Jonathan’s mind seemed to have a mind of its own, so to speak. The rapid pace of thoughts, judgments and emotions streaming through his mind was indeed impressive. His mind seemed to be on a feedback loop of anxious thoughts about his work, his inability to find a girlfriend, his disconnection from his family and his new abstinence from marijuana. As an engineer, he always was able to find a solution to all problems that came his way. Colleagues at work would seek him out to ask questions that they couldn’t answer about programming problems. But Jonathan’s skill at tackling technical problems didn’t translate to helping with his anxious mind. In fact, the anxiety felt like it was growing; it felt like a monster he could not contain.
Maybe Jonathan’s story sounds all too familiar and you, too, have a brain full of anxious thoughts. Mindfulness is an ancient meditation technique designed to slow the mind down long enough to begin to heal from negative thoughts, painful emotions and day-to-day stress. Mindfulness skills have been used by others to help in recovery from addiction as well as “recovery” from anxious thoughts. Here are five mindfulness skills you can practice right away to start calming your mind and feeling better:
- Ride the wave. All thoughts and feelings are temporary. If you feel intense anxiety, one way to calm down is to ride the feeling out rather than fight it. The experience of learning to “surf the wave” gets better the more you practice it.
- Watch your self-talk. If your thoughts are attached to self-criticism at every turn it’s your responsibility to pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself. The dialogue you use when you are anxious is very important. Notice your negative internal comments and quietly let them go.
- Lean back. The experience of physically leaning back into your chair is a wonderful way to reconnect with your body during times of stress. Feel the back of the chair against your back, plant your feet on the floor, open your hands and put your arms on the each of the armrests. Focus on your breathing and notice how your body feels supported and calm.
- Change the scenery. A relaxing, re-energizing mindfulness exercise that can be used if your anxiety is building is to go outside and start walking. With each set of steps repeat the phrase “Everything is already OK.” Use this or another healing phrase to help you smooth the rough edges of your day.
- Push the reset button. You have an opportunity each and every minute to push your own reset button if your thoughts and emotions are steering you off-course. Recalibrate your mind to a neutral place where there is no judgment and no worry.
Jonathan was surprised that a few easy changes made a big difference in his anxiety. During meetings at work he found that he was more aware of his body and he was able to slow down his racing thoughts and simply notice them without judgment. Jonathan also saw a benefit he wasn’t expecting: He was able to sleep better after practicing these mindfulness practices during the day. Give one or two a try and explore what happens.