Mindfulness: A New, Ancient Anxiety Treatment
Mindfulness is a natural remedy for anxiety, stress,and worry. Mindfulness helps increase happiness, peace, and joy. Sound good?
What is Mindfulness?
A simple definition is very difficult… experiencing it is easier than describing it. Mindfulness is a way of being…being mindful. It involves focus and attention on only what is happening in the here and now. It’s about noticing the present moment.
You’d be surprised how many moments of your day go by WITHOUT your conscious attention to the here and now.
Ever had a time when you were driving and suddenly realized you missed or almost missed a turn, or that you were further along the road than you realized because you were driving on auto-pilot? At times like that, the body and the mind are doing two different things.
Integrating Mind and Body
Mindfulness means keeping the mind and the body together in the present moment. Unless you have a magic time machine, your body’s only choice is to be in the present moment. But your mind has the amazing ability to go to other places.
Your mind can go to the future, worrying or anticipating what may or may not happen. It can also go to the past, rehashing what already happened, wondering if you did the right thing, guessing what other people thought, reliving a positive or negative experience.
Stress and anxiety often result when the mind goes somewhere else. This is why I incorporate mindfulness into my anxiety treatment work with clients. Zen Buddhists have known this for centuries. Western medicine is just now realizing the value of mindfulness for anxiety disorders.
How to Enjoy Your Tea
Thich Nhat Hanh, famous Zen Buddhist Master, said: “You need the practice of mindfulness to bring your mind back to the body and establish yourself in the moment…Suppose you are drinking a cup of tea. When you hold your cup, you may like to breathe in, to bring your mind back to your body, and you become fully present…You are not lost in the past, in the future, in your projects, in your worries…you enjoy your tea.”
Mindfulness often begins with slowing down and consciously focusing your attention on what you can notice in the here and now with your senses: seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, touching.
You can notice how your tea cup feels in your hand, smell the aroma, feel the heat, taste the different flavors on your tongue. As you simply notice, you become the “observer.”
Notice and Accept
The mindful “observer” can simply notice physical sensations, and then begin to observe thoughts and feelings as well, all without judging or analyzing.
Observing your thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental and accepting way helps you approach stressful situations more clearly and in a mindful (i.e. not mindless) way. Rather than have an automatic anxiety reaction to a distressing event, you will be better able to mindfully choose a more objective response.
Practicing Mindfulness for Anxiety Relief
There are many different ways to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness can involve a formal practice, and it can also be integrated into many of your usual daily activities.
A formal practice might mean setting aside time for a sitting meditation or mindful movement practices like walking meditation or yoga. However, this is not necessary.
Mindfulness transforms stress and anxiety when it becomes a way of life… a way of being where you are truly present in the moments of your life. You must be present to love. You must be present to experience peace or contentment. You must be present to feel pure joy.
Moment-to-moment mindfulness involves a relaxed state of awareness, noticing your inner and outer worlds without judging or trying to control anything. This state of being requires commitment and lots of practice.
Simple Day-toDay Mindfulness
You can be mindful as you focus your attention on your feet planted firmly on the ground. You can practice mindfulness while eating, walking, sitting with your pet, brushing your teeth, walking in the forest…when doing just about anything. According to John Teasdale, a leading mindfulness researcher, “Mindfulness is a habit, it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort…it’s a skill that can be learned… Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.”