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Can mindfulness help with anxiety?

The practice of mindfulness sounds deceptively simple; the intention is to be more aware and present without any judging or criticizing. Yet for most of us, focusing on the present without any intrusive thoughts running along in our head for even one minute seems an impossible task to master. Our minds are so used to run many different scenarios, thoughts and predictions at any given time. Not just about the present, but also about the past and future.

Our minds are both incredibly complex and yet very simple at the same time. Everything that we have experienced and learnt will be used in order to keep us safe. When we have experienced spilling boiling water from the kettle over our hands, we know to be careful in the future while making a cup of tea. When we have experienced a serious accident on the motorway, our mind might advise us to avoid motorways altogether. Sometimes our mind will use past feeling states, e.g. if we have felt a little nauseous on a flight, it might alert us to get off the moment it recognizes that we are in a similar situation, even if there is no danger at all.

Of course this way of using past experiences is the foundation of all learning. Imagine though if we could access and apply an effective strategy in the moment, when we are calm and present, as opposed to running endless scenarios relating to past or future situations that haven’t happened yet and might never happen. It could allow us to see more clearly what is needed at that specific time and have more energy available to apply our knowledge and wisdom to deal with the relevant situation.

Mindfulness not only advocates being in the present, it also encompasses observing our thoughts and feelings without judging, and to be accepting of what is. A feeling of compassion towards ourselves can be liberating as we are all able to put a lot of energy into anticipating and worrying about how we should feel or act, often coming up with the worst-case scenarios.

When we are fearful or anxious, we don’t want to feel that way. We imagine it could be different. However focusing on the lack of or gap between what we have and what we want often emphasises the very feeling of anxiety or unhappiness. When we take a moment to acknowledge our fear and feelings, and are compassionate with ourselves, the power of the negativity dissipates.

Mindfulness is not about forgetting the past or avoiding planning for the future. It is more about recognizing that the past has gone and the future hasn’t happened yet. We can have memories of the past, but we don’t need to be the memory ourselves. We can make plans for the future and they are just that. We can learn to be in the present and consciously accept that we don’t have to experience in our minds things all over again or live them before they have happened to us.

Topics: Anxiety, Mindfulness