The One Tool to Stop Anxiety in its Tracks Every Time
Anxiety, when left to its own devices, has a way of taking over our lives.
We can quickly get caught in thought loops, obsessively playing out our fears. And, in this naturally uncertain world, there is a never ending amount of scary scenarios we can conjure up to worry about.
Like many people, I've fallen into the trap of anxiety time and again.
But there is one tool that has the power to stop anxiety in its tracks every single time, and that is mindfulness.
Recently, I was trying to fall asleep when the fear of being kidnapped and tortured popped into my head. I mentally played out the story with impressive detail until my body was on the verge of a panic attack. And then, all of a sudden, a moment of clarity shot through me.
“Where are you right now?” I asked myself. I'm in my comfortable bed, underneath these warm covers, and it's quite lovely. I brought myself back to what was actually here, and focused on the present moment until the anxiety subsided.
What if I say the wrong thing at the meeting? What if my partner leaves me? What if a family member dies suddenly? What if I get cancer? What if...
Whenever we're caught in anxious thought patterns, we are always, always in the future, divorced from the present moment. We have forgotten where we actually are.
Reminding ourselves over and over again to wake up to the present moment is the essence of mindfulness.
Here are three ways to practice mindfulness when anxiety arises.
1) Notice that your thoughts are elsewhere.
The very first thing we have to do is wake up from the trance that is holding us in an anxious pattern. When we're lost in fearful thoughts, we can become so consumed by them that we're not even aware we've left the present moment.
Take notice when your mental focus is not in the here and now.
2) Come back to the present moment.
Once you've noticed you left the present, ask yourself, “Where am I right now? What's happening at this exact moment?”
Then, describe where you are to yourself. “I'm in my car, driving to work. The air around me is cool. The seat underneath me is soft. I can feel the steering wheel beneath my hands.”
When we focus so intently on the present moment, our mind has no room to get lost in anxious thoughts.
3) Stay with the sensations of the present moment.
As best you can, continue to focus on the current moment. Be aware of the sensations your body is feeling. Realize that from this place of presence, you're much better able to address situations that come up than if you're caught in unhelpful worry.
Remember that mindfulness is a practice. Often, after we refocus our anxious thoughts to the present moment, we can find ourselves slipping back into worry. Don't get down on yourself.
Instead, over and over again, gently guide your attention back to what's in the now.
With practice, it will become easier to remember to “wake up” from worry and redirect your attention back to the beauty of what's actually right here.