Since my mother's death last spring, I've been grieving. Not a rare occurrence, of course. However, I never knew that anxiety is a common symptom of grief until I was deluged with it. For a few months, I was afraid of almost everything and lived in an adrenaline rush of fear night and day, anticipating danger and death to jump out from every corner to take me or one of my beloved family members away. It was physically and mentally excruciating.
Medication and therapy got me out of the worst of it. As a relatively new meditator, though, I wasn't able to bring much mindfulness to bear on the situation. Months later, life is a little more normal, and now I'm able to add meditation and mindfulness strategies to the mix. I've found that relatively little is written specifically about mindfulness as it relates to anxiety.
One of the problems with a mind entangled in anxiety is the high degree of emotional reactivity to other people, events, situations, memories, and images as well as the thoughts one has about all those things. But it doesn't stop there. If we're completely identified with the anxiety-inducing thoughts, we become reactive to our own reactivity, and the fear escalates.
Lately, I've had some success with a few mindfulness strategies that ease anxiety, at least somewhat. Every little bit helps.
(1) When you notice your reactivity growing, alert yourself that it's happening: "I'm completely identified with these thoughts, but I don't have to be." Another variation is to say slowly and clearly something like "there's no need to react to the reaction." That minor awareness puts just enough distance between you and your thoughts to get some breathing room.
(2) Experiment with mantras. When you go for a walk or meditate, and anxious thoughts and sensations arise, inwardly chant "shalom," "peace," or other calming word on each exhalation for several minutes at a time. Focusing on a soothing sound can help relax you more than you might expect. I'd always thought mantra chanting was the equivalent of shouting, "I'm really okay!" when you're obviously not, but its effectiveness surprised me.
(3) If you're inwardly belittling yourself about being anxious, you might say something like, "The mind is almost always disgruntled. I don't have to pay much attention to what it says. It can just mutter away back there." This stance can often reduce the "loudness" of self-talk. You accept the negative thought but pay it so little mind as to render it impotent.
(4) Anxiety can make you physically very tense. When I drive during a period of anxiety, for example, I notice that I put a death-grip on the wheel, hunch my shoulders, and strain forward. The back of my neck aches, and I don't breathe deeply. I'll recognize it and relax, but within mere seconds, the tension is back. If you find yourself doing something similar, accept it, don't fight it: "I'm tense. That's just how it is right now. I know why it's happening, so I can relax OR tense up, either one, and it's all good." The acceptance of whatever is happening, even if it's something unpleasant, tends to provide a little breathing room.
What mindfulness strategies do you use to reduce anxiety?
What are you noticing today?
for Mindful Monday
© 2014, post, Donna Pierce
Photo © 2010, By Killy Ridols (Patagonia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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