Anxiety has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. The phrase “but what if… ” might have been my first words. I have lived the majority of my life in fear. My inner dialogue was a series of questions: what if the plane crashes, what if the spider bites me in my sleep, what if there is an earthquake, and so on and so on. People assuring me those things were not going to happen did not help, because the truth is those things do happen. At my worst I was struggling with OCD, at my best I was white-knuckling my anxiety and pretending I was fine. I became a great actor; I even majored in and received a B.F.A. in acting. I was acting my way through life, playing the role of the person who was not scared of everything- no one knew that my body was stuck in fight or flight for most of my twenties. Mindfulness changed everything for me. By training my mind to not identify those thoughts as evidence, I was able to train my body to relax. I was becoming less fearful of my thoughts, and in response, my body followed. Don’t get me wrong: I still have days that are harder than others. However, mindfulness gives me a tool box to return to that actually works for me. Here are my top five go to ideas on those harder days:
- Observe the thoughts and label them as such. Thoughts. Anxiety thoughts. Fear thoughts. Whatever works for you.
- Do something different with the brain. Take up the space of the anxiety thoughts; listen to sounds, look for colors in a room, play a game on my phone, crossword puzzle. Something that is strong enough to take up the space. Sorry, Netflix doesn’t do it for me. I love Netflix as much as the next person, but when I am flooded with anxiety thoughts I can easily watch a show and still think.
- Breathe. I know, I know, everyone says that, and I know what your thinking breathing doesn’t change anything. I believed that at first too. I was wrong, over time and with practice breathing does in fact reduce anxiety and calm the body.
- Self-care. This is where my self-care tips come in handy. Self-care means many things to many people, when I refer to self care here or on Instagram, I am referring to soothing the body; baths, massage, candles, tea, chocolate, incense, getting my hair done, long walks, healthy food, exercise, mindful movement, meditation. I’m also referring to; seeing a therapist, setting limits, saying no, listening to your inner wisdom, practicing gratitude, compassion, and generosity.
- Body Scan. Focus on the body one area at a time, noticing any sensations and describing the sensation to yourself. Words like, pressure, tingling, lightness, heaviness. I like to start with my feet and move my way up through my legs and torso, arms, hands, neck, face and head. Insight timer app has several body scan meditations you can listen to and it’s free.