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Anxiety can be an incredibly overwhelming thing. It isn’t simply being overly worried, although intense fear and worry about what might happen is definitely an aspect of anxiety. For me it manifests itself frequently as racing thoughts. These thoughts and fears rattle around my head at a threatening speed, which makes me feel like I am on a carnival ride that I can’t get off of. When my anxiety is bad it can be incredibly hard to focus or make decisions, and having anxious thoughts at night is a consistent cause of insomnia, during which the lack of sleep only compounds the problem.
Individuals who experience anxiety may only experience in certain settings, such as in the case of those who have social anxiety or experience it in big crowds or small spaces. People like me, who have a generalized anxiety disorder, may have triggers as well, but are more likely to experience anxiety on a regular basis. Often it comes without warning and can manifest itself from anything to a niggling voice in the back of my head to a full blown panic attack, which really does feel similar to having a heart attack.
Although I do take medication for anxiety, it makes it manageable, rather then completely eliminating it. That means that I have needed to discover methods for coping with it when it does occur. I’ll be the first to admit that this is not always something I do well. I’ve written about one of my unhealthy coping mechanisms, emotional eating, in the past.
Some things that do work for me are exercising (this can be as simple as taking a walk with my husband after dinner) and cuddling with my husband. And while it’s not great for your mood to stay in bed all day, often a short nap under the comfort of warm covers helps as well. Currently I am exploring the power of mindfulness for anxiety. The great thing about mindfulness is that it is something you can potentially access wherever you are, where many other coping mechanisms for anxiety are dependent on where you are or the situation.
Breathing Mindfulness for Anxiety
You’ve probably seen at least one movie in which a hyperventilating character is offered a paper bag to breathe into. It might seem ridiculous, but there is actually a calming affect that comes from deep breathing. Deep breathing affects the nervous system, sending out neurohormones that inhibit the stress causing ones and then begin to relax the body. Here are two breathing exercises to try:
- Inhale through your nose for a count of four.
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of four.
- Place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach.
- Breathe deeply through your nose, allowing your abdominal cavity (not your chest) to inflate slowly with air.
- Slowly exhale the air from your lungs through pursed lips.
Meditation Mindfulness for Anxiety
Meditation is not a concept that appeals to everyone, but it can be a very powerful tool for managing anxiety. The purpose behind meditation in its purest form is to empty the mind of invasive thoughts and focus instead on awareness. However, let’s acknowledge right now that for someone suffering from anxiety, emptying the mind completely is probably not achievable. However, by participating in a guided meditation or mindfulness exercise you can replace nagging thoughts with positive ones and slow down rapid anxiety cycling.
It is possible to create your own meditations, but I have always found guided meditations most useful. This site provides a variety of guided meditations for both different timed practices and different purposes. You have the option of watch the video, or closing your eyes and simply listening.
This is a mindfulness exercise that my therapist recently taught me:
321, PBR Mindfulness Exercise
- Focus on 3 objects that you can see. (describe them by their features, use adjectives)
- Focus on 2 things that you can hear.
- Focus on 1 object that you can touch.
- Focus on your posture, sit balanced, upright, open.
- Focus on your breath through diaphragm breathing.
- Focus on releasing the tension gradually through the different areas of your body.
Yoga Mindfulness for Anxiety
Most of my past experiences with mindfulness have been a part of a yoga practice. Although yoga has been mainstreamed as a form of exercise, including such intense classes as hot yoga in which rooms are heated to increase sweating and calories burned, its roots are in mindfulness. Although a hot or flow yoga class will undoubtedly be a good cardio workout, a gentle yoga class or one that integrates meditation is a better option when you need anxiety relief. Here’s an example of a 30 minute yoga practice that you can do in your home:
Some poses that are recommended for anxiety:
Journaling Mindfulness for Anxiety
Writing can be another effective way to mindfully process anxiety. However, stream of consciousness or free writing may not be the most effective method when you are in the midst of a lot of anxiety. I, for example, feel that writing down all of what I am thinking usually makes me panic more in the moment. Others may find it an effective way to process and analyze the truth (or lack of truth) in their thoughts and feelings. Having a journal with prompts already written in is another option for creating a purposeful and mindful examination of your anxieties or simply a distraction from racing thoughts.
What mindfulness activity do you find most effective for anxiety?