of it moving and changing, arriving, moving around and over you, and then going. Notice how the wind takes on different qualities — soft, strong, harsh, gusty, gentle. Relax as the wind blows around you. Let it come and go in all its forms. You remain here, in calmness, abiding.”
(2) The Tao of Anxiety
Most of us have a natural aversion to any internal experience that resembles “anxiety,” even when anxiety is actually serving a useful or motivating function – eustress. Consider the information embedded within your subjective experience of anxiety… what is the experience trying to tell you? The next time you notice yourself experiencing your familiar cues of anxiety, make the choice to mindfully pause, breathe, and rest in the present moment. Ask yourself the following questions:
- “What can my anxiety teach me?”
- “What are my mind and body trying to tell me?”
- “What does wise mind tell me needs to occur in order for this suffering to diminish?”
(3) The Sea of Tranquility
As many people know from personal experience, change in life is inevitable. Since this is an undeniable fact, recognize that it is in your best interest to get comfortable with the nature of change, rather than choose to fight against it. When you resist change, you rarely prevent its natural occurrence… you simply succeed in increasing your personal suffering.
Mindfulness Meditation Exercise
Brantley and Millstine suggest the following meditation to guide oneself through the process of change. In order to use this mindfulness meditation as part of your regular routine, try recording the words so that you can sit comfortably with your eyes closed (as opposed to reading) as you allow yourself to be guided through the meditation.
(1) Close your eyes and visualize yourself at the beach, sitting on the warm sands, with a refreshing sea breeze sprinkling your whole body. You are safe and secure. You are watching the waves drift in and out, over and over again. Each wave is like your breath, rising up inside from deep within and then releasing and returning out to sea.
(2) What do you notice about the surface of the ocean? It’s much like your life — some parts are rough, choppy, with impending waves of uncertainty pounding away. Breathe in these moments that are challenging and upsetting. Remember that you have the stability and strength to weather the storm. Breathe out your fears and doubts about the outcome. What will be will be. Only the waves can carry all your secrets and anxieties out to sea.
(3) What’s happening below the surface of the ocean? It is a calm, serene, quiet and contemplative underwater experience. Schools of fish are swimming to and fro. Sea plants are sashaying to a mysterious, musical current. Starfish cling to rocks in colorful display. Luminescent shards of sunlight splice through the water, transmitting warmth and radiance downward.
(4) Depending on what life tosses your way, you may be bodysurfing the big one or floating along a sea of serenity. Be mindful of the journey, the highs and lows, the good times and the bad, the joy and the pain. Move gently with each wave.
How might your personal experience with anxiety be different as a result of actively practicing mindfulness and cultivating an attitude of acceptance, openness, and curiosity in the face of the internal “storm?” Let go of the fantasy that you will never experience anxiety again. Anxiety is only harmful or destructive when it takes the form of distress that is not effectively tolerated and managed. Anxiety often provides incredibly useful information that can motivate you to act in your best interest when it comes in the form of eustress. Allow yourself to actively change your relationship with your anxiety… welcome it, accept it, and then watch it gently leave.
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Brantley, J., & Millstine, W. (2008). Daily meditations for calming your anxious mind. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Tartakovsky, M. (2012). 3 Practices to Calm An Anxious Mind. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2012, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/02/22/3-practices-to-calm-an-anxious-mind/
Featured image: just breathe by chintermeyer / CC BY-SA 2.0