Anxiety and related disorders are the most common among mental illnesses worldwide. About 275 million people suffer from anxiety and stress across the world. This forms almost 4% of the world’s population.
The impact of anxiety doesn’t end with the mind alone. Its ripple effect is evident in the body as well. Mental and physical impacts of anxiety are so intense and have become so severe that healthcare systems are feeling overwhelmed. Covid-19 has only worsened the situation.
Anxiety prevents your mind to relax and focus and pragmatically look at things. All these lead to errors in judgment, wrong choices, and the inability to realize one’s potential. The failures can make you panic and feel more anxious and make matters worse.
This vicious circle formed by anxiety and depression and its aftereffects can derail our lives completely.
Who is the most vulnerable group for anxiety? Do you need to do anything about feeling worried in everyday life? Is that the beginning of anxiety? When should you seek help? Is there anything you can do to avert anxiety attacks? Are self-help strategies useful for tackling anxiety?
It is natural to feel anxious about anxiety. Your brain will be teeming with such questions and more.
Scientific studies have proven that meditation techniques and practicing mindfulness can help in averting anxiety attacks and help you recover from anxiety disorders. This has been made part of many major mental health programs.
This article attempts to understand how to use the practice of mindfulness to contain anxiety disorders. You will find here some mindfulness techniques that can help you get over anxiety and related mental disorders.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a state of mind when you are fully aware of where you are, what you are doing, and what is happening around you. You are fully conscious of your thoughts and feelings. This means you are fully present in the present.
When you are mindful, you are calm, fully focused, and think clearly. Then you won’t feel overwhelmed by what is happening to you or around you. You won’t react to situations or people but respond to them appropriately.
Mindfulness is not something you can create in your mind; it already exists in all of us. We just need to be aware of its existence and learn how to use it to our advantage.
How does being mindful help tackle anxiety?
Mindfulness can also be described as “living in the moment” or “living in the present”. You ask “how can anyone not live in the present?”. It is always happening with most of us. The mind is likened to a wild horse, a mad monkey, or a broken kite. This means we have no control over its functioning and it does whatever it wants to.
Often, we are thinking about the past or the future but rarely does our mind stay in the present. Once our minds have enjoyed the freedom to wander, it is hard to bring it under control.
An out-of-control mind always tends to lean towards the negative outcome or approach. This is sort of a default setting for the brain. Without conscious effort, this will remain as such.
When you are anxious and can see only the negative choices available, it can make matters worse.
On the other hand, when you live in the present and become aware of choices and resources available to you, your actions and decisions will be more logical and consistent.
Again, when you are not present in the moment, you tend to react, leading to more distress and anxiety. See our guide on activities that help with anxiety.
Here are some more benefits of mindfulness for anxiety.
- Mindfulness allows you to experience difficult feelings without judgment or analysis. You can acknowledge and feel anger, worries, frustration, and traumatic thoughts without encouraging or suppressing them. This can help in their alleviation.
- As mindfulness allows you to explore your feelings without getting involved in them emotionally, it offers you the opportunity to get to know their underlying cause. By gaining insight into the root cause of your anxiety, it would be easier for you to deal with it.
- The emotional detachment that comes with practicing mindfulness helps you to avoid being consumed by anxious and stressful thoughts.
How to practice mindfulness?
As your mind is used to the freedom and wandering anywhere anytime, it would take some practice to rein it in and make it focus on the present. Mindfulness meditation is considered the best choice for achieving this.
1. Mindfulness meditation
Regular meditation is the practice of bringing your mind and body to a standstill. You need to keep your mind focused, devoid of any thoughts or feelings. Meditation exercises for anxiety can be hard to master for most people.
However, mindfulness meditation involves being aware of your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and surroundings but without judgment or analysis. If you are a beginner, it is recommended to begin with short sessions of five minutes or even shorter.
The point is to do whatever you can comfortably manage without adding on to the anxiety. As you gain mastery, you can increase the duration.
2. Remove distractions
Like in regular meditation, you mustn’t be disturbed during practice. Ensure that you won’t be interrupted. Keep your phone away. Wear clothes that are comfortable and remove any distracting accessories. Find a calm and secluded place.
You may close your eyes to avoid distractions.
3. Sit in a comfortable position
Your comfort is of prime importance as any kind of discomfort can divert your attention to it. By eliminating physical discomforts, you are giving yourself a better chance to succeed. The ideal meditation pose is to sit cross-legged on the floor with the spine erect. If this is not comfortable for you, sit on a chair but with a straight back.
4. Bring your attention to the present moment
Focusing on your breathing is the best method to achieve this. Breathe naturally and become aware of the rhythm of your breath. A few seconds into this, you may find that your mind wanders. Without feeling annoyed or angry, bring your awareness back to your breathing. With a few sessions of practice, you would be able to manage this with ease.
5. Explore your thoughts
Become aware of the emotions you are experiencing. Prevent yourself from going into the usual practice of analysis and judgment. Just stay with the awareness of your thoughts and feelings.
As a beginner, this exercise can make you feel more anxious whether you are doing it the right way. Instead of resisting such thoughts, allow them into your mind. After a while, you will find them vanish.
6. Wind up your mindfulness meditation session
Stay in this mode for as long as you want and feel comfortable. When you are ready, open your eyes slowly and bring your attention back to your surroundings. Continue to sit in the same position and reflect on what you experienced and learned during the session.
Mindfulness meditation is an excellent technique to help you accommodate and experience uncomfortable emotions without them affecting your functioning. Guided meditation is an excellent choice for beginners.
Here are some more simple mindfulness activities you can include in your daily life.
Focus on your breathing:
You can do this any time of the day anywhere. Feel how your chest and abdomen expand and contract as you breathe in and out. You may try doing this by taking deep breaths as well.
Become aware of your body:
Whenever you find the anxiety levels rising, turn your focus to your body. Be conscious of the sensations you are feeling now. And stay with it for some time.
Observe your thoughts and feelings as an outsider:
Step out of your body and look at yourself from outside. Pay attention to the thoughts occupying your mind and become aware of the feelings you are experiencing now. Again, it is important to stay non-judgmental and avoid analyzing.
One thought at a time:
Your mind is like a flitting butterfly going from one thought to the other in quick succession. Try to rein in this tendency by focusing on one thought at a time. Give it your undivided attention until you are done with it and ready to move on.
Set an intention:
If something is giving you anxiety, set an intention to overcome it. This will help you focus on the intention and making it happen rather than on the anxious thought.
Keep your phone away for some time:
Realize that your phone is not essential at all times. Try leaving it behind for short periods and focus on yourself.
Take a walk outside:
Getting close to nature is always an opportunity to take the focus away from anxious thoughts. Use your senses to become aware of your surroundings. This works like magic every time to reduce anxiety levels.
Draw, sketch, color, or paint:
Doing something creative demands your whole attention. What better way to take your mind away from anxious thoughts!
Help someone or wish them happiness:
Another guaranteed way to banish anxiety from your mind is to do a good deed. Helping others or wishing them well has the dual benefit of helping the doer and the receiver. This will fill you up with positivity and anxiety dissipates in no time.
Watch the stars or the waves:
Observing nature has a way of calming down your mind. The wonders of this Universe will help you realize how blessed you are to be a part of it. And how inconsequential your worries are. Life is much bigger than them.
Do you have a relationship with someone who has anxiety? Practicing mindfulness can help avoid anxiety disorders in most people. However, when the anxiety experienced is a result of abuse or severe trauma, it would be unwise and a waste of precious time trying self-help with mindfulness. In such situations, seeking professional help and therapy at the earliest would be the best approach.