How Mindfulness Can Help

 Now I want to discuss practicing mindful acceptance. This is probably the simplest concept to explain, but the hardest strategy to practice.

The harder we try to push negative emotions away the stronger they become. It’s kind of like this….ask someone to close their eyes for just a second. Once they have closed their eyes, tell them to not think of a pink elephant. Tell them to think of anything at all, but whatever they do, do not picture a pink elephant. Nope, no pink elephants here, we need to make all the pink elephants go away. What do you think the person saw? A pink elephant, of course.

Anxiety & panic attacks work the same way. The harder we try to make negative feelings ‘go away’ the stronger they become. The more you worry about having a panic attack or about feeling anxious, the more power you give those feelings. The biggest trick and the hardest thing to do is to simply sit with the emotions and accept them. It’s not uncommon for people having a panic attack to end up in the ER, but panic attacks do not in fact harm you. You will not have a heart attack, you will not stop breathing, you will be fine. Neither anxiety nor panic attacks will physically harm you (even though it feels like they might at the time) and panic attacks are time limited. You’re not stuck with these emotions forever, they will pass.

As with most coping skills, it is useful to practice mindfulness in your daily life, before the panic attack hits or the anxiety becomes to intense. It’s hard to remember new skills when you are feeling intense emotions. Practicing daily can make these skills become second nature, allowing you to use them in a crisis.

Try this at least once a day. Find somewhere comfortable to sit. You can sit in a chair or on a cushion, whatever works best for you. Set a timer if you wish. I’d suggest starting at five minutes. Sit upright, back straight, but body relaxed. During this time, focus on the present. Attend to everything around you. Your body, your thoughts, what you might hear or smell. Don’t judge these things, just allow yourself to experience the world around you in the present moment. It’s not uncommon for people to find themselves caught up in thinking about the exercise and worrying about whether or not they are doing it right. There is no right or wrong, let those thoughts go. In fact, as much as you can, let all your thoughts flow through you. Notice them, but don’t hold onto them. Try not to think about the past or the future, those are out of your control. All that matters is the present moment, what is happening right here and now. I find it helpful to start by focusing on my breath. Counting the out breath to the count of ten and than starting over.

With practice you will be able to be more present throughout your life. To show up for the beauty in your world and to allow the negative to flow through you without interfering with your life or ruining your day. Next time you are taking a walk and you notice the sunshine warming your face remember you are practicing mindfulness.

My next blog will discuss the cognitive aspect of anxiety. The ‘twisted thinking’ that allows anxiety to creep into your life. All those anxious thoughts that run through your head on a daily basis (sometimes hourly!) that you are not aware of. By learning to identify those thoughts and changing them, you can reduce your anxiety significantly.

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