Coping with Anxiety: Part Two: Being Mindful Through Change
Taking Control of Anxiety, Mindfully
This is part two in a series that follows how I personally cope with anxiety, you can find part one here, about finding yoga.
Alongside my time at AY, this summer has been pretty busy; I’ve moved house (twice!), gone through a breakup, been joining retreats on the weekends, seen some amazing parts of the world, tried to balance a social life and kept time for family. In short, although not everything has been perfect, I am feeling grateful for my life at the moment, I’m well occupied, and I’ve had an amazing year for lots of reasons.
So, I was surprised, a couple of weeks ago, to find myself with a Saturday where I had nothing to do and felt that pang of anxiety. In fact, for the foreseeable month, I didn’t have anything planned- and I panicked! Life had been rigorous, and now I didn’t really know what to do with myself when I wasn’t striving for the next experience. It was cold, and a little bit gloomy, and I felt lost without knowing what my next step was. Cue the familiar anxious thoughts!
I think that this anxiety is a common feeling like the season’s changing; after living long, full days in the bright days of the Summer, where opportunities seem endless, it can be a difficult transition to move into the colder, shorter days of Autumn. I find that as life slows down, my mind speeds up, and the importance of self-care becomes more essential.
I wanted to share with you some practical mindful techniques I use when I start to struggle with the change of routines or patterns in my life. I’m by no means an expert, but they help me handle spells of anxiety so hopefully, could help you too.
Capture how you feel physically
Stop what you’re doing, sit down, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Take some time to have a little mental journey around your body. Notice an area that feels tense (for me I find that I clench my teeth or tense my stomach muscles when I feel anxiety) Travel to that part of your body in your mind, and see what the first thought or feeling comes to my mind whilst you’re there. Now inhale, and then tense that part of your body really hard. Exhale, and relax that part of your body, letting whatever thought you’re holding onto go with it. I find that I hold a lot of feelings in my body, and this is a really useful technique for giving myself permission to let go of thoughts that are “stuck” somewhere.
Catch your thoughts to help ease anxiety
This is a really good technique for me if I am ruminating or brooding over thoughts causing anxiety. It can also be useful if you know you’re avoiding dealing with something, and it is weighing heavy on you. It takes a lot of visualisation so it’s good to be in a quiet environment. Preferably sitting somewhere where you can close your eyes without distractions, take a long deep breath. Focus on your breath, and allow your thoughts to come and go. If something difficult or painful turns up in your thoughts, visualise catching it and putting it gently in a really nice, safe environment. Tell yourself that your thought can’t run away, or rule you, but that “it is safe, and I am too, and I am able to sit and observe it.” When your thought is in this environment, try to observe it with curiosity, like an outsider. Questions to ask:
- What are the sensations happening in your body?
- Are you feeling a certain way emotionally?
- What does this feeling look like in your head?
- Can you “feel the edges” of this thought?
- Is there a colour associated with this feeling?
- What does the thought try to lead onto?
- Has your brain already gone onto something else?
- Are you trying to control your thoughts?
- Are you wanting to act on this thought or feeling?
The idea behind this is that by being able to observe your thoughts, it may be easier to find links between anxious feelings and any recurring thoughts. With practice, I find that this technique helps me to accept these feelings with kindness, rather than act on them or let them rule me.
If you are feeling completely panicked and overwhelmed by anxiety due to thoughts, this technique may help. Stop what you’re doing and find a safe, quiet space. Sit or lie down, and try to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Close your eyes and ground yourself by touching whatever is around you with your hands and your feet. Ask yourself if you’re physically safe. (The answer is yes 99% of the time.) Tell yourself out loud you’re safe. Whatever you’re touching, ask yourself these questions:
- How does this material feel?
- What’s the texture like?
- Is it hot/cold?
- What’s the difference in texture between my skin and the material?
- How does it feel if I move my hands slower or quicker?
- What’s the difference in sensation between my fingertips and palms of my hands?
Practice a deep breathing technique whilst doing this, try one of these techniques.
The idea behind this technique in very panicky moments is to help your brain understand that physically, you are safe. Once your nervous system has calmed down, you may find it useful to go back to one of the above techniques or practice some meditation, to help calm your mind.
I hope these techniques provide some food for thought, they’re based on mindful practices, but have been adapted to what suits me. Maybe you could take on some of these techniques and adapt them to your own needs? The most important thing to take into account is being able to accept and allow, rather than fighting or judging your thoughts.
Next time I will be discussing mindfulness in the workplace.
Thanks for reading!