How Mindfulness Helped with My Anxiety : I’d like to believe I’m like most people.
I deal with what most of us would deem “normal” things — stuff I need to buy at the grocery store, whether I should attend a dinner party this weekend or not — but underneath this exterior of normalcy, my mind is at its tipping point.
Anxiety Takes Over
Have you ever experienced that feeling of unease? It usually comes when you don’t know what’s going to happen, like when you’re waiting for the result of your exams or you’re not sure how your spouse will react when they find out you’ve been assigned to another office location. Most people have felt anxious at one point in their lives, and by all means this is very normal.
Anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with the way you live.
I have had feelings of intense worry and unease to the point where I simply couldn’t focus on work anymore. My mind was constantly battling with itself about worst case scenarios. During the day I could hear my heart beating in my ear, its thumps getting louder and quicker as the anxiety takes over. Oftentimes I found it difficult to sleep at night. Even when my body was physically tired, it seems as though my mind was still busy conjuring up situations that will, for the most part, never happen.
The causes of anxiety aren’t very clear, but doctors believe that traumatic life experiences can trigger feelings of anxiousness especially to people who are more prone to anxiety.
This disorder comes in many forms: GAD or Generalised Anxiety Disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and social phobia or social anxiety. It’s possible to have all of these disorders at once and for some people, this is how they’ve been living their lives.
An Eye Opening Experience
I never knew I had issues with my anxiety when someone close to me pointed it out. I have always thought that my worries and tendency to overthink things were normal and a part of who I was as a person. I never thought of it as a problem.
This close friend of mine, whom we’ll name Jay, told me point blank that I was wearing her down. I couldn’t understand her at first until she explained to me that I have always given her a negative vibe and it might because of the numerous times I rant about things that will probably not happen.
This caused me to take a step back and analyse myself very carefully, and it was a painful process to say the least.
I am in my mid thirties and I’d like to believe that I know myself better than anyone else. Apparently I could be wrong.
As I didn’t want to seek anxiety treatment just yet, I began searching for a way to keep my anxiety at bay. This is when I discovered the art of mindfulness.
A New-found Focus
Mindfulness is the deliberate and conscious act of forcing yourself to be in tune with present times. This is something that I, along with many others who have been suffering with anxiety, have trouble doing.
How can I focus when I don’t know what the future will bring? How can this exercise help me when I can’t change what I have done in the past and it pains me that there’s nothing I can do?
Believe me, I know what it feels like, but I had to give it a try. At this point I was ready to try something that didn’t involve any form of medication yet.
The more I read about being mindful, the more I understood that it isn’t a cookie-cutter sort of therapy. It didn’t involve certain steps. What mattered is that
- I was deliberate about being mindful; and that
- I was doing it consciously and consistently
What makes mindfulness work is that it robs anxiety of its power it has over your thoughts.
Think of it this way: if anxiety takes you to the stars, then mindfulness drags you back down to earth where you belong.
Here are some mindfulness practices that have helped me cope with anxiety:
- Journal writing: I have always enjoyed writing as an adolescent and taking it up again as an adult was a no-brainer. I wrote down everything that was in my head: worries of the future, regrets of the past, things I would want to say to someone but didn’t have the courage to. Seeing my thoughts in writing became cathartic. It seemed as if I was letting it all go and in a sense I was. Sometimes I would rip out the page and throw it away, other times I’d leave it be. I would look back at past entries and laugh at how shallow my worries now seem to be.
- Mindfulness apps: Take advantage of the fact that within our fingertips we can download helpful applications that are designed to calm us down and focus. These apps usually have relaxing music and breathing exercises to help ease the nerves away.
- Getting into art: Colouring books in particular. I kid you not. There are adult colouring books available online and in bookstores. I invested in a nice set of crayons and colouring pencils. The act of colouring was very relaxing for me, and seeing the page done gave me a sense of accomplishment that made me happy.
- Heightened focus on daily chores or tasks: I started paying attention to details of my household chores that I wouldn’t normally do. For example, I started to enjoy the feeling of soap suds in my hands while I wash dishes. Whenever I made myself a cup of coffee, I made sure to smell the freshly brewed beverage.
- Outside walks: There is something about being outside that was therapeutic. I am lucky enough to have a garden and when the familiar feeling of uneasiness becomes apparent, I take a 5-minute stroll outside. I take deep breaths and admire the foliage and before I know it I’ve calmed down.
- Chilly awakening: Sucking on an ice cube or a menthol candy can help bring back focus. It helped bring back focus when I needed it the most.
What I love about being mindful is that the experiences can vary from person to person. There is no right or wrong way to go about this. The main goal to wake yourself up and realise that what is happening right now needs your attention.
A Changed Person
Mindfulness has transformed not just the way I think, but the way I live. I became more aware of my emotions and I started making decisions that weren’t reactive. I began to be more purposeful of what I pay attention to so as not to trigger any feelings of anxiety. My relationships nowadays are more fulfilling and I have done very well at work.
What I have also realised through this experience is that there are a lot of things far beyond our control. What the future brings, how a person reacts, and how a situation will pan out are all out of my hands. There is a sense of comfort knowing that not everything needs to occupy my mind all the time.
Anxiety may be a part of life but it doesn’t have to consume me (or you) the way it once did. The act of being mindful may be the answer to helping you deal with your current situation. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please seek medical help immediately. Mindfulness is by no means a replacement of an actual therapist or medical practitioner.
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