There’s anxiety, and then there are anxiety disorders.
Anxiety happens when we’re facing an event that causes us stress. It may be a heavy workload, a sick family member, or tight finances. It is perfectly normal to feel anxious under these circumstances.
Anxiety disorders occur when you - repeatedly and over time - become extremely anxious even when there is no apparent reason. Your heart beats faster, you feel hot or cold, and it’s tough to regulate your breathing. As a result, you might become very fearful of certain situations that you believe will worsen your anxiety, like driving or going to crowded places alone.
A doctor should diagnose anxiety disorders, which are treatable. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, among other modalities, can be very effective in reducing chronic and unexpected anxiety.
Once you’ve secured professional treatment, there are plenty of things you can do on your own to support your healing. Diet and exercise, limiting caffeine and alcohol, and positive self-talk is common recommendations.
There’s also mindfulness meditation.
Thoughts and Emotions
Anxiety happens when our thoughts and emotions feed negative information to one another. We can’t stop thinking about how anxious or frightened we are, and our emotions help trigger bodily responses to these thoughts. Our minds use that response to validate its assertion that catastrophic, devastating events will happen.
“What happens if I faint? Oh, I’m feeling a little dizzy now, I’m definitely going to faint in front of everyone. I can’t take the embarrassment…why am I so sweaty?”
But what would happen if we were able to slow down a little bit and take a closer look at these thoughts and emotions? That’s what mindfulness is all about - examining the present.
A study included in the journal Biological Psychiatry took a look at the impact of mindfulness training on a group of people experiencing stressful times. The control group underwent stress management education.
The mindfulness group, who engaged in meditation and yoga, did better in unlearning fear responses.
Mindfulness for Anxiety
It’s important to note that the study didn’t specifically seek out people with anxiety disorders; the participants were just interested in reducing stress. However, the study is making headlines simply because the results look very promising for those with disorders, warranting further research.
Anxiety disorders continue in a cycle because we believe that certain thoughts, feelings, and situations will certainly trigger awful events. The beliefs lock in the idea that anxious feelings are inevitable and dangerous - unless we avoid feeling or experiencing what scares us.
Mindfulness can help break down these mistaken beliefs because it is the opposite of avoidance. We can sit, allow, and examine our anxious thoughts and feelings. Sooner or later, we will realize that they are not dangerous. The brain will eventually stop working to alert us to this danger.
The next time you’re feeling anxious, try this. First, be aware of any tension in your body, and if you can, release it. Now, breathe in for three seconds, and exhale for five. Come back to the breath even as your anxious brain distracts you.
Assign no negative or positive reading to these thoughts. Let the adrenaline and worry move through you, while you observe it like a researcher. Continue breathing and consciously relaxing your muscles this way for ten minutes daily.
Mindfulness lets us feel awful but also makes us stronger. Ultimately, we receive the message that this too shall pass.
How do you deal with anxiety? What’s your favorite mindfulness technique? Share below!
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