In plain english Mindfulness is the practice of being completely engaged in the present moment. The idea is to clear your mind of every thought, every judgment, every reflection and every decision so that you are simply experiencing the present. This enables us to see the moment for what it is, without any pre-concieved notions or thoughts.
Have you ever lay awake in bed for hours thinking about things going on around you and found that all kinds of scenarios and thoughts raced through your mind? Often times we get caught in a spiral of unhelpful, stress-inducing thoughts and before we know it we are so stressed out that sleep is the last thing on our minds.
This is where Mindfulness can help and I don’t mean just at bedtime! In any situation where there is anxiety, stress or even depression, practicing Mindfulness can help to stop the negative spiral of our thoughts and let us see the moment for how it really is. Anxiety is a classic example where people get so stressed by the thoughts that are going around in their mind that they fail to see the situation for what it is, all they can see is the picture that they have in their minds and it is usually not good! Mindfulness can help with that.
The Seven Key Elements of Mindfulness explains more about the process of achieving a mindful state.
Long practiced in a wide range of Eastern philosophies including Taoism, Buddhism and Yoga, mindfulness has only recently emerged as a useful tool in western society and is being used to treat many different psychological issues such as chronic pain, anxiety and depression.
Using Mindfulness To Help Control Anxiety
Have you ever faced a situation where your mind played out scenario’s in your head that had you all tense and stressed before the event had even occurred? Maybe it was going for a job interview or facing up to someone that you had been arguing with or even stepping out the door and going about your daily life brings on these thoughts and feelings of stress.
Nobody is immune to anxiety and it does serve a purpose in life. If we were completely oblivious to it we could find ourselves in situations that may be life threatening but it is when the anxiety causes irrational thinking and behavior that it becomes a problem. How we are able to cope with these thoughts and feelings determines how much it affects us, some people cope with it quite well and seem very confident and secure in themselves but some of us are unfortunately controlled by our feelings of anxiety.
How does practicing mindfulness increase our ability to deal with anxiety? The art of living mindfully involves taking a break from the thoughts doing the rounds in our heads and seeing everything for as it is. That is not a great definition but it is a hard concept to put into words. In essence though what we try to do is to remove any emotion or feeling from the situation we are in and take everything on ‘face value’.
That’s great Craig, but how the hell do I do this? Glad you asked! (Sorry, I am in a particularly funny mood tonight. I have been struggling for a couple of days with my back pain and all my frustration is coming out here!) The first skill we need to develop is to recognize when we start feeling uncomfortable or anxious. Once we can identify these feelings at an early stage we have a better chance of nipping it in the bud before it becomes an issue.
The next step is to remove yourself from the situation – not physically and certainly not when your complete concentration is required. All of this takes practice and mental strength, I have been applying these methods in my life for over six months now and I am nowhere near getting it right one hundred percent of the time yet but persistence does pay off. Anyhoo, back to the subject at hand.
Once you have the chance to ‘remove’ yourself it is time to take a few deep breaths in and out. Now for the tricky bit, pick something to concentrate on. I like to concentrate solely on the rise and fall of my chest as I take the breaths. I also find that in the beginning I needed to close my eyes for this to work but please yourself. No falling asleep though!
As you focus your concentration on the one thing you have chosen you will notice thoughts come and go in your mind. That is perfectly ok, what we aren’t trying to do is suppress our thoughts. What we are trying to do is let those thoughts come and go but not pay any attention to them what so ever. Certain thoughts will enter our mind and what we were concentrating on will be totally forgotten.
All of a sudden that thought of what Mr. XYZ really thinks of us will come flooding back into our mind and we are back to square one again. The trick is to catch yourself before that happens and simply let that thought of Mr. XYZ come in and most importantly flow out of our mind without even a second glance given to it.
I have found that with practice I can clear my mind within a matter of minutes and once the feeling of calm comes back it is simply a matter of returning back to what you were doing. Make no mistake this does take a fair bit of practice and mental strength to achieve but I do know from experience that it does make life a great deal easier.