In my last post, I gave you an example of how your mind can spin out of control and make you feel very anxious, and how you can use mindfulness to calm yourself. You can start building the habit of mindfulness in a controlled environment with meditation. Many people are afraid to try meditation or believe they are “bad at meditating” because they are unable to clear their minds. In fact, there is no need to clear your mind of thoughts in order to meditate.
If you’d like to try meditating, sit in any comfortable position. You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, there’s no need to turn yourself into a pretzel! Try to sit up straight, but not if it creates extra tension in your muscles. Either close your eyes or just lower your lids and gaze at a still point on the floor. Start with a goal of sitting still for two minutes, focusing on your breath coming in and out of your body. If your mind begins to drift (and it will, probably many times) gently guide it back to your breath. If you catch yourself going over your to-do list, congratulate yourself for noticing this and then return to your breathing. Each time you notice your attention has wandered away from your breath, consider it a victory, rather than a failure, because you were mindful enough to notice that you lost your focus, and then return to the breath. With practice you can slowly begin to extend the length of time you sit in meditation for but it’s important to start with very short periods of time. There are many different meditation techniques. This is just one simple example. You should explore until you find one that resonates with you.
Practicing meditation regularly, over time, will help you to bring mindfulness into everyday situations and keep you grounded in the moment, rather than fretting over the things you should have said or done differently in the past, or spinning off into an imagined, catastrophic future.
Over time, with practice, panicked thoughts may continue to come up but your reaction to them will start to change. You will begin to recognize them for what they are, momentary, fleeting thoughts that are (usually) not grounded in reality, and you can dismiss them.
Imagine your thoughts like fish in an aquarium. You watch as the fish swims past you. You are aware of it, “Yes, there goes that fish” and then it swims away. You don’t need to jump into the tank, swim after it, grab it and hold on for dear life. And, as you return your focus to what is actually happening in front of you, the anxiety loses it’s grasp because you will begin to notice that you will still be here, long after those anxiety producing thoughts have swum away. You will learn that you can outlast your anxiety.