Mindfulness and All That Jazz: getting control of anxiety




Whether we admit it or not, we all worry.  Big things, like your job, your relationships, or missed opportunities.  Small things like your to-do list or the stupid thing you think you just said.  A certain amount of worrying is completely normal and expected, but when your worries take over, it can stop you from enjoying what’s happening in the present moment.   When worries feel overwhelming, it can become anxiety or even cause a panic attack.

Do you find that you spend most of your day in your head, thinking, analyzing, planning?    When you’re lost in worry, it’s easy to mistake your fears and worries for facts, instead of recognizing that they are just thoughts.  Feeling anxious in response to these thoughts can make your stomach tighten, your breathing faster and shallower and your heart begin to pound.  Your fingers and toes may feel tingly or numb and you may even feel lightheaded.  This pattern can interfere with your sleep, hamper your body’s ability to digest and repair, and leave you feeling strung out and exhausted.

Many people experience this at times. You are not alone.

What to do when you notice yourself getting lost in worry, having repetitive thoughts, or feeling sensations of tightness or nervousness in your body.  Many people get upset with themselves for feeling worried, anxious or panicky, and try to fight it.  This actually intensifies the anxiety and makes it worse.  Rather than telling yourself you shouldn’t be feeling what you’re feeling or trying not to feel upset, it’s important to allow yourself to feel however you are feeling.  If you can learn to tolerate some uncomfortable feelings, those feelings are more likely to settle down and pass.

Here are three simple and quick mindfulness techniques you can use to help break free from worry and away from anxiety.

1.     Grounding

One of the best ways to calm yourself down is to anchor yourself by directing your attention into the lower half of your body. Begin by focusing on your feet and how they feel inside your socks or shoes and against the ground. Wiggle your toes. Notice the sensations in your lower legs and then in your upper legs.   Do they feel heavy or light? Warm or cool? Tingly or numb? Now include the sensations of your breathing, really relaxing as you breathe out. Use this to anchor yourself, with your eyes open or closed, while sitting or while walking around.  Then breathe.

2.     Breath counting

This technique can be used in conjunction with grounding or on its own. On your next in-breath, count up to 4 as you breathe all the way in, and then on the out-breath, count up to 6 as you breathe all the way out. This technique slows down your breathing. It also forces you to release more carbon dioxide, slowing your heart rate, calming you down and restoring emotional equilibrium.  If you choose to slow your breath even more, make sure that the out-breath is at least two counts longer than the in-breath.   Aim to continue for 4 minutes or as long as you need.

3.     Finger breathing

Finger breathing is another version of breath counting. Hold one hand in front of you, palm facing towards you. With the index finger of your other hand, trace up the outside length of your thumb while you breathe in, pausing at the top of your thumb and then trace it down the other side while you breath out.  That’s one breath. Trace up the side of the next finger while you breathe in, pause at the top, and then trace down the other side of that finger while you breathe out.  Keep going, tracing along each finger as you count each breath. When you get the end of the last finger, come back up that finger and do it in reverse.       This practice gives you something visual to focus on and something to do with your hands as well as focusing on counting and your breathing. It’s very useful when there is a lot going around you and it’s hard to just close your eyes and focus inwards.


These mindfulness techniques are not new.  Try them and notice what happens.

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