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.