An anxious mind is a tough, dominant mind, as anyone who has tried to rationalize themselves out of anxiety will tell you. An anxious mind can outstrip, out muscle and outsmart wisdom and reason all day long. But what if you could connect the power and muscle of that fiercely protective mind and use it to work for you instead of against you?
Anxiety occurs on a spectrum and we will all have familiarity with it at some level. That’s what makes us human. Anxiety is a very regular reaction from a strong, healthy brain that thinks there might be concerns on the way and swiftly answers by making us tougher, faster and more alert. It is the instinctive and automatic call to action to either fight or flee from dangers.
However too much of a good thing can have its pitfalls. When the brain is hypersensitive to danger, it puts us on high alert even when there is no need to be. This is when anxiety becomes intrusive and disturbing. It transforms from the calm controlling presence, to the oafish trash talking bully, causing confusion and mayhem within your head.
Unfortunately the brain thinks this is the right thing to do and the more we resist, the more determined it becomes to convince us that there’s danger and that we need to act.
So what options do we have?
If we can accept that anxiety will probably be a continuing presence in our lives, how can we tame this manifestation from a wild stallion to a placid donkey?
It is well reported that over time, mindfulness works to build and strengthen a brain against anxiety, but there are features of mindfulness that can be used in the midst of anxiety to bring calmness. Furthermore the more we practice, these techniques become tools to be utilized to placate anxious thoughts and feelings, and any other symptoms that anxiety tends to exasperate.
However, easy as you go…
Remember Rome was not built in a day. To change how we think and feel takes time, small steps, day by day. Each step builds on the one before it and this takes time. But that is ok as it is going to take a bit of time to unravel the established thinking habits. Remember these anxious thoughts and anxious feelings keep us alive. We need to be smart to convince these existing thoughts and feelings that they are the problem not the solution.
Take on these approaches one at a time and do it for a short while at a time. Small steps…but significant ones. Taking on too much at once it will feel like your spinning plates and when things feel challenging, it is normal to return to our default position. Steady as you go gets us around this. Here’s how …
Utilize the power of an anxious mind.
Anxiety is the power of the mind against the mind. That power is your ultimate asset – and it’s a remarkable one. Follow these steps to harness it so you can use it to your advantage:
Stay in the present, not where your anxiety leads you.
Anxiety feeds on perceived future uncertainties taking you from a present that feels controllable and composed, to a future that feels unclear and frightening. Use all your senses to stay fully present in the moment. What do you see, feel, hear, taste and know? Live in the actual moment the event that is actually happening, rather than what might happen. This might seem a little daunting at first so pace yourself, start with two or three minutes at a time. Use this time to immerse yourself completely in your present world.
And keep doing this every day building the time you spend immersed in the present moment – two, five, ten minutes at a time. The more you do this, the better you will feel and you will find it easier to stay away from intrusive anxious thoughts, just focusing on the present state of mind. Given that the brain has the flexibility to use experiences to change thoughts, feelings and ultimately behaviour, the more you do this the more you will find it easier to stay in the present moment.
Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings.
Remember nothing last forever. No thought or feeling stays forever. Be tolerant and accept that no matter what you are thinking or feeling, it will pass.
Try out being totally present, accepting any thoughts and feelings for what they are being aware that you are stringer than any thought or feeling, knowing you control them not the other way around. Build resilience by being patient and curious. See what insights prevail. Let them stay for long enough to realize that they serve no purpose for you.
Observe. See your thoughts and feelings from afar.
Anxiety can suck you in, chew you up and spit you out. It can be all consuming. Experiment with letting your thoughts and feelings float in the air stuck on post-it notes all around you. There is no need for emotional attachment, imagine just watching them through the safety of a window, Just let them be, no need to touch them and when you are ready, let them go.
Have faith in your anxiety, being aware that it won’t hurt you.
As anxiety can manifest itself in a cloak of deception making a mockery out of how we think and feel. However by utilizing a questioning, robust and attentive mind we can put these feelings and thoughts in context, as the notion that they are unattached to anything can make us feel confused. Anxiety is there as a caution, not a prophecy. Therefore sense the safety and protection of what that really means for you.
Trust yourself. You possess power. You are more than capable. You will survive.
Believe that no matter what, you can handle it. Yes you can, trust yourself you undeniably can. This might seem strange at first but that’s okay. Run with it and see what your senses provide. We are learning all the time so be aware that it is an evolving process. Core to all worry, anxiety and stress is fear that we won’t be able to cope. However if you can view FEAR as –
False Evidence Against Reality
Then you can begin to understand and take control of the fear. That is to say can you really be sure that the fear is real or is it just a manifestation of your imagination? Even if this is hard at first just pretend you are in control. As they say “fake it until you make it”.
Let your anxiety be as it is. Neither you nor your anxiety needs to change.
Strange but true, however sometimes the more we try to force change the more it stays the same. Pink Bananas – whatever you do, don’t think of Pink Bananas. Try really, really, really hard not to think of them. I mean it! Tell yourself to stop thinking of Pink Bananas. How did that work out for? It’s hard not to think of them, right? Anxious thoughts take up a lot of valuable head space. They encompass our feelings, attention, thoughts and imagination. Paradoxically the more we try to make sense of them and control them, the more they fuel into our anxiety. Instead, try leaving your anxiety as it is, without needing to modify it. Acceptance doesn’t make a feeling more robust or more lasting. It cuts off the source of energy.
You get more of what you focus on so try to be with your anxiety without resisting. No need to change or challenge them. Your anxiety will begin to make more sense to you. Thus by bringing illumination to your thoughts and feelings, this allows you to take steps to deal with it.
Yes this might be challenging but the rewards are worth it. Take it step by step at first maybe trying for two minutes (check out this exercise for mindful thinking). There is no need to change anything at the beginning just let things be and gradually allow the process to alter your thoughts and feelings. Steadily build up the time, five minutes, then ten and so on. Progressively take control of your anxiety replacing the negative thoughts and feelings with positivity.
Reset your personal filters.
We observe and experience the world through our personal filters regardless of the anxiety or not. These are learned experiences from interaction of our social world but they are not fixed we have the power to reset them. Give this little exercise below a go and see if your perspective changes. It’s ok if it does not seem to work first time. However the more you try it the better it becomes. Remember you are in control of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Have you ever seen a child experiencing something for the first time (bubbles, butterflies, being tickled etc.) See their amazement, curiosity, excitement, perhaps even hesitant at first then immerse themselves into the experience: popping the bubbles, chasing the butterflies, laughing and giggling uncontrollably.
Now imagine you are like a child experiencing events, situations, people etc. for first time. It does not matter that you might have been or done it before (in all fairness you probably have) but that is not important. What is important is that you are open to the new possibilities that can come from this “new” experience, because for all intent and purposes that’s exactly what it is – a new experience. So throw yourself right into the experience with your child like eyes – pop the bubbles, chase the butterflies, laugh and giggle like there is nothing else in the world that matters – because that is exactly the case. Nothing else matters. Keep practicing this and you will amaze yourself how your filters of your world view changes- changes for the better.
Surrender the need for certainty, even if it’s just for one point in time.
Our body is always in the present moment- agreed? You cannot be physically anywhere else. But your mind of course can live anywhere (past, present or future and can do a fairly decent job of flitting between these points in time at will). Anxiety loves this as it makes things easy to cause mischief. But if you can let go of trying to force the issue, acknowledge, accept and just be then you can generate awareness within you of no longer needing to control everything. This will probably make you feel uneasy at first, so start with surrendering to the uncertainty for a small point of time. Experiment with letting go of wanting to control the moment, the future, the past, or the people around you. The more you practice this the more you will find that by letting go of trying to control everything the more control you will actually have of the things that matter.
Finally the more I practice the luckier I get…
Nobody expects you to master these approaches overnight. Just view them as pieces of a jigsaw, some parts will be more apparent than others, some will be easier to connect to others and some may leave you scratching your head for ages. But be hopeful as eventually the pieces will fit together, falling into place making the picture clearer. Sometimes you need to walk away to get a better view of what it is you are really looking for. Your mind is a beautiful and powerful machine that is here to help and assist you achieve your desires. Day by day you will gain strength and resilience to acknowledge and accept that your anxiety is just a feeling and just like any other feeling it will come and go. You are special as a person and have a renewed presence of mind to be strong, brave and resilient to deal with anything that comes your way. Remember it is the same for all of us- we are all on the same journey.