Written by Elaine Smookler, RP. Faculty, Centre for Mindfulness Studies. Columnist- “Inner Wisdom” Mindful Magazine , Faculty, eMindful
Actually, anxiety is part of normal life. In fact, anxiety is a natural response to stressful or threatening situations, change of all sorts and the ever-present uncertain future. Who hasn’t felt a sense of dread, unease or fear, at times? Or noticed their jaw clenching, heart racing, and palms sweating? Believe it or not, anxiety can be helpful. It motivates us to prepare, to think through possible outcomes, and to stay alert to protect ourselves and those we love.
Nevertheless, anxiety is debilitating for many adults, teens and even children. While it’s a natural response to stressful or threatening situations, it becomes out of balance when we over-estimate the danger of everyday life situations. In fact, it can become a habit to see situations as more threatening than they actually are. Getting caught in this cycle of irrational and repetitive thoughts and fears about what might go wrong interferes with the ability to thrive.
Whether you’re trying to manage the normal anxieties of daily life, or whether you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder, mindfulness can help. One of the most powerful ways mindfulness helps to loosen the grip of anxiety is by breaking the belief that all of our thoughts are facts. Once you’re able to see through this false sense of reality you realize that it doesn’t make sense to believe everything you think. This shines a light onto an important awareness — that the feelings of “threat” causing us so much stress, often have more to do with HOW we are viewing a problem, than the problem itself. While this realization may not make the anxious thoughts and feelings go completely away, it does allow you to shift your focus to strategies that can be used on the spot to bring you a feeling of calm, or give you the ability to manage a difficult moment more effectively.
This is good news. We often have little control over what comes our way, but neuroscience, medicine and psychiatry suggest that it serves us to be able to notice our emotions, thoughts, and how these effect our bodies. By doing so, through mindful practice, we can nurture a greater sense of peace and well-being, and improve our resilience to stress. In the past forty years, mindfulness has been studied with an eye to how it can interrupt the perpetual cycle of anxiety that makes many of us feel trapped.
This week, the Mindful Dailies will provide an opportunity to stop, take a breath and notice that you are not alone. These regular, live, online practices provide you with skilled teachers to help guide you as you learn to recognize the familiar triggers for anxiety, as we explore symptoms of anxiety such as social anxiety, overwhelming worries, obsessive thoughts, or simply managing uncertainty. Bit by bit, this brings new awareness, new healthy habits, greater freedom from life’s daily stressors, joy and resilience.
See you there! And in the meantime, the S.T.O.P. practice can help when anxious thoughts start to amplify, link together and cascade. In the four simple steps of the S.T.O.P. practice we remember to:
Stop: even for a moment, when we notice our anxiety starting to rise up.
Take a Breath: engaging the calming effects of the parasympathetic nervous system by taking a longer exhale than your inhale by inhaling to a count of four and exhaling to a count of eight.
Observe what is showing up: thoughts, emotions and any accompanying body sensations. Can you just let them be?
Proceed with wisdom and notice if this new awareness has led to a greater sense of space and freedom from anxiety.
Elaine Smookler is an eMindful instructor and registered psychotherapist, with a 20 year mindfulness practice.