How Being Mindful Helped Relieve My Anxiety
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
I used to worry a lot, and I would worry about everything. I’m not referring to a simple day-to-day worry about minor occurrences. I mean a worry which ended up becoming crippling anxiety and led to a panic attack in the middle of the night. It ruled over me every hour of the day and it kept me from my peace. It kept others around me from their peace, also.
It included anxiety over the past, the future, my job, my kids, my relationships, and I even had anxiety over all the anxiety I was experiencing. I worried about my worrying! It became a cycle of being miserable, and I didn’t know how to stop it. The anxiety led into being depressed which led to more anxiety which led to more depression. It was the merry-go-round of misery. But that is the weird thing about anxiety – you know it’s happening and you can recognize it but you do not understand how to relieve it. It becomes so ingrained in you that you learn to live with that feeling. But it doesn’t get better on its own, and it will eventually break you down.
The Power of the Mind
The mind is an incredible thing. It can be your greatest asset or your worst enemy. It can give you freedom or it can keep you trapped in an endless negative thought cycle. The mind can be a source of power or misery. It can turn into your strength or your weakness.
For me, my mind has become a strength. I no longer see it as a weakness or something which is keeping me from living the life I want. That’s because I’ve learned to recognize my thoughts for what they are – just thoughts. And I’ve learned being mindful of what I’m thinking allows me to relieve that anxiety which was so prevalent in my daily life. I want you to notice, however, I didn’t say it’s helped me to control my thoughts because I don’t believe that’s possible. Thoughts come and go and you can’t stop them. But you can control how you react to them. You can see these thoughts for what they are – negative/positive, useful/unuseful or necessary/unnecessary. Negative, unuseful, and unnecessary thoughts lead to negative, unuseful, and unnecessary actions.
This is what being mindful means to me. It’s realizing I don’t have control over what enters my mind, but I do have control over what I do with those thoughts and what they mean. I allow them to be there but I don’t allow them to take over. Mindfulness is understanding what types of thoughts I’m having and reacting accordingly. It’s realizing that the thoughts over what I can’t control or what I can’t know aren’t useful.
The Path to Change
Along with therapy, changing careers, and running, being mindful has helped change my life. It’s changed my mind, my body, my soul, and it’s helped me build stronger relationships and become a better father and person. It’s made me happier. Being mindful is not a cure by any means. It takes work and I still get anxiety on occasion. That’s normal. But I now know how to react to it, and it doesn’t keep me from enjoying life any longer.
So now I reflect instead of ruminating. I don’t allow circumstances beyond my control to influence my thoughts or how I react. I’m not burdened by the past because it’s over and gone. I remember, but don’t dwell. I also know I can’t completely control the future because nothing is ever guaranteed. I’ve found a path to more happiness, and it started with accepting this moment as it presents itself. I’ve learned the external is not within my power, but the internal (my reactions to my thoughts) is always within my power. I’m more prepared to face whatever may happen, good or bad.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
The Prevalence of Worry
A lot of you feel the way I used to. I know because I see it every day on social media, blogs, and in the news. Anxiety makes us imagine worst-case scenarios in our heads and we get into the habit of anticipating things which may not occur. We also exaggerate things which have already occurred. We worry about things which are uncertain – and that literally means not certain. There is no way to tell whether it will happen but we still obsess over uncertainties and what-if scenarios.
We worry about the things we cannot know. We cannot know if something will come true or happen because it’s in the future. Nothing is promised, including whether you will even be alive tomorrow. I know it sounds morbid, but it’s a good reminder to remain in the present and enjoy this current moment. Because it’s really all we have. We also worry about the things we cannot control, and if we are being honest, that is most everything in life. Of course, we should try to steer our lives in a certain direction but we have no control over much of what occurs. Life is unpredictable and it can change in a moment’s notice.
When we let the anxiety keep us from remaining present, we let our lives pass us by. What might have been or what may be is irrelevant. Because it’s unable to be changed, and the outcome is not something we have complete control over. When we allow our thoughts to keep us from being present, we end up taking for granted the little things which bring us happiness at that moment. We end up being somewhere else in our mind even though our body may be present. And it makes those around us feel unappreciated.
Recognizing Our Thoughts
If you want to relieve some of that anxiety, you need to practice learning to recognize the thoughts you are having. Are they useful? Do they serve a purpose at this moment other than worry? Once you can understand the types of thoughts you are having, you can learn to react accordingly. It’s being mindful of the kinds of thoughts which has been key for me. One of the good things is you can practice mindfulness at any time, and anywhere. But what helps make the practice easier is meditation.
Meditation and mindfulness are really two different things. Meditation helps you in learning how to become mindful. Studies show meditation has a beneficial effect on anxiety and stress, is associated with positive outcomes with regard to depression relapse, and can reduce loneliness in older adults. These are a small sampling of the benefits of meditation. But many of you may not know how to get started in meditation. While its popularity has increased, it has also seen an increase in people making it more complicated than it needs to be.
“Our own worst enemy cannot harm us as much as our unwise thoughts. No one can help us as much as our own compassionate thoughts.”
How to Meditate
- In meditation, the key is the breath.
- First, go to a quiet place and get in a comfortable position. Sitting is preferred, however, do what makes you comfortable and go to a place you will not be distracted.
- Close your eyes and turn your attention to your breathing. Breathe naturally, through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breathing. Become aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
- This sensation of the breath is the key to meditation. Concentrate on your breathing before anything else.
- At first, your mind will be busy, and you may feel that the meditation is making it worse. But in reality, you are becoming more aware of how busy your mind really is.
- You will notice you will want to follow the different thoughts as they come. Allow them to come and notice them, but immediately return to the breath once you realize you are paying more attention to your thoughts.
- Repeat as many times as necessary until your mind settles down and you are concentrating on your breath.
- Meditation does take some practice, and it is common to continually have thoughts while meditating. But the more you practice, the easier it becomes. Meditation allows you to learn how to recognize your thoughts and understand what types of thoughts you are having. It also allows you to remember to focus on your breath anytime you begin to overthink.
- However, you don’t have to be meditating to focus on the breath instead of your thoughts. Whenever you feel overwhelmed or are stuck in a negative thought pattern, turn to the breath and calm your mind.
Both being mindful and practicing mediation have worked wonders for me and it can do the same for you. With practice, patience, and an understanding of how it works, you can start the path to a healthier, happier life as I have.
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