Treating anxiety with Mindfulness
Updated: Dec 17, 2018
‘Don't worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.’ – Mary Schmich
What is Anxiety and how does it affect us?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe.
Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life which is normal, however some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives.
When the excessive fuel in the blood isn't used for physical activities, the chronic anxiety and outpouring of stress hormones can have serious physical consequences, including: Suppression of the immune system, digestive disorders, Muscle tension and even Heart attacks. This article explores the possible causes of anxiety and tips to manage it.
Why are we anxious and worried all the time?
The root cause of all worry and anxiety is attachment. We get attached to everything and don’t want to lose it. When I say everything I mean it! We not only get attached to people and stuff around us but also to our status, beliefs and fears.
Let’s look at each of them closely:
People: the biggest fear is of losing someone we love, thanks to the news we are subjected to everyday most of us go into fear psychosis. It’s not rocket science they tell us about someone’s death because they know, we won’t be able to stop ourselves from reading it since we want our loved ones to be safe. Constant bombardment of news of death and misery may have two outcomes either we become numb or hyper-sensitive (fear psychosis). In both cases we suffer.
Stuff: we are mindlessly acquiring stuff and filling our lives with death since all this stuff is not alive. This also pushes the living beings away from us since we do not have enough space to accommodate them. Why do we accumulate so much stuff? Well we are hard wired for it, it’s like accumulating food, and we never know when we might get another chance to hunt. This again gets capitalized by marketing and advertising when they put a “SALE” board. Mostly it’s a limited time affair or “flash sale”, it’s now or never!
Status: Abraham Maslow called it “Self Esteem” need, right above social need. Why is it important? Well because we are taught “Survival of the fittest!” which is a famous phrase of Herbert Spencer (wrongly attributed to Darwin) which describes the idea that, in nature, there is competition to survive and reproduce if you are not at the top of the food chain you won’t survive. Again a great anchor for an advertisement, “The Exclusive Club” or Luxurious uber expensive watch, dress, car or house has become a sign of status. This leads to constant “Status Anxiety”.
Beliefs: We can go to any length to justify and force others to follow our beliefs. It is our attachment to our beliefs that keeps us on the vigil, it’s like standing on the country’s border with a hostile neighbor. You never know where the bullet might come from and if it does you have to defend your belief with whatever you have. I see it all the time on social media, one religion, country, caste, segment attacking another, and then the other retaliating with full force as if it is their duty to defend their belief. We become so blind and mindless in defending our beliefs that we cross all boundaries of humanity and civility. Honor Killing, Communal Violence and Rapes are just a few examples.
Fears: When we get hurt by someone or something we get attached to that memory and keep carrying it in our hearts for the rest of our lives, because we are trying to save ourselves from getting hurt again. We do not come out of that but keep reminding ourselves by telling others how badly we got hurt. Every time we narrate that story, we live it again, we go through the same pain and anxiety in our minds. It refreshes the wound.
How can we manage anxiety?
Mindfulness can put a stop to this spiral of unhelpful thoughts and help you focus on the present moment, rather than pre-living the future. These are a few tips on what we can do Mindfully:
Acknowledge, accept and let go.
Acknowledge: Feel the anxiety, observe how your body is responding to it, how it is affecting your breathing and body movements. Observe and acknowledge the thoughts that are triggering this anxiety. Each time a worrying thought enters your mind, acknowledge it and let it pass. Here are some ways to view worries and troubling thoughts:
1. As items on a conveyer belt.
2. As train carriages passing on a track.
3. As clouds floating off in the sky.
4. As helium balloons floating away.
5. As leaves floating by on a stream.
Accept: We need to accept the world as it is and not how we would like it to be. The world is a harsh and unforgiving place. There is immense pain and suffering all around us. People, Animals and Plants are killed mercilessly every day. Also accept that you can’t stop negative thoughts from entering into your mind.
Let go: Instead of trying to fight or suppress troubling thoughts and worries, simply allow them to come and go. Say to yourself, ‘Here's the thought that one of my loved one will die or fall sick/I won't get the job/I won't get this client or deal.’
Rationalise your thoughts, fears and worries about events by questioning them, in the same way as you would a salesman, who you believe is cheating you and selling you a substandard product or service, scrutinize them, beware they will come up with a lot of facts and justifications but don’t believe them till you see enough evidence of a real danger as a consequence if it’s serious then do what is in your control.
Focus on what you can control:
Focus on what you can change, rather than aspects of the situation that are beyond your control. Find one small step you can take now, in the present moment. Once you start doing something about the problem, you may feel less worried because you are thinking and acting in the present rather than projecting yourself into the future.
Accepting that we are mere humans is essential part of Mindfulness, it teaches us that there is a lot that is not in our control and we just have to do what we can with best of our abilities and then be satisfied.
Note: This article is not a medical advise, if you experience severe debilitating anxiety consult a General Medical Practitioner.
I wish you a Mindful Life!
By: S.A. Hussaini