What do you avoid when you are anxious, overwhelmed or distressed?
A common therapy recommendation to addressing anxiety includes mindfulness, but what exactly is this and how do we do it?
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
How does one begin to practice mindfulness? According to the book, “The High Conflict Couple: A Dialectical Behavior Therapy Guide to Finding Peace, Intimacy and Validation” mindfulness starts with self-awareness-- Noticing what you are thinking and feeling, without judgement of yourself, and listening to yourself for understanding leads you to being able to be mindful in your relationships. How many times do we try to win that argument (by using any unresolved issues as a weapon, making judgements which leads to secondary emotions like shame and anger) but sacrifice what we actually want in our relationships long term (empathy, connection, teamwork, peace)?
Start by slowing down. Breathe. Be aware of your long term goals (this reduces reactivity). Describe your experience (ie. emotions and sensations) without judgement (ie. good or bad). If there are judgements, let them go and do not give them power. Pay attention to describing your emotions and sensations and how they make sense (validation), which will be soothing and then you can return to a balanced perspective, which leads to acting effectively (choosing how to respond from the best of you, and not from the hurt in you).
Breathing deeply, from your diaphragm can also facilitate mindfulness. Balanced breathing may be necessary so you can get to the place to notice your emotions, sensations and thoughts without judgement. Try this: Breathe in through your nose slowly to the count of four, hold your breath to the count of four, and then blow out hard like you are blowing up a balloon to the count of four.
Therapists at Gratitude Counseling utilize many interventions to assist clients in reducing anxiety and increasing interpersonal effectiveness. Reach out anytime and we can get started in creating your own mindfulness practice or finding other helpful strategies to cope with anxiety.
Becky Hoffman, MS/LMFT