“You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn.
We experience anxiety as a natural response to stress. It is the feeling of apprehension or fear about what will happen. Appearing for an exam, performing on the stage, giving a presentation, job interview are some of the common reasons that can make most people feel fearful and nervous. Anxiety is a subjective experience, and everyone experiences it differently. There can be a feeling of butterflies in the stomach, tightness in the jaw, sweating, or a racing heart. Anxiety can cause unproductive worries and overpowering distracting thoughts.
According to the concept of 'nature's evolutionary bias', it is often described that 'we are velcro for unpleasant experiences and Teflon for the pleasant ones'. We ruminate more about unpleasant experiences and emotions. This is a protective mechanism essential for survival. Rick Hansen, a Canadian athlete explains this, “we are wired for survival, not for happiness.” Therefore, anxiety is a part of life, but excessive anxiety can be mentally exhausting. Studies have shown that this long-term mental suffering can weaken the immune system and cause damage to the brain areas associated with learning and memory. Can we do anything about it? Yes! We can train our minds to perceive these thoughts differently with mindfulness.
How Mindfulness Works?
Mindfulness is living in the present moment and experiencing life as it is, without judgment. It means becoming "awake" to what is going on rather than operating on auto-pilot mode. According to studies, approximately 47% of the time, we are thinking about the past or future. This means almost half of our life, we are not living in the present moment. Worrying about the past, or thinking about the future has been compared with driving a car with brakes on. Being mindful is the practice of being in the present moment. It also helps us change the way how we perceive situations, and how we respond to them. Must Read ... Diet for a Healthy Mind
Mindful individuals, who focus on the present moment and approach life with acceptance, non-judgment, and openness are found to experience low levels of anxiety. They are also emotionally less reactive to stressors in life. According to research, mindfulness directly influences the brain by increasing gray matter (the brain tissue having nerve cells). Hippocampus, the brain area responsible for emotional control, stress response, and anxiety, is strengthened with mindfulness.
When we feel overwhelmed in a situation, mindfulness creates space, and we view things from a bigger perspective, where our worries appear relatively less significant. We process anxiety and stress differently. We become more like the sky than the storm. The following are some mindfulness principles and practices that help in dealing effectively with anxiety.
· The first step in controlling anxiety is to be aware of our thoughts. They can be real, but not always true! We don’t have to believe in our thoughts. They can be imaginary, blown out of proportion, unnecessary, wasteful, and useless. Observing this, Mark Twain had said, “Some of the worst things in my life never even happened”. Although it is not possible to stop these thoughts completely, we can step back and observe our thoughts mindfully. Neuroscientists have shown that the mind can change the brain. Thinking about our thoughts rearranges the brain. Awareness is understanding that 'I am not my thoughts. The truth is much larger.' As we gradually fine-tune our minds, the habitual chaos of our thoughts begins to calm down. In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s words, “awareness trumps thoughts.” Must Read ... Healing Vibrations of Bhramari Pranayama !
· Psychologists believe that one of the more effective ways to treat the spiral of anxiety is acceptance. We try to accept the reality as it is, instead of struggling to change what cannot be changed. It is said that 'change is not painful, resistance to change is painful.' It could be uncertainty, fear, or challenges of life that are beyond our control. Instead of resisting the change, acceptance frees us from the anxiety as it teaches us to face and cope with the difficulty. However, it must be noted that acceptance does not mean 'giving up' or passive resignation.
· There is a general tendency in anxiety to have thoughts such as, 'I can't take it anymore', 'I am hopeless', or 'I hate it.' These feelings of blaming self can worsen the anxiety. This internal dialogue can be changed with self-compassion, loving-kindness, and gentle understanding. This allows one to soften, and soothe the anxious thoughts without blaming self. The inner dialogue can change to 'Oh dear, I know it is difficult to feel this way, but you can get through it.'
We can integrate mindfulness into our day-to-day life using these tips. Small moments of mindfulness throughout the day can reduce anxiety and calm our minds.
· As we can worry, stress out, obsess, or focus on anxious thoughts, we also possess the ability to meditate. Mindfulness meditation is a simple, yet powerful, guide to unlocking and exploring the healing power within. Formal meditation is practiced by setting aside time for meditation. It can be practiced in a seated or lying down position using guided meditations. Body scan, sitting meditation, mountain meditation, lake meditation, loving-kindness, silent meditation, etc. are some formal meditations that deepen our meditation practice. Most of the time, our mental suffering stems from our tight hold on our beliefs, thoughts, and perspectives. It is said that our thoughts make a good servant but not a good master. The aim of meditation is not to control these thoughts, but to stop them from controlling us. Must Read ... Restorative Yoga !
· These techniques are practiced at different times and integrated into day-to-day routine activities. Mindful eating, mindful breathing, walking meditation, STOP (Stop, Pause, Observe, Proceed), RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture) are some examples of the informal mindfulness practice that can be done anytime. These practices broaden the mindfulness experience and help dissipate the anxiety promptly before it accumulates. According to neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, it just takes ninety seconds to identify an emotion and allow it to dissipate while we simply notice it. When feeling stressed out or anxious, pausing and labeling what we are experiencing (eg., this is a worry), calms down activity in the amygdala, the fear center of the brain. Visit us on www.english.tarunbharat.net
Anxiety can trap us in our own minds, in the cascading flow of thoughts and emotions. Rumi said, ‘why do you stay in the prison when the door is wide open.’ The reality is already there. We too are equipped with the tools needed to practice mindfulness. We just need awareness, acceptance, and realization of this truth. Being mindful allows us to accept and experience life as it is without fear of what might happen. It frees us from the prison of our own minds!
Disclaimer: The content in this article is for informational purpose only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The practices mentioned here must be learned under the guidance of a qualified professional.