Almost everyone experiences some form of anxiety at some point in their lives. Maybe it’s butterflies in your tummy or racing heart before a job interview or exam or big date. And it’s normal to feel these sensations. Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear and apprehension about what’s to come.
Mostly, these feelings dissipate by themselves after the event, or by talking with family, friends or colleagues.
But if your feelings of anxiety don’t pass so easily, it’s useful to know strategies for when we’re actually dealing with anxiety and it’s also useful to know some practices that can be done on a regular basis so you don’t ever get to that state of being anxious.
It’s useful to know how to settle ourselves when we’re beginning to feel anxious. Even better if we can put into daily practice some of things that work for us. It will be an individual thing according to each person’s temperament and what they enjoy doing in their life. But there are simple things like breathing and learning to settle yourself, starting with the little anxieties rather than waiting till you’re in the midst of a major one, that really help.
WHEN YOU HAVE THOSE LITTLE ANXIETIES …
Really focus your attention on the sensations that are flowing in and out of your body, perhaps breathing in through your nostrils and out through your mouth so that you really feel the sensations both in your nostrils but also the rising and falling of your belly. When you absorb yourself in those sensations, your anxiety levels begin quieten.
Some people set their alarm or mobile phone to go off every hour with some sound that is meaningful to them as a reminder to check-in with their breathing and make sure that it’s flowing right down deep into the abdomen, not being held in the upper part of your body. It can be useful to check in every hour throughout the day so that you don’t let your levels of anxiety increase within yourself.
COMING TO YOUR SENSES
Another thing you might find helpful is one of those practices that is in the Toolkit section of our website – Coming to your senses.
Your body is always in the present moment. It’s never in the future and it’s never in the past. It only exists in the ‘now’. When you connect your breath with the senses of your body, what happens is that the brain quietens down – there’s not so much frenetic activity.
- Become aware of your posture, perhaps feel the chair or the bed or the floor supporting your body and notice where it supports you.
- Notice the touch of your clothing against your skin, or be aware of its texture and notice the movement of the clothing against your skin when you breathe.
- Be aware of any taste in your mouth, any aroma in the air and all of the sounds in and around the space that you’re in.
- Really fill up your awareness with these sensations.
Try and find one sense that works for you. It may be aural, what you can hear. It may be visual, what you can see in front of you.
Some people might focus, for example, on looking for red objects and that keeps their attention very focussed on looking for just one thing. You might choose to focus on something outside your body that is a constant anchor to the present moment.
When I had anxiety attacks when I was 21, I used to walk in circles on cold stones in Holland. We had a farm in Holland and in the barn was a cold stone floor. In the middle of winter, when there was snow on the ground outside, sometimes I’d walk in circles with bare feet just to keep the sensation of the coldness against my feet. Otherwise I felt I’d tumble into this abyss of anxiety from which I felt I’d never emerge.
So even then, I’d find ways of anchoring myself to the present moment. It’s such a valuable skill to have. And today I practice Coming to your senses throughout the day rather than walking on cold stones!
QUALITIES THAT ARISE OUT OF STILLNESS
We know that when the brain is quiet we have access to wonderful qualities – the qualities that arise out of stillness. The qualities are insight, intuition, wisdom and ability to read the moment, bringing our life experience to that moment, creativity and humour.
FIND A CRAFT OR HOBBY YOU LOVE
Focus on something you love to do – whether it’s a craft or a hobby so that you keep your attention very finely focussed on whatever the task is you have at hand. Gardening, cooking, photography, puzzles, swimming, yoga, painting, writing, cross-stitch, knitting …
All of these activities help you ‘be’ in the present moment and focus your attention.
Compassion lies in the present moment – as do humour, spontaneity and no judgement – and an ability to engage moment by moment with life rather than walking around in your own abstract absent state.
IF YOU’RE EXPERIENCING ANXIETY
For those experiencing anxiety, I encourage you to try a practice like the breathing one described above every day for a month. The meditation muscles in your brain will function better.
If your mind is projecting all its worries, concerns, fears, limitations and anxieties into the future and you’re finding it difficult to cope, and these feelings begin to interfere with everyday life, work and relationships, then it’s time to find help, as these feelings can be difficult to come to terms with on our own. Speak to your trusted GP.
Quest for Life can also help you through our 5-day residential program Healing Your Life and 1-day workshop Living Mindfully: with Mental Anguish. By learning strategies and techniques to manage your response to life’s events and ways to calm an anxious mind, you can regain control of your life and move towards peace of mind.