The words ‘try not to worry’ are probably the least helpful thing people can say to those of us who have anxiety issues. The reality is our minds just automatically latch on to things to obsess about, and it can feel like there is no real choice involved. This is why mindfulness is such a wonderful practice – it is not about trying to stop these thoughts but learning how to manage them.
What is Mindfulness?
Most magazine and web articles about mindfulness will come with a picture of somebody sitting in the lotus position with a serene smile on their face – they will usually be on beautiful tropical beach somewhere. This depiction of the practice can lead to all types of misunderstandings about what it actually involves.
Mindfulness is a perfectly natural way to be – it is the way you experience the world as a young child. It just means that you are fully focused on the present moment without judgement. If of thoughts of the past and future start to arise, you just acknowledge this and bring your attention back to the present moment.
Efficacy of Mindfulness for Combating Anxiety
A literature review of 39 studies concluded that mindfulness is a ‘promising intervention for the treatment of anxiety’ (Source: Hoffman et al (2010) -The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review). There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence of people who have successfully used this tool to manage their symptoms.
How Does Mindfulness Help with Anxiety?
Anxiety occurs because the mind latches onto stories about potential threats in the future. There is always going to be something to worry about, and this is why out-of-control anxiety can suck all the enjoyment out of life. Mindfulness is effective for dealing with anxiety for a number of reasons including:
- It focuses your attention on the present moment instead of worrying about the future
- Anxiety puts your body into a state of readiness (the fight or flight response) but mindfulness can help you relax
- It makes you more objective about your thoughts so you can challenge them
- It teaches you to experience your emotions without resistance (it is the resistance to emotions that cause the most suffering – i.e. ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way)
- It calms your mind enough so that you will find it easier to find solutions to problems rather than just worrying