Learning ways to diminish the power anxiety has in our lives is a natural inclination. One way to go about this journey may actually be more about doing less as opposed to doing more. What would it look like to simply sit with the feelings you are experiencing and be curious about them?
Being inquisitive about our anxiety, and the underlying fear, may help up better understand what needs our attention. Healing comes from directly moving towards what we may have been avoiding. Imagine sitting with what you are experiencing, with the acknowledgment that it is okay to be uncomfortable. It is okay to be uncertain. It is okay to not know.
Mindfulness has become a modern day buzzword. It’s the new kale! But what does it actually mean? And how can the practice of mindful awareness help you to feel less anxiety?
Herein lies the paradox of healing. Mindfulness is merely a practice that helps us to notice what is. Mindfulness is not a way to manufacture emotional experiences that we judge as appealing or “good” or “positive.” When we take time to simply notice what’s real in the present moment, we come closer to acceptance of the wide range of emotions that make up the human experience.
A Better Balance
Accepting things as they are can help us to heal. When we are in this place of acceptance, we are free of the stories we tell ourselves about our emotions, the stories that keeps us stuck in our suffering. This doesn’t mean we become passive and without ambition, because we still act on our life. But mindfulness helps us balance the scales, with less “running away from,” on the one side, and more “kind acceptance” on the other.
For some, anxiety can be thinly veiling a different raw emotion, such as sadness. The fear of actually feeling the sadness is what keeps the sadness repressed, and keeps the anxiety alive. Depending on what you experienced growing up, sadness may not have been a safe emotion to express. Even well-meaning caregivers can sometimes express a knee jerk reaction to sadness. “Dry those tears,” “be a big girl/boy,” “tough it out,” “you’re fine,” and so on. Anything that is code for “it is not okay to express your sadness” can teach you to lose the ability to actually feel sadness. But sadness is natural, a raw emotion that is integral to the human experience. We can learn to feel sadness and other raw feelings, which in turn gives us more power in our life.
Sometimes we are taught that anger is okay to express and sadness is not. Sometimes it’s the other way around. The idea here is to move away from the place of “these emotions are ‘good’ and these emotions are ‘bad’ ” and more towards a place of acceptance of the entire range of the human emotional experience. This eases a great deal of our struggle.
Let’s say you sit with your anxiety; you take time before grabbing a glass of wine, dishing up the ice cream, logging on to social media, turning on netflix or digging into work well past an already full day… and allow for quiet. Simply sitting down to notice your breath, is all that is necessary to start your mindfulness practice.
Again, the paradox of healing is important to remember. You won’t learn to be present by doing mental gymnastics during this quiet time. The idea is to to let go of attempting to even achieve something. Just simply be there and be with what you feel. If you don’t feel anything, notice what that feels like to feel nothing. Notice your breath. Notice the texture of the chair you are sitting upon. Or notice the feeling of the fibres of the couch on your finger tips.
Maybe you can just feel the way your toes feel in your socks or how your bare feet feel on the rug. The simplicity and beauty of ‘just being’ is powerful. Of course your mind will wander, and you will get lost in thought, and that’s okay, it’s part of the practice. You just notice the thoughts and gently bring your attention back to the present. Do your best to let go of judgements such as, “I am not doing it right” or “this feels good,” and instead, simply notice and be there with whatever experience you are having.
How do I know if I need more help?
Taking this time to notice, to slow down and sit with quiet may highlight some more deep rooted issues that have been hidden for a long time. Mindfulness is not about always feeling good, it’s about noticing what is. If you find the practice of mindfulness to be too much, you may want to seek out the support of a mental health professional. There are many well researched, and highly effective treatments available to assist you in moving forward in learning to be more fully present and balanced with your body, emotions, and life altogether.