The Girl Who Didn't Kick the Hornet's Nest: How Mindfulness Helps Deal with Anxiety-Based Thoughts
Posted on October 26th, 2013 at 11:00 am
"Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one's own sunshine."—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Tips to using Mindfulness:
- Breathing: Bringing awareness to your breath connects mind and body and is a good vehicle for being mindful. It pulls you out of grasping thoughts and brings you into the present.
- Physical Senses: Touch, taste, smell, and sound can help release the mind’s grasp on anxiety thoughts and bring you back to the present moment, attentive to the beauty of life unfolding. To bring the grounding quality of sense-mindfulness into your daily life, try the following suggestions: Use a small stretching or yoga routine in the morning or evening, noting how it feels as you gently stretch your body. Take a slow walk after lunch and focus on your gait and the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Try a hot shower or bath before bed, noting how your muscles respond. Deliberately, slowly eat a favorite organic fruit, chewing carefully and noting the texture, taste, and pleasant sensation in your stomach. Remember to breathe slowly while chewing (many people hold their breath when they chew, thus eating too quickly). Have a sip of cool, clean water. Inhale deeply and smell the aroma of coffee beans as you grind them.
- Yoga, Prayer, Meditation, Creative Thought can all help be fully present in the richness of the moment.
- Opening the Hand of Thought: Every time you have an obsessive thought, visualize your mind releasing the thought and see it floating off. One client told me she visualized her hand opening and a puff of white water vapour (the worry thought) escaping and slowly floating off. You can create your own image; the key is to persistently bring yourself back to the present when your mind again chases after thoughts (Uchiyama).
- Practice: You can apply mindfulness skills to all your daily activities—eating, shopping, and talking to a friend. See the visualization below for an idea on how to get started.
Mindfulness visualization to help you be more present moment in your life:
Seated comfortably, feel the chair support your legs and back. Notice your breath, and breathe in deeply through your nose, extending your diaphragm completely in a long, slow in-breath. Your stomach should move out a little as you breathe in. Exhale slowly through your mouth, and continue to breathe deeply. Now picture yourself doing an activity you really enjoy. It might be mountain biking, hiking, or walking along the beach. Or it might be closing a business deal, working on your car, writing an article, reading poetry, even fishing. Get a sense of your total involvement in the moment while doing this activity. Notice how you are focused on what you are doing; feel the mental, physical, and even spiritual qualities of this attentive state. What does your body feel like when you are focused? When ready, open your eyes and get up. Find a simple task around the house, such as washing the dishes, and try to bring the same sense of involvement to what you are doing. What does the dish feel like in your hand? Where was it made? Is it light or heavy, smooth or course? Notice how the dirt comes off, the bubbles of the soap as you rinse. What is the texture of the plate? Is it warm to the touch? By bringing the same quality of focus to your daily activities—cleaning, job tasks, walking, eating, sleeping—you can experience the present moment as an ever-unfolding adventure.
Being mindful does not mean being thought-less, a large part of the problems the world faces today. There is a significant difference between creative thought and anxiety thought, however. Anxiety-based thought is an enclosed loop of circular causality, worry begetting worry. Creative thought is different; there is an outlet. When you engage in creative thought you come up with ideas, thoughts, solutions, or images which are enriching. It may take some work to translate these ideas into the physical world, but they contribute to the richness of life, feeling in accord with some deeper truth of your being. While it is energizing to host creative thought, it is not so with anxiety thoughts. They repeat themselves over and over again and do not give you a meaningful sense of wellbeing. They detract from the quality of your life and can be exhausting. Being mindful means a small series of choices to engage in creative thought processes and to not engage in worry thoughts.
Unless you stop and smell the roses you can never be fully in life. You can never enjoy life by engaging in worry-thinking. The mind tends to scan for problems, worry-thoughts to tackle. Yet focusing on the worry only makes it worse. You cannot deal with worry-thoughts by thinking your way through them, solving their riddles, nor can you ignore or repress them. But you can be attentive to the moment, using mindfulness to let the thoughts go on their way, and returning to your life in the moment. This is not just useful with unpleasant thoughts, you can bring mindfulness to pleasant experiences as well; many times we have a hard time simply staying present with happiness. Mindfulness can feel pretty good; chasing hornets not so much.
References: Uchiyama, K. (2004). Opening the Hand of Thought. New York: Wisdom Publications. Duarte, Melanie: http://www.melanieduartelmhc.com/2013/09/23/mindfulness-part-1/