A Practical Way To Use Mindfulness With Anxiety and Fear
Life is difficult at times. I'm sure I don't have to convince you of this. Through repetitions of my own struggles in life I have finally let go of the illusion that I will be done with feelings like depression or fear for good, but I have discovered a way to experience them differently so that they do not disrupt my life in the way they did when I was younger. I know now that challenges return, but through mindfulness practice I have learned to resist them less, and as a result, suffer less from emotional pain. I also have learned that peace and joy return too! When we feel willing and capable to meet difficult emotions it leads to feeling more powerful in our life.
What I have seen clearly through study of my own experience and the experiences of my clients is that everything is in a constant state of change. What I feel and think right now will not be the same later. There is of course continuity in my core values, but even those take new meaning in my life at later times. The beauty of impermanence is that we don't have to work so hard to change our experience presently. It will change with or without our effort. The following is some guidance and understanding about how to apply mindfulness to relieve the unnecessary suffering we create on top of the pain that is there. In this case I talk about fear and anxiety as the pain, but it also translates to any experience of pain we have in moments of life.
Your emotions may come to you like stormy weather. Like the weather we cannot control it and must allow it to pass in time. Our resistance to experiencing discomfort adds tension to an already tense feeling. Learning to practice not judging through mindful acceptance of our present discomfort can change the quality and severity of our pain by letting go of the tension we add. It is understandable that we resist and look for a solution to our painful experiences because pain is usually unwanted. But, our anxious mind has a difficult time seeing that our attempts to "fix" our experience is the cause of intensifying and prolonging our discomfort. Our habits of resisting our experience by looking for a way out are well practiced and do not just go away. Therefore, mindfulness requires repeated effort to shift away and interrupt the habits of resistance by consciously shifting to full acceptance of our current experience and releasing our judgments about discomfort such as "I hate this," or "I don't want to feel this." Pain is unpleasant, but not "bad."
Begin by being aware that you are anxious or fearful. Unless there is immediate and present danger, there is nothing to DO. Let go of entertaining your thoughts each time they distract you, and connect to your body. You can start by pausing and simply being aware of your breathe. Slowly expand your awareness to the rest of your body's sensations. Give your body full permission to feel whatever is there even though it is uncomfortable. Discomfort is impermanent. Actively let go of needing to feel anything other than what is present in your body, and observe what happens in each moment. Notice that your experience is a living process and is always changing. Giving your body a chance to deal with your emotional state takes the burden off of your mind while allowing the wisdom of your nervous system to naturally work towards homeostasis (the balancing of your autonomic nervous system).
Attempt this practice without trying to do it perfectly. This is a practice to replace the habits of mind that provoke and perpetuate the cycle of anxiety and fear. Notice what is happening in your mind if you are aware of your discomfort increasing. Are you wanting to feel something different? This is a common reaction to discomfort, but this reaction is a form of resistance that creates more suffering. Let go. Are you looking for a solution? Let go again. The practice is about learning to let go and interrupt the ineffective pattern of thinking that has become automated, while also strengthening your acceptance and nonjudgmental mind. Sometimes you will feel success and other times it may be more difficult. All is normal and part of the learning process. I hope this practice empowers you to surf your emotional waves and experience the power of letting go of the struggle against anxiety.
I would love to read your comments, and if you'd like to get in touch with me directly you can email me here.
Be Kind to Yourself, Be Courageous, and Thrive.
Dr. Tim Kershenstine is a professional coach who specializes in OCD and anxiety.