Tag Archives: Anxiety

Mindfulness and Strong Feelings

Mindfulness enables us to help ourselves with strong feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, and more. The key is getting out of our heads and into our bodies.

Emotions express themselves as physical sensations. You may feel a lump in your throat when you’re very sad, a tightness in your chest when anxious, a clenching of your hands and forearms when you’re angry. Finding that place in your body and simply feeling it often brings great relief and always provides useful information about potential solutions to our difficulties.

How does that lump feel? Is it heavy? Constricting? The tightness in your chest may feel solid one moment, and then open up. The clench in your hands may feel hot and shaky.

Our tendency is to try to think our way out of strong feelings. It never works. Noticing what our bodies feel like, though, allows us to process our emotions and extract valuable information from them for solving our problems.

For example, you find that your jaw is so tight it hurts. You take a moment to notice how it feels like solid rock, and find that you’re holding your shoulders up. When you soften them and bring them down, your jaw also relaxes a little.

Going further, you ask your jaw and shoulders what they’re trying to tell you. You realize you’re afraid that you won’t adequately handle some unpleasant upcoming task, that you “won’t do it right.” You weren’t aware that this was bothering you, but now you can remind yourself that you’ve handled situations like this in the past, and that you’ll do ok.

We often think that sitting with the physical expression of an emotion will make it worse, but generally the opposite is true. I’d like to hear your comments about experiences with this or your thoughts about it.

Meditation Relieves Anxiety and Depression

A study published in August 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that meditation is effective in managing anxiety and depression.

Drs. Michael Posner and Yi-Yuan Tang led the study of a type of mindfulness meditation called integrative body-mind training (IBMT). Adapted from traditional Chinese medicine by Dr. Tang, it uses a focus on present-moment experience rather than on a mantra.

After just 11 hours of IBMT, brain scans showed significant favorable changes in white matter around the anterior cingulate, a part of the brain involved in managing emotions and self-control. These changes did not take place in the brains of control group participants who practiced relaxation techniques.

A University of Oregon news release said that Drs. Posner and Tang found in 2007 that students who did IBMT for five days before a test showed low levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They were also better able to pay attention, and had less anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue than those in the relaxation control group.

Speaking on NPR’s Science Friday, Dr. Posner recommended practicing any form of mindfulness meditation. I discuss a number of ways in this blog to use mindfulness practice to help manage anxiety, depression, and other issues that bring people to therapy. An article you may find useful describes a short practice that uses your body’s wisdom to develop a more peaceful relationship with anxiety. If you try this practice, I’d like to hear your comments about your experience with it.

Dealing With Worry

Worry is draining. You try to get busy, but your mind keeps going back to the same thing. You forget about it for a while, and then a sick feeling in your stomach brings it all back. You can’t enjoy your family and friends because you aren’t really present. Popping awake at 3 am and knowing that you’ll lie there for the next two hours gives you something new to worry about.

What can you do to stop worrying and effectively solve your difficulties? The first step is to realize that worry is a problem in itself. The situation troubling you may well be serious, but worry keeps you from thinking clearly and taking effective action. Once you get a better handle on your worry problem, you’ll be better able to solve your other problems.

These suggestions may help you exit the worry trap:

  • Do some exercise — it’s very effective for reducing worry. Next, take a hot shower or bath.
  • Decide that for 15 minutes, whenever you catch yourself worrying, you will gently return your mind to the business at hand. Tell yourself that you can worry later if you wish, but right now, you’re going to focus on what you’re doing.
  • Without realizing it, you’re probably repeating over and over, “What if……what if…..what if?” Get a little distance from this by stepping back and telling yourself: I’m thinking “what if?”
  • Remind yourself that, whatever your problem is, many other people have faced the same difficulty and figured out a solution. You will, too.

Your solutions may include talking to a therapist, especially if you find that you cannot stop worrying despite using strategies like these. If so, please call me. I am experienced in helping people with a variety of worry and anxiety problems. Things really can get better.

Exercise Relieves Anxiety

Here’s some good news for people who suffer with worry or anxiety. A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that exercising for at least 30 minutes significantly reduces anxiety.

The authors analyzed 40 studies that involved 2,914 sedentary people with chronic anxiety. That translates into a lot of people who probably used to hate exercise. However, the pain of ongoing anxiety is a strong motivator.

The research abstract does not specify what the “exercise training” consisted of, but “training” implies vigorous effort. If you decide to start exercising so you can stop worrying, get some moral support. You are much more likely to stay with it when you have other people to encourage you and provide accountability. And get the go-ahead from your primary care doctor before you begin.

You may not believe it now, but you have powerful internal resources to free yourself from anxiety’s vice grip. Even if you are exhausted from the daily struggle to control fear, try exercise anyway. Do it as an experiment. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.

A Mindful Approach to Anxiety

Anxiety, stress, worry — whatever we call it, many of us are much more familiar with it than we would like to be. Our natural tendency is to fight it, try to make it go away, or distract ourselves with activities that waste our time or even harm us. Unfortunately, this just makes it stronger.

A mindful approach to anxiety, even when it is severe and persistent, starts with acceptance. Does this mean just giving up and feeling miserable, gritting your teeth and enduring it? No. Mindful acceptance of anxiety is a very active approach. It is quite different, though, from how most of us naturally try to do battle with worry or tension. And the good news is that, paradoxically, it lowers your fear and helps you feel much better.

How can you use mindfulness to work with anxiety? One method involves locating a place in your body where you feel fear, tension, or worry. You may feel it as a cold pit in your stomach, “butterflies,” or tightness in your chest, back, or jaw. Close your eyes, take two or three deep breaths, and go to that place. Feel the sick feeling, tightness, trembling, burning. Sit with the feeling like you would with a loved one who is ill, with warmth and caring. Do this for a few minutes without looking for any particular outcome. Just see what happens, see what you notice.

A friend who is troubled by mild yet bothersome panic attacks finds that going to the “awful feeling” in her chest quickly lowers her discomfort. You may or may not experience relief so readily. The important thing is that you are developing a new relationship with anxiety. Rather than trying to get rid of it, you are going towards it with kindness and attention. Your symptoms may well be trying to tell you something that your body and mind cannot communicate in any other way.

There is no need to run from anxiety. Your fear may simply be inviting you to make changes that will bring you greater happiness and peace of mind.