Mindfulness has become quite the buzzword in recent years, but there is much more it can do beyond mere stress reduction, although that is certainly a big part of it. Mindfulness and anxiety are actually opposite ends of the spectrum because it is absolutely impossible to feel stressed and relaxed at the same time. Stress and anxiety are something we all have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. We usually only become aware of something like stress or anxiety when it begins to overwhelm us in some way. Experiencing stressful events and quickly recovering from them is a natural process that can be learned.
The practice of mindfulness is all about observing the thoughts for exactly what they are: thoughts. By being mindful and being in the present moment, you begin to realize that your thoughts do not define you or control you, they simply are.
By observing your thoughts in this kind of detached manner, you can begin to disassociate from your thoughts and learn how to relax and let go of stress and anxiety.
Being present in the moment is very powerful because it allows you to focus your awareness on here and now. It means accepting and understanding that each moment is meant to be experienced right now because tomorrow really never comes. Living in the present moment can completely transform your life so in essence mindfulness and anxiety go hand in hand.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. is the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and a Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He teaches mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR.
Kabat-Zinn’s work and research interests are focused mainly on the mind-body interaction as it pertains to healing but he is also focused on the clinical applications of mindfulness meditation training, and the effects of MBSR on the brain and the immune system.
According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness can help you cope with stress and anxiety, and even pain and illness. The MBSR program created by Kabat-Zinn is offered by numerous medical centers, hospitals, and various health care organizations.
Mindfulness most likely originated from ancient meditation practices. When you meditate or become mindful you focus on calming and quieting the mind. The premise behind meditation and mindfulness is simple, but as many people can attest to, it is easier said than done.
Meditation slows down your brainwave frequencies and it can help you change your outlook and ease away stress and anxiety. Meditation is really the absence of thought where being mindful means being aware of your thoughts but realizing they do not define you.
Anxiety is multifaceted and much more than a mere physical reaction. An anxious individual often experiences repetitive negative thinking, an exaggeration of fear or threats and a hyper-aroused state of mind. When someone is anxious, the fight or flight response kicks into overtime.
Mindfulness-based therapy works by helping someone change the relationship between the anxiety and his or her thoughts. In other words, this kind of therapy encourages you to focus on the bodily sensations that occur when you are anxious. Being present in the moment and being mindful helps you open up to the negative thinking, so you can accept it and acknowledge it, rather than ignore it.
Although this may seem like a strange way to handle anxiety, allowing yourself to fully experience the anxiety allows you identify with it and then release it, which is very powerful. Anxiety is really nothing more than anxious thoughts, and sometimes anxious thoughts simply need to be recognized and processed.
This approach focuses on cultivating a different relationship to the various symptoms of anxiety, rather than constantly looking for ways to remove symptoms. The moment you accept the anxiety, for exactly what it is, merely anxious thoughts, you begin to realize that it is simply a misperception. Doing this allows you to process the anxiety, allowing it to dissipate.
Michele McDonald, a meditation teacher, first developed the RAIN technique for mindfulness over twenty years ago. This innovative technique is all about recognizing, allowing, inquiring and not identifying with the experience.
The RAIN technique can help you in many ways by helping you investigate your anxiety with kindness and compassion. It’s also about attempting to notice the thoughts without judgment and learning how to acknowledge and become aware of the thoughts without getting caught up in them.
Recognize. Recognizing is the first step and it involves sitting with the anxiety and acknowledging the thoughts and feelings that are affecting you. The first step in becoming unstuck is about recognizing that you are stuck. When you can notice the feelings of anxiety without judgment or even name the feelings, you can bring them back down to a manageable size. Sometimes we make more out of things than we need to and taking that first step and facing your anxiety head on is extremely powerful.
Acknowledge, Accept, Allow. This next step is all about acknowledging your distress and accepting it as your reality for the present moment. Accepting does not mean you like it it simply means you accept it for the present moment. This part of the process is also about letting the thoughts, feelings or emotions simply sit with you for a while. You can even practice naming the emotion so you can acknowledge it. For example, you could say to yourself, I am anxious and it’s OK. Accepting the emotion allows you to put those unpleasant thoughts at the front and center of your mind, rather than keeping them hidden and shamed.
Inquire, Investigate. This part of the process is about investigating and inquiring and delving more deeply into your anxiety or distress. You can ask yourself why you think you feel this way, if you have felt that way before or even focus on what might have triggered the current stress. Developing that natural curiosity is what this step is all about. It’s important to investigate with compassion because you don’t want to approach this part of the process with anger in your heart.
Non-identification. In this step, you simply allow yourself to realize that you are NOT your thoughts, feelings or sensations. These feelings and emotions can even be looked at from afar or as a distant observer. Another way to non-identify is to step aside and examine your emotions like a newsfeed. You can watch the emotions go by, but not actually be a part of them.
This is a powerful process because it helps you realize that these painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions are not YOU and they do not define you.
If you have trouble with this process, take a step back and remind yourself that you need to approach your thoughts, feelings, and emotions with self-compassion, kindness, and respect. This is not self-pity but simply recognition and acceptance that you are imperfect, yet perfect.
You can approach these hurtful feelings with empathy and compassion without being self-critical. Doing this helps you view your anxiety from a different perspective like a mother would cradle her child. Your anxiety may simply need to be acknowledged and recognized for exactly what it is at the moment. You don’t have to be afraid to sit with your feelings because there is always something to be learned from emotions, even negative ones.
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