Focussed Mindfulness for Anxiety

If you have dealt with anxiety, you know that when worrying thoughts start coming, it can feel like an avalanche. Or a storm. Or a roller coaster. Whatever term you may use to describe it, it feels debilitating, and you feel powerless, unable to stop spiraling into a dark space. These thoughts may come out of nowhere, or you might have a routine, or a time of day when they set in.

The truth is, there is very little you can do about anxious thoughts and feelings. You can’t really stop them. You can’t switch off your brain, it works relentlessly. Sure you can distract yourself with other activities so your mind gets diverted, but it doesn’t mean the anxious thoughts and feelings are gone, it just means you are not paying attention to them in a given moment. This strategy can be effective but it is not sustainable. How much after all can you watch TV or read a book or go for a run. And what if anxious thoughts wake you up in the middle of the night or in a situation where you can not physically do anything.

Here’s what you can try to do – and if you can train your brain to work like this, it is effective for dealing with nearly every difficult emotion – you can observe it. Pay attention to it. Say to yourself, “Wow, I’m really anxious”. In other words, you are observing yourself having an emotion, sort of like a third party. I posted this on Instagram today, it is kind of like standing at the beach, watching high waves crashing at the shore, getting your feet wet but not getting into the water at all.

For those of you who practice mindfulness and meditation, you know that it is slightly different in that this is focussed on your anxiety. We can call it “selective mindfulness.” In regular meditation, depending on your practice or the school you follow, you may be paying attention to your breath, or parts of your body from head to toe. In our version, we are mindful about whatever is coming up – thoughts, feelings, images, sounds, anything, and being really interested and curious, like a researcher. When you do that, you prevent yourself from being caught up in the waves, or storm or avalanche. You are putting distance between yourself and your anxiety.

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