Can Mindfulness Help My Anxiety?

Let’s Talk About Anxiety

When we feel anxious, it’s because our bodies are responding to a threat. Sometimes the threat is real.. Other times, we perceive, or believe, that a situation or person is a threat when it might not be. Anxiety can even come from a conscious or unconscious memory of a past trauma or threat.

But even though perceiving that something is a threat is very different than facing an actual threat, we react the same way. In those moments, our body believes that the situation is life or death. It responds as if a tiger were about to pounce on us, when maybe we’re only worried about meeting new people and how we’ll be received.

Social Media and Anxiety

Many present-day things can activate our fight/flight/freeze response, making us feel stressed, overwhelmed and anxious. Social media is one of them. For example:

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  • Not getting enough likes on a social media post

  • Not getting a quick enough response to a text message

  • Feeling left out when friends post about their activities

The ping of your cell phone is all it takes for your body to respond as if it were it were having a life-threatening experience. In contrast, feel-good hormones called endorphins are released when we do get the “Likes” and responses we hoped for. Our brain is feeling the perceived “love” coming from those likes and texts.

It’s not just social media that can trigger anxiety. In today’s world where we’re impacted by a constant flow of news. We hear about mass shootings, disasters and conflict all over the world as it’s happening. It can feel like we’re there, and our bodies will respond in kind.

Those of us who have experienced trauma (which is many of us) are already primed to respond to potential dangers and perceived threats. So even small things can makes us feels stressed, overwhelmed, or terrified.

Living in this constant state of what therapists call “hyper-arousal” can impact our physical and mental health. We’re producing the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline all the time. That’s not good for our body or our sense of well-being.

So how do we help ourselves manage the bombardment of perceived threats we encounter everyday?

Using Mindfulness to Help Ground and Be Present

Mindfulness can help us increase our awareness of:

  • Where we are

  • How often we get distracted by our worries and thoughts

  • How our bodies react to all of the potential threats we encounter throughout the day

When we focus our awareness on the things that are happening right now notice what takes us away from the present moment, we’re being mindful. Focusing our attention on our body’s sensory experience means we’re getting out of our heads. When we focus on the body, we can’t be focused on our worries and thoughts. 

Here’s a meditation that will help you with that practice:

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Get yourself into a comfortable seated position, either on a cushion or chair. You can lie down if you’re feeling awake enough not to fall asleep. I’ve written this as if you’re in a seated position, so modify it as needed if you’re lying down.

Take three slow, deep breaths. Try breathing deep into your belly as you inhale and exhaling all the air out contracting your stomach. Do this two more times.

Now let your breath resume its natural rhythm.

Bring your focus to your breath as it enters and exits your body. Where is your breath most noticeable to you? On the tip of your nose? At the back of your throat? Your chest or your belly rising and falling? Wherever your attention is drawn to, notice that. You can place a hand on your belly or chest if that helps.

Your mind will wander, because that’s what our minds do. Each time you notice your attention has been drawn away from your breath I want you to notice that.

  • If you’re thinking about the day ahead you might label it “thinking” or “planning.”

  • If you’re lost in a daydream you can say to yourself, “daydreaming” or “imagining.”

  • If you get caught up in your worries jut label it “worrying.”

Each time you notice you’ve been carried away, bring your awareness back to your breath.

Next, bring your attention to the sounds in the room. Maybe you hear a clock ticking, or the air-conditioner or heating system. Then focus on the sounds outside the room. Maybe you hear voices, or the wind or birds chirping. Just notice whatever it is.

When your mind wanders, and it will, make note of where it goes. Try labeling it thinking or planning, daydreaming or worrying. Then bring your attention back to the sounds.

Next shift your focus to your body. Notice where your body makes contact with the chair or cushion. Notice where your feet touch the floor, notice where your hands touch your body or the chair or floor.

When your mind wanders, make note of where it goes. Label it thinking or planning, daydreaming or worrying. Then bring your attention back to your body.

Finally, shift your focus back to your breath as you breath in and out. Take one last deep breath in and out. And when you’re ready, open your eyes and slowly bring your awareness back to the room.

Mindful Awareness in Everyday Life

You can bring this mindfulness practice into any activity you do. Driving your car, taking a walk or brushing your teeth all can be done with mindful awareness. Each time you notice that your attention is drawn away from the experience of whatever it is you’re doing, label where it goes.

When you bring an attitude of mindful awareness and notice without judgment how often your attention is pulled somewhere else, and how often you get caught up in your thoughts and worries, you can then kindly bring your attention back to the activity.

Mindfulness is a simple concept, but it’s not always easy. It takes practice and a non-judgmental mindset. But, with practice you too can feel more grounded, present and less emotionally reactive.

There are still a few spots left in the Tuesday afternoon Mindfulness Group that starts in October! If you live in the greater Annapolis, Maryland, area, consider joining us!. I’d love to have you be a part of our group! You can find out more about the groups here.

You can also listen to the Woman Worriers podcast episode on this very topic and the guided meditation included.

  If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979 .