This is the second part in a two part series. The first part “The Beginnings of Anxiety” was first posted last week. You can read it here: here. This post has also appeared on Flopsylife (as part of their Alternative Therapies Series.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment” (Greater Berkley, 2017). Becoming mindful of our present moment brings awareness to what is actually occurring and what is not. So how do we do that? In moments that my thoughts are taking me down a path of reality that is not mine, I focus on my breath. Before bed, if worry keeps me awake, I bring awareness into my body. Doing this does not stop the worry filled thoughts or negative self talk from bubbling up, but what it does do is ground me. If we are constantly in our heads, believing every thought we have, we are ungrounded and when we are ungrounded we are more likely and easily pushed into cycles of anxiety.
Mindfulness practices are really quite simple. What I like most about mindfulness is that it can be practiced formally (a carved-out time of day dedicated to bringing awareness to your breath and into your body) or informally (quick practices during moments that anxiety is creeping up). I find both informal and formal practice are the most effective. Just like when we go to the gym to work out our physical bodies, daily mindfulness practice keeps our mind (muscle) healthy. I find that the more consistent I am in my practice, the easier it is for my mind to engage in the present moment when challenges (internal and external) arise.
Though I had tried many things to manage my anxiety in the past, mindfulness has been the most helpful to me. It keeps me from spiraling and has become a constant in my life; an imaginary friend that silences the old catastrophic one. Mindfulness has become such an integral piece of my life that I use it in my parenting and in my work as a life coach.
Three Simple Mindfulness Practices:
This simple practice is a great way to quickly become present. Bring attention to your breath, wherever you feel it most dominantly in your body (your nose, chest, or abdomen) and follow your breath inward and outward. When thoughts come, gently bring your awareness back to your breath. Do this until you feel more grounded.
Bring your awareness, without naming or judging, to each body part beginning at your feet. Slowly work your way upward until you reach the top of your head. If thoughts come in (and they will) gently bring your awareness back into your body.
Is it true?
In moments where you can not become grounded in your breath or body, ask yourself “is it true?”. When thoughts arise that push you into worry or any other negative self talk cycle, take a moment and ask yourself if those thoughts are true. More often then not, you will realize that no, the thought is not true, and you will automatically be reminded of your present reality. If, on the rare occasion there is some truth to the thought, ask your self what action you can take, instead of ruminating in negative outcomes.
The practice of mindfulness in not about being perfect, it is about practicing these simple strategies as often as you need to help keep yourself tethered in the present moment; the only moment that matters.