Friday, December 1, 2017

Guest Post - How Can Mindfulness Help With Anxiety - By Jacqueline Gammon



HOW CAN MINDFULNESS HELP WITH ANXIETY?

I’m delighted to be a guest blogger today on It’s Not Your Journey. A blog like Rebecca’s is essential, as it provides a place where people can go to find an honest voice. She tackles an issue that many are afraid to talk about – depression, and openly describes her own experience of it. I believe that it is only by being open about our feelings that we can truly help one another, instead of trying to hide behind superficial images of happiness and staged perfection. The internet is full of those! What we really want to know is that there is someone out there who feels the same as we do, and who can understand what we are going through. Also, when people share their own coping strategies, we gain a sense of community which is often lacking today. How many of us get the chance to soothe our worries over a cup of coffee with a friend or neighbour? How many of us would even admit to our deepest emotions? Fortunately, Rebecca does.

My own blog is Go-To Mindfulness. I became a mindfulness teacher after experiencing the benefits of mindfulness in my own life and then set up the blog to share my knowledge with others. I wanted to provide a place for people to find information, resources and help.

Mindfulness has its origins in Eastern meditation practices, dating back to the earliest teachings of Buddha. In the 1970’s, while meditating, Jon Kabat-Zinn had the idea of adapting meditation techniques to the needs of patients suffering from stress. In 1979 he set up a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and so the MBSR (Mind Based Stress Reduction) programme was created. Today his programme is used all over the world for the reduction of stress, anxiety, depression and to cultivate a general sense of well-being.

My focus today will be anxiety.

Anxiety

We’ve all been anxious at some point in our lives. Some people become anxious about exams, others worry about getting on a plane. I become anxious when driving, even though I’ve been driving for thirty years. There is no logic behind it, but every time I get behind the wheel I feel tense. Anxiety can also be caused by caffeine. People who suffer from depression can become anxious as soon as they have a bad day, worrying that it will be the trigger for more severe feelings.

Anxiety is a natural response to feeling threatened, whether that threat is real, or imagined, our brains cannot tell the difference: our breathing becomes more rapid and our heart rate increases. We can find ourselves stuck in a cycle of negative thinking, unable to see our situation objectively. To us, the threat is real, and our body reacts accordingly, in extreme cases it can provoke a panic attack.
  
So, how can mindfulness help?

Mindfulness helps us focus on the present moment by using the breath as a calming and anchoring tool. If we can become calm, then we can often see our situation with more clarity and act accordingly. Even by inhaling slowly through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, for a few minutes, we can regain a sense of control. I recommend downloading an app like Insight Timer, retreating to a quiet place and listening to a guided 3-minute meditation such as the one by Peter Russell https://insighttimer.com/peterrussell/guided-meditations/three-minute-meditation

However, some people say that when they are extremely anxious, placing their complete attention on the breath makes them feel worse. So, another strategy is to combine touch and breathing: The Finger Breathing Exercise is a simple technique for reducing stress and anxiety or to regain clarity of mind. You might like to try the exercise as you are reading it for the first time:



FINGER BREATHING EXERCISE


1.     Hold out one hand in front of you with your palm facing towards you.
2.     Use the index finger of your other hand to trace up the outside length of your thumb while you breathe in, pause at the top of your thumb and then trace it down the other side while you breathe out. That’s one breath.
3.     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. That’s two breaths.
4.     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.
5.     Repeat this sequence until you feel your anxiety fade.


Thoughts are just thoughts

For general levels of anxiety, another useful approach is to remind yourself that thoughts are just thoughts. They are not real. Thoughts are transient and will pass. As will stressful events.

When my brother-in-law was critically ill in hospital, my sister and I caught sight of the words that were above the reception desk in the hospital, “This too shall pass.” It was a reminder that what we were feeling at that moment was not permanent, although it certainly seemed that way at the time. We tried to remember those words each day as we went in and out of the hospital, to put things in perspective. Those words did take the edge off my anxiety, and I still use them today.

A mindful approach also came in useful when our mother was diagnosed with cancer. My sister and I made a conscious effort to try to stop worrying and predicting the future and to take things day by day. That way our energy wasn’t used on worrying about the things that we could not control, but on the things that we could; like being there for our mother and keeping her calm. When she began to panic at the prospect of chemotherapy, we would gently remind her, and ourselves, that we needed to focus on today. Fortunately, the operation was a success, but I often think how much energy we could have wasted and how anxious we would have become if we had sat there predicting every possible outcome.

It’s incredible how powerful our mind is and the effect it can have on our body! The more we practice simple strategies like the Finger Breathing Exercise, the easier it will become to use them during difficult moments. So, next time you’re anxious, have a go at the finger breathing exercise, or just take a few minutes out of your day to inhale and exhale - feel the difference and remind yourself: This too shall pass!

For further information about mindfulness you can visit my website at:

or find me on Twitter and Facebook:


Thanks for being mindful with me today!

Jacqueline Gammon
xx



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