Healing Anxiety through Mindfulness

anxiety and mindfulness

Healing Anxiety through Mindfulness

by Aine Marron

Anxiety and its relief is a huge topic but for today I will limit this discussion to Mindfulness as a potential healing of Anxiety. Mindfulness has its origins in Buddhism and there is an ancient Buddhist equation:
Fear X Resistance = Suffering.

In other words - when bad things happen, they are made much worse by our resistance to being in that moment. Hence in Mindfulness circles we talk about "leaning in" or "turning toward" whatever it is that is bothering us. This takes practice and courage and most of all it takes kindness, a kind presence  towards Self. And for many of us - that can be a bit of a leap because when we are in the grip of fear our frontal cortex slows down and we become driven by the fear, we identify with the scared part and we are cut off from the True Self that has the capacity to objectively watch the fear arise and dissolve.

One of the reasons we become enmeshed is because Anxiety's main ingredient is anticipation.  Just think of going to the Dentist and ask yourself in the 24 hours leading up to the visit, how many seconds of pain do you actually endure? Yet the whole 24 hours can be fraught with the dread of the visit so that by the time we get there our muscles are rigid and tight, as if we are already in pain.

Mindfulness helps us to live in the moment. This is relevant because in this current example, even though we have a Dentist appointment at 3pm, we can be aware that there is no pain NOW, at 8am as we have breakfast And at 9am when we go to work, at 12pm when we are having lunch, right through to the actual trip to the Dentist, or even sitting in his waiting room or lying in the chair - no increased pain. Until he pricks the gum with the numbing needle, which takes approximately 2 to 3 seconds, you are not in any further danger of increased pain.

Many of my clients advise that the worst thing about anxiety is the loop that can happen - the fear of being afraid. It's a type of trance. So we need to employ tactics that "wake us up" from the cycle or the story of the fear/anxiety. One suggestion is to mindfully conjure a feeling of connectedness, bringing to mind someone you feel loved by or a path, person or place where you feel connected. From here it is often easier to find the part of you who cares about waking out of the trance and is able to dis-identify with the fear and step into the Self/Observer which is able to simply be aware of each thought, each emotion, each sensation. Robert Assagioli's Dis-identification exercise comes to mind:

I have a body, but I am not my body.
I have emotions, but I am not my emotions.
I have a mind, but I am not my mind.
I am a pure centre of awareness, the observer, an impartial witness of all thoughts, feelings and sensations.

For a longer version of this see here
You might like to record it onto your phone to have it handy if you need it.

Note: If the fear is trauma related, mindfulness may not be the best route to take.  Mindfulness Meditation can in this case exacerbate the problem and should not be seen as a one-size-fits-all approach.