Taking Control Mindfully, by Beth Lewis
This is part two in a series that follows how I personally cope with anxiety, you can find part one here, about finding yoga.
It is very difficult to notice a health issue (physical and mental) before it needs medical intervention or becomes an unmanageable issue. However, we can identify early signs that something is wrong by noticing any irregularities in how our bodies feel. We all know that when we are stressed, we might tense our shoulders, or grit our teeth, but very rarely do we spend a moment to look at the connection between our bodies and what might be contributing to the physical discomfort.
Thanks in part to our hectic lifestyles, we habitually pass over signals from our body that something might be amiss, but if you can be more aware, it is sensible to treat discomfort earlier, before allowing it to progress into more advanced stages. I imagine this is true of almost all illnesses, but in this post I will be focusing how I keep anxiety in particular at bay by noticing what’s going on in my body. I’m by no means an expert, but these techniques help me so hopefully could help you, too.
Capture how you feel physically
Stop what you’re doing, sit down, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Take some time to have a little mental walk around your body. Notice an area that feels tense (for me I find that I clench my teeth or tense my stomach muscles when I’m anxious.) Travel to that part of your body in your mind, and see what the first thought or feeling comes to my mind whilst you’re there. Now inhale, and then tense that part of your body really hard. Exhale, and relax that part of your body, letting whatever thought you’re holding onto go with it. I find that I hold a lot of feelings in my body, and this is a really useful technique for giving myself permission to let go of thoughts that are “stuck” somewhere.
Catch your thoughts!
This is a really good technique for me if I am ruminating or brooding over thoughts. It can also be useful if you know you’re avoiding dealing with something, and it is weighing heavy on you. It takes a lot of visualisation so it’s good to be in a quiet environment. Preferably sitting somewhere where you can close your eyes without distractions, take a long deep breath. Focus on your breath, and allow your thoughts to come and go. If something difficult or painful turns up in your thoughts, visualise catching it and putting it gently in a really nice, safe environment. Tell yourself that your thought can’t run away, or rule you, but that “it is safe, and I am too, and I am able to sit and observe it.” When your thought is in this environment, try to observe it with curiosity, like an outsider. Questions to ask:
What are the sensations happening in your body?
Are you feeling a certain way emotionally?
What does this feeling look like in your head?
Can you “feel the edges” of this thought?
Is there a colour associated with this feeling?
What does the thought try to lead onto?
Has your brain already gone onto something else?
Are you trying to control your thoughts?
Are you wanting to act on this thought or feeling?
The idea behind this, is that by being able to observe your thoughts, it may be easier to find links between anxious feelings and any recurring thoughts. With practice, I find that this technique helps me to accept these feelings with kindness, rather than act on them or let them rule me.
If you are feeling completely panicked and overwhelmed due to anxious thoughts, this technique may help. Stop what you’re doing and find a safe, quiet space. Sit or lie down, and try to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Close your eyes and ground yourself by touching whatever is around you with your hands and your feet. Ask yourself if you’re physically safe. (The answer is yes 99% of the time.) Tell yourself out loud you’re safe. Whatever you’re touching, ask yourself these questions:
How does this material feel?
What’s the texture like?
Is it hot/cold?
What’s the difference in texture between my skin and the material?
How does it feel if I move my hands slower or quicker?
What’s the difference in sensation between my fingertips and palms of my hands?
Practice a deep breathing technique whilst doing this, try one of these techniques.
The idea behind this technique in very panicky moments is to help your brain understand that physically, you are safe. Once your nervous system has calmed down, you may find it useful to go back to one of the above techniques, or practice some meditation, to help calm your mind.
I hope these techniques provide some food for thought, they’re based on mindful practices, but have been adapted to what suits me. Maybe you could take on some of these techniques and adapt them to your own needs? The most important thing to take into account is being able to accept and allow, rather than fighting or judging your thoughts.
Thanks for reading!