How to Calm Anxiety with Mindfulness
Consider using mindfulness practices to help calm anxiety. Anxiety is a natural human emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. You feel anxious when you think that you’re being threatened. Fear is part of your survival mechanism – without feeling any fear at all, you’re likely to take big risks with no concern about dangerous consequences.
Anxiety and panic can be due to a combination of factors, including your genes, the past life experiences you’ve had, the current situation you’re in, and if you’re under the influence of drugs, including caffeine.
Eliminating fearful thoughts isn’t easy. The thoughts are sticky and the more you try and push them out, the stronger the worries and anxieties seem to cling on. In this way, you can easily get into a negative cycle in which the harder you try to block out the negatives, the stronger they come back.
Mindfulness encourages you to face up and experience all your experiences, including the unpleasant ones. In this way, rather than avoid anxious thoughts and feelings, which just makes them stronger and causes them to control your life, you begin to slowly but surely open up to them, in a kind and gentle way, preventing them building up out of proportion.
Use mindfulness to cope with anxiety
If you worry a lot, the reason for this is probably to block yourself from more emotionally distressing topics. Although the worry is unpleasant and creates anxiety, the thoughts keep you from feeling deeper emotions. However, until you open up to those deeper emotions, the worry continues. Worry is an example of experiential avoidance.
Mindfulness trains you to become more open and accepting of your more challenging emotions, with acknowledgement, curiosity and kindness. Mindfulness also allows you to see how you’re not your emotions, and that your feelings are transient, and so it helps you to reduce anxiety. Mindfulness encourages you to let go of worries by focusing your attention on the present moment.
Here’s a mindful exercise for anxiety.
Get comfortable and sit with a sense of dignity and poise on a chair or sofa.
Reflect on the thoughts flowing through your mind, emotions arising in your being, and physical sensations in your body. As best you can, open up to the experiences in the here and now for a few minutes.
Place your hand on your belly and feel your belly rising and falling with your breath.
Sustain your attention in this area. If anxious thoughts grasp your attention, acknowledge them but come back to the present moment and, without self-criticism if possible, focus back on the in- and out- breath. Continue for a few minutes.
When you’re ready, expand your awareness to get a sense of your whole body breathing, with wide and spacious attention, as opposed to the focused attention on the breath alone.
If you like, imagine the contours of your body breathing in and out, which the body does, through the skin. Continue for as long as you want.
Note your transition from this mindfulness exercise back to your everyday life.
Continue to suffuse your everyday activities with this gentle, welcoming awareness, just to see what effect mindful attention has, if any. If you find the practice supportive, come back to this meditation to find some solace whenever you experience intrusive thoughts or worries.
Mindfulness isn’t about trying to get rid of your anxiety, or any other difficult experience. Mindfulness offers the possibility of developing a healthy stance towards your unpleasant experience. This changes your relationship with the anxiety and therefore gives freedom for that emotion to move on, when you’re ready.
Use mindfulness to be with anxious feelings
If you want to change anxiety, you need to begin with the right relationship with the anxiety, so you can be with the emotion. Within this safe relationship, you can allow the anxiety to be there, neither suppressing nor reacting to it. By maintaining a mindful awareness, the anxiety may settle. Even if it doesn’t go away, by sitting calmly next to it, your experience isn’t such a struggle.
You don’t need to face anxiety head-on straight away – here are the steps you can take over a period of days, weeks or months.
Observe how you normally react when anxiety arises, or if you’re always anxious, notice your current attitude towards the emotion.
Consider the possibility of a more mindful attitude to take towards the anxiety.
Feel the anxiety for about a minute with as much kindness and warmth as you can, breathing into it.
Notice the color, shape and texture of the feeling.
What part of your body does it manifest in? Does the intensity of the sensation increase or decrease with your mindful awareness? Explore the area somewhere between retreating away from and diving into the anxiety and allow yourself to be fascinated by what happens on this edge with your kindly, compassionate awareness.
Watch the feeling as you may look at a beautiful tree or flower, with a sense of warmth and curiosity.
Breathe into the various sensations and see the sensations as your teacher. Welcome the emotion as you may welcome a guest with open arms.
This isn’t a competition to go from Steps 1 to 5 but is a process, a journey you take at your own pace. Step 1 is just as important, significant and deep as Step 5. Remember that these steps are a guide – move into the anxiety, or whatever the emotion is, as you see fit. Trust in your own innate wisdom to guide your inner journey.