Managing anxiety with mindfulness
Some people go through life encountering the same situations over and over again, with the same unwanted outcomes. They may think of themselves as victims of circumstances beyond their control, or they think they’re having a run of bad luck – as if they have a little gray cloud overhead that follows them around. Or perhaps they think that’s just the way life is: something over which we have little control. They feel helpless and hopeless, overwhelmed with worry.
Research has shown that these sorts of belief set us up for all sorts of unhappiness, anxiety and depression. Even when bad things happen to us, we feel better if we find some way to assert control over what happens and how we respond. We can develop practices and ways of interacting with the world that promote mental health rather than despair and hopelessness.
Want to know a secret? We all talk to ourselves, all the time. It’s not a sign of craziness; it’s just the way our minds work. You may be unaware of the conversation going on between your ears because it feels like such a private experience. We may be unaware of it because it’s there all the time, but trust me: we all do it. The real question is, when you’re alone with yourself, what are you talking about?
Becoming aware of what’s going on within our consciousness is what people who meditate call mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of staying aware in the present moment. When we become more aware of this internal experience, we gain much more freedom in how we respond to the world around us, including situations that are unpleasant. Here’s a way to practice mindfulness that will help you create more freedom in your life.
Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Take another one, this time a little deeper and letting the breath out a little more slowly. Listen to the sound your breath makes as it enters and leaves your body. Watch yourself as one breath follows the next. Let your mind begin to calm and clear.
Begin to notice what’s going on inside you as you stay focused on your breath. You will probably find yourself having distracting thoughts and feelings. That is common for people who meditate. Here’s where mindfulness comes into play. When a thought comes up (e.g., “This is stupid” or “I’m no good at this”), gently label it: “This is a thought.” Don’t judge yourself for being distracted from your breath meditation, don’t get angry; just call yourself back to your breathing. And when a feeling comes up (anger, sadness, whatever), just label it: “This is a feeling.” And return to your breathing.
What you’re doing is shining a spotlight on the inner workings of your mind. You’re becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings, and that’s good. You’re also practicing having thoughts and feelings without having them throw you off course.
You may notice that some of your thoughts make little sense. You may notice that you are jumping to conclusions, or over-generalizing, or catastrophizing.
Therapy using mindfulness techniques can be a great way to manage stress and anxiety. It helps strengthen self-esteem and gets us unstuck. If you have questions about how this might work in your situation, feel free to contact me.
This simple sort of meditation helps us to learn how our minds operate. With practice we can start to recognize the conversation in our heads even when we’re not meditating. We learn that thoughts, feelings and judgments aren’t reality; they are just things your mind is doing to keep itself busy. When we confuse these things with reality they start to get us into trouble. Thoughts can make us anxious; that doesn’t mean they are real.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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