Mindfulness for Anxiety

Incorporating a mindfulness based practice to reduce anxiety 

In the last blog post we covered the basics of the function of anxiety and how to effectively manage it. Today, the focus is on ways to incorporate a mindfulness based practice to reduce anxiety.  We all experience feelings of fear or anxiety in various points in our life but for some these become problematic when they increase in frequency, intensity, and duration to degrees that become disruptive in daily living.

Mindfulness retrains the brain to lower anxiety levels by bringing attention to the present moment rather than letting the mind drift to a place in the future where we can have thoughts of things that may never even happen, or to the past, where we cannot change the situations that have already occurred. For most, the present moment is actually quite safe...so bringing the attention there rather than drifting to the future or the past can reduce the unpleasant effects of anxiety.

Using mindfulness to help gain control over our attitudes and behaviors

Mindfulness also increases our ability to handle anxiety when it appears. Since the most basic function of anxiety is for protection and preservation - keeping us from engaging in situations that could be potentially dangerous - we were wired to experience anxiety as unpleasant and a feeling that we do not desire. This is what leads to attempts at avoiding anxiety which actually makes it worse. With mindfulness, individuals can learn to sit with their anxiety and, with practice, the discomfort becomes less uncomfortable. When this occurs, we have more conscious control over our attitudes and our behaviors.

Key attitudes that exist as the foundation to a mindfulness-based approach to anxiety:

  1. Intention: What sets you on this path?

  2. Beginner’s Mind: Seeing situation/thoughts/feelings from a fresh perspective

  3. Patience: Perservering during those times when anxiety is most challenging

  4. Acknowledgement: Recognizing anxiety is present and knowing it will pass

  5. Nonjudgement: Stepping out of a mindset of evaluation

  6. Nonstriving: Not trying to change the situation, just meeting the experience as it is

  7. Self-reliance: With practice, learning to trust yourself and your capacity for discomfort

  8. Allowing: Similar to nonstriving, providing space for whatever is happening

  9. Self-compassion: Treating yourself with kindness

  10. Balance and equanimity: Understanding everything changes and the anxiety is only temporary

It may be easier to adopt some of these attitudes than others. The best way to find out which ones resonate with you the most is to try each one and pay attention to how it feels in your mind and your body, especially during moments of anxiety. As with anything else, with practice these become more readily accessible over time.