People are anxious right now, and that’s OK.
Let me say that again: It is OK to be anxious, and we need to say that and hear that more often. Our brain is made to look for threats, and our instinct is to try to avoid them.
If we lived many years ago, this skill would have kept us safe in the wild. It is not uncommon for us to get caught in a feedback loop of this former skill, and that can lead to catastrophizing and excess worry.
With that being said, just because we are anxious at the moment doesn’t mean that we don’t have the power to lessen that feeling.
That’s where mindfulness comes into play. There are multiple studies looking into the benefits of mindfulness. Some of those studies show that mindfulness exercises can help disrupt our brain’s natural anxiousness cycle, and even more importantly, with a daily practice, mindfulness can help us to reprogram our brain to be able to respond differently to a stressful situation in the future.
But I won’t bore you with the data. Let’s try a practice.
If you are anxious now, try focusing on the way that anxiety feels in your body. Take a seat if you can, close your eyes and investigate the sensations that you are feeling. Are your shoulders tight? Is your breath quick? Is your lower back tense? Find the places in your body that you physically feel your stress and anxiousness, and pay attention to those spots. Tingling, tightness, quivering, warmness or coldness. Don’t actively try to change those sensations, just notice them. Do they change or move? Many times you will notice that these sensations of anxiousness aren’t as permanent as you would think. They change or lessen as you watch and sit with them. Breathe. Try to breathe calmly if you can, but if your breath isn’t calm, then focus on it and investigate how it differs from your normal breathing patterns.
If you get distracted by a thought, that’s OK. Just direct your focus back to your bodily sensations. Do this practice as long as it is comfortable for you, but try to shoot for 5 minutes or more.
It can be quite amazing how curiosity and investigation into the actual sensations of stress and anxiousness can help lessen the way the brain gets caught in its natural loop of worrisome thoughts, and if we practice this skill of mindfulness often, it just might change the way we respond to these stressful situations in the future.