Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America, affecting more than 40 million adults every year (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2018). Anxiety can permeate relationships, jobs, and lessen quality of life. For many, anxiety comes in the form of fear of losing someone or something they love, rumination and shame from the past, or obsessive thoughts that something that may happen in the future that they cannot handle. Anxiety also causes a physiological response. When someone experiences anxiety, they may tense up, get headaches, feel sick to their stomach, or become shaky and tremble. Often, the scenario that they are worrying about in their heads never even occurs. In fact, they may even start to get anxiety about their anxiety, and tell ourselves, “this shouldn’t be happening, I shouldn’t be feeling this way” which, in turn, worsens the cycle.
While prevalent, only 36% of people with anxiety disorders ever receive treatment. As a therapist, I can confirm that anxiety is highly treatable. Mindfulness is a very effective technique to get rid of racing thoughts, fear, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Mindfulness is about getting yourself into the present moment and relaxing your mind (and body) by becoming aware of your body and breathing. The following steps are a mindfulness technique you can easily practice.
Recognize: This step involves pausing and recognizing what is going on in yourself internally instead of trying to fight the anxiety or deny that it is there, you turn towards it.
Accept: This step involves the accepting that the uncomfortable feelings and sensations are here. During this step, we may name what is going on. Naming something creates some distance from it and lets us put it to the side. For example, we say to ourselves, “I am having anxiety about being perfect,” or, “I am judging myself again.”
Investigate: This step involves really exploring what is going on for you in this moment in your body and mind. Is your body tense and tight? Are you having negative, repetitive thoughts, and if so, how often? Do not judge it, just take note and become aware.
Nurture: This step involves having compassion for yourself and thinking about what you need most in this moment. It may involve some sort of self-soothing ritual such as making a cup of tea and slowly sipping it, while noticing the flavors. You can light a candle and just sit for a moment taking the scent and the flickering of the flame. Nurturing could also involve something as simple as getting yourself a nutritious snack or some water. You may have noticed during the investigation phase of these steps that you have barely eaten or have only been drinking coffee and your body just needs some fuel. Some people also find self-affirmation helpful, such as “this anxiety, it is uncomfortable, but it will pass, and I can handle it.”
Remember, anxiety is not something that needs to be feared or avoided. When we attempt to avoid it, we make facing scarier than it needs to be. Practicing this technique brings your anxieties out in the open and reminds you that although it is uncomfortable, you can handle it.