To start with, what is this “mindfulness” all about?
Put simply, it is the practice of focusing all your attention on something that is going on around you – such as your breathing, the food you are eating, or some object nearby etc. And when I say “all your attention”, I really mean all of it. It is not easy to master, especially if you have a mind that hops around all over the place, but it all comes with practice.
So how does mindfulness help with anxiety?
The more you practice mindfulness, the more your brain gets used to focusing on what is going on around you, and the less interruptions you get from stray thoughts and worries. When you are not worrying about anything, the fight-or-flight part of the brain calms down and gets on with its proper job, which is looking out for real danger.
The fight-or-flight part of the brain is an important safety feature. It spends its time looking out for danger and making you react if it notices any. The problem is that when you worry, you are imagining danger and the fight-or-flight part of the brain reacts to your imagination. While you are practising mindfulness, it has no imagined danger to react to, so your mind becomes calmer and the anxiety dissolves away.
What if I can’t do it?
If you have a lot of thoughts in your head all the time, it can be difficult to calm it down and just focus on the here and now. All I can say is … practise. Spend a few minutes each day practising. If you can manage it for one second – that’s a start. Congratulate yourself on achieving one second rather than beating yourself up about the times your mind drifted.
What else works?
Well, you can always come and see me in my hypnotherapy clinic !
Mindfulness Example Exercise
If you haven’t had a go at mindfulness before – have a go now.
- Hold your hand in the form of a fist a short way in front of your face, so that it is comfortable and in focus.
- Turn your hand so that your fingernails are towards you.
- Very gradually, open your thumb to make the “thumbs up” sign, and then very slowly bring the thumb down again into a fist.
- Now repeat the thumb movement focusing all you attention on the wrinkles that flatten out and come back again as you make a thumbs-up and then a fist. Notice everything about them – which ones are longest, what order they appear in, which ones appear when you make the thumbs-up and which when you make the fist. Keep repeating until you have spotted every wrinkle.
- Keep repeating – this time noticing what order each of the joints in the thumb bend and unbend, focus all your attention on the thumb, making sure you move the thumb very slowly.
- Keep repeating – this time noticing the feeling in your thumb as it bends and straightens. What parts of your thumb, your hand and your wrist can you feel throughout the movement?
The point about mindfulness is that you are placing your whole attention onto whatever it is that is going on around you. The more you do this, the more those stray thoughts and concerns disappear from your mind as you find yourself fully focused on what is going on.
If you are not used to it, mindfulness can be difficult – your mind drifts as other thoughts come into your head. That’s fine. Just notice them and get back to focusing on the here and now again. Keep practising.
Photo by Tash Williams on Unsplash