What Does It Mean: Anxiety and Mindfulness
I am always anxious. I spend me day worrying about things and I cannot turn it off. What are some treatments for anxiety in addition to medication? I know tranquilizers can be addictive if I use them too often.
There are a number of treatments for anxiety that are used in conjunction or in place of medication. Treatment depends on the person’s history and severity of the symptoms. The treatment I am going to address is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is a treatment that has become more popular recently. It has been adapted from a very old tradition: Buddhist meditation practice.
Mindfulness is a method of coping with anxiety by focusing on the present rather than being obsessed with concerns about the future or regrets about the past. Anxiety is related to fear, but fear is focused on a specific threat whereas anxiety tends to be chronic and constantly changing in its focus. Anxious thoughts keep shifting but they are usually centered around concerns about feeling a failure—in relationships, jobs, social situations, and past decisions. The continuous process of ruminating about the same worries is exhausting and as anyone who has gone through it knows. It is also unproductive. Anxious repetition does not solve problems. It just keeps sapping the energy of the worrier. Solutions to problems usually happens when we are relaxed, and open to new ideas. The person with anxiety is not open to new solutions as much as focused on why no solution to the problem will work.
Mindfulness is a training which helps focus on being aware of the present moment rather than getting caught in thoughts about a frightening future or misspent past. It uses sensory cues such as focusing on breath, the sounds outside, or the awareness of the body in space to help the anxious person stay grounded in the present moment. The goal is to help the worrier distance his or her thoughts from the endless repetition of worries. It helps the anxious person realize that their thoughts are not reality—they are thoughts and exist only in the mind. They are not accurate predictors of what is happening outside the self.
Mindfulness takes discipline and practice. Try for a moment to stay in the present and you will notice how easily you drift off into worries about the past or the future. Staying in the present helps calm the nervous system and provides energy rather than exhaustion. When we are focused in the present, we are more alive and more attuned to the life around us. There are a number of ways to get help with this practice. Therapists, meditation groups, yoga, and some AA chapters will focus on helping people develop mindfulness practices. Unlike medications, there are no side effects. While it takes effort and practice, like other good health habit it pays off in a fuller life.
I recommend The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Chad LeJeune PhD as a good workbook to help cope with anxiety.