Depression & Anxiety, Yoga & Meditation

Mindfulness: A method in the madness

If there is any one coping mechanism that I would suggest for someone who is really struggling with anxiety, practising Mindfulness would be it. Before, I had no tools for dealing with my anxiety. Entire days and nights were stolen away from me by my crippling attacks. I had no method but to play the waiting game and accept it helplessly as I felt it wash over me. Anxiety would simply paralyze me. And after days and weeks of this, all I had left was the fading hope that somehow something somewhere would eventually come along and save me from the madness inside my own head.

Mindfulness was that thing. My lifeboat on the sea of my mind. And I’m still learning to use it now, everyday.

Now, if I use the right methods I can have control over my anxiety levels, and sometimes I can even blow the anxiety right away. Compared to a month ago, it feels like a miracle. I am not saying this will work for everyone, and you must remember that this is after months of practising Mindfulness through carefully guided meditations. But I do feel that it would be unfair of me to write about my ‘miracles’ without sharing the methods I use and giving you the option to try them for yourself.

First though, a quick introduction to the practise. For those of you who have not come across the term before, Mindfulness, in my own experience, is my ability to focus on the present moment, while remaining free from passing judgement, and therefore allowing myself to be open and accepting to all of life as it comes and goes around me. Or words to that effect. Now there are lots and lots of books and courses both on and offline that probably explain Mindfulness much more profoundly and professionally than I can. But the premise is simple. This is what the Oxford Dictionary has to say on it…

mindfulness
ˈmʌɪn(d)f(ʊ)lnəs/
noun
1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Ok… So this all sounds very wholesome and connected and all, but how does this actually help me when I’m on an anxious downward spiral? Focus on how I’m feeling, when I’m feeling like this? I don’t want to do that. I want to escape this, not ‘experience’ it. Doesn’t this all just make it worse? That’s how I felt at first.

It took me a good few months of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) with a professional physcotherapist before I even began to understand the benefits of Mindfulness. I got very frustrated; with myself, with my physcotherapist, with the very idea of even attempting to overcome my anxiety. I’m ill, I thought, and if there’s no point just tell me, please. More than once I wrote Mindfulness off as ‘not for me, thanks’, simply because I wasn’t seeing the immediate effects that I wanted, or didn’t understand what the main outcome was. But thank God for sticking it out, because finally… finally… with some gentle coaxing, and just a little willingness on my own part, through Mindfulness I actually began to take back control.

So, sorry to keep you waiting, but I felt I should explain that first. Anyway, here’s what I do…

The premise is simple: Draw your attention from your racing mind to an object in front of you. Try not to pick something too complicated- I find that even a blank wall can work really well for me. And then… look at it. I mean properly. Look at it. Imagine that you are about to describe this object to someone who has never seen it before, in real, real great detail. Look at the colour, the shape, the shadows, the way the light falls on it, the texture. Really get to know what you’re looking at, down to the tiny tiny details. Memorise parts of it. Reference it to things that it reminds you of. Like the colour of eggshells, or the texture of fine sand, or salt. Get poetic. Get technical. Does it look soft perhaps? Does it make you think of stretched material in some way? Comparable to a pillow snug in its case maybe? Even better, if you can, actually describe it to someone out loud.

Do this for a couple of minutes at the very least, and longer if needed. That level of concentration, that meditating on one object, can be just enough to focus- really focus- the mind.

Now I’m not sure if this is correct, as I am no professional, but it seems to me that Mindfulness in this case is working as a sort of distraction from my present mental state, in actively focusing my attention on the material present state around me instead. I’m using Mindfulness here to basically select where I’m placing my focus. I’m not using Mindfulness in order to directly make myself calm- but that is just a wonderful side effect of the practise.

The focusing gives my head that little bit of space it needs to calm and stop spinning. I’m distracted from my racing thoughts. And the horrible physical sensations that accompany an anxiety attack normally then begin to fade out too. My heart rate and adrenalin levels drop, my breathing slows, the pressures subside, my jaw stops shaking, and my mind will gradually stop spinning on its own.

This activity might sound simple, or boring to you, when you’re all calm and collected yourself, but just try this when you feel like you can’t breath for the panic, and suddenly you’ll find that it takes every ounce of effort in your body just to find your focus. And that’s why you need to practise Mindfulness when you’re not feeling down, so that when you are anxious, you’re ready for it. You learn to swim in the shallow end of the pool, so that when your anxiety comes along and throws you mercilessly into the ocean, you can use some of those same skills and start to swim.

And, suddenly, I find that I am able to look back up, and see things more rationally, and know where I am, and that I am ok. And whatever thing or idea or even just the situation was that set me off, suddenly it doesn’t seem so hopelessly paralyzing anymore. And I am in control again.

I hope this makes sense to someone

Roo xx

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12 thoughts on “Mindfulness: A method in the madness”

  1. Good on you for plugging on with it! On a side note, I find sketching (quickly, with a fineliner) very calming as you have to stop and really LOOK at something. Just as staring at walls reveals new things, drawing that blank wall you mention,would also reveal that it’s not actually blank. I find the art of physically doing something more absorbing than meditating on it. Good luck with your meditations x

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    1. Thanks for commenting Nicola, you’re so so right. I have only become able to meditate alone since practicing A LOT on mindfulness!! Drawing is so absorbing, it just creates so much breathing space in your mind 🙂 good luck to you also x

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  2. What a brilliant, thoughtful, moving and helpful blog. So true that we make so many assumptions about other people and their supposedly perfect coping- sharing our much more complicated inner realities with others has to be helpful. I couldn’t agree more that it takes work to become and/or stay mentally healthy but it’s so easy to assume from what we see from the outside (and social media exacerbates this I agree) that it’s not the case for everyone.
    No magic cures out there I agree but mindfulness and openness all incredibly helpful- so thanks for sharing your experiences.

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    1. Thank you for the words of support Vikki. That really means so much for me to hear, and motivates me to keep going with it 🙂 you’ve made my day

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  3. mindfulness is incredibly simple at least in concept, perhaps a little harder in practice, but it has changed my life. It really has made a huge difference to my anxiety, and I’m glad it’s helped you too. I find that if I sit down to practice mindfulness with the intention of eliminating anxiety, it doesn’t do that. I practice with no goal or intention in mind, and an extremely pleasant and desirable side effect is that my anxiety goes away. It’s crazy that something so simple works so effectively, and it’s allowed me to start living again.

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    1. That’s so true. I couldn’t agree with you more. This is of course just one example of a mindfulness based activity that I have adopted to really really help me out of a dark place. I guess that because I’m focusing on the activity rather than on trying to just get rid of the anxiety is why it works so well for me- the calm is, exactly like you said, a side effect of the mindfulness. I’m so glad to hear it’s helped you too. I just couldn’t believe the difference it’s made to me, everyone close to me has noticed. It gives me so much hope 🙂

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      1. it’s amazing isn’t it? I’ve had anxiety and panic for 20 years and I had a nervous breakdown and mindfulness is what brought me back, it really has transformed my life and given me the ability to separate myself from my thoughts, we often believe we are our thoughts and that all of our thoughts are fact, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It also gives me so much hope, I feel like a different person, even when I’m very anxious I can manage it better. I hope that all people with anxiety are taught mindfulness as a way to cope. My doctor told me about it, so hopefully others will too

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