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…
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