Managing Anxiety with Mindfulness

Anxiety is a part of our modern lives. Even those who make a conscious effort to reduce stress and create space for relaxation experience anxiety. From preparing for a class presentation in college, to interviewing for a new job, to getting married, to moving, to becoming a new parent, so many big moments can trigger episodes of anxiety

When we can identify the stressors in our lives and come up with strategies to get through tough situations, we have a chance to reduce the anxiety we feel. This is really challenging when you’re in the thick of things though. Too often, the tendency seems to be to keep pushing and ignoring our the emotions. But this is a recipe for increasing anxiety, not a strategy for dealing with it.

This is one big lesson I learned recently. I want to share my experience and talk about how it has changed my approach to anxiety in my daily life.

The Perfect Storm of Anxiety

If you remember anything about the 2000 film The Perfect Storm, you may remember that it was anything but perfect (and starred George Clooney). Based on a true story, the crew of a fishing boat off the coast of Northern Maine decides to risk a storm to get back before their whole catch spoils. The storm really turns out to be three storms: two powerful weather fronts meeting up with a hurricane.

The perfect storm could also describe my life over the past few years. I have dealt with a remodel of my business, a rebranding of my mission, multiple trips in and out of the country, a full roster overflowing with amazing and loving clients. On top of it all, I was supposed to have a serious, but basically routine surgery. Instead, I sat in the waiting room at the hospital in a gown, hooked up to an IV for 4 hours only to have the doctor come in to tell me that a was part missing for a machine needed during the procedure. I was dumbfounded. Again, it was quite inconvenient, but even with the office remodel going on, I was handling the stress. We would reschedule the surgery and move on.

However, the final piece to the puzzle triggered one of the most challenging stretches of anxiety I’ve had in a very long time. My daughter was hospitalized for 3 days with a severe reaction to medication that became life threatening. If you are a parent, you know that nothing creates more anxiety than having a child who is unwell. I can still hear the blood rushing to my head when the doctors told me what was going on. It was awful.

All of these events happened within the same week and I was a (barely) walking ball of anxiety. Fortunately, I was able to implement the practice I teach and it pulled me through.

Here are the techniques I used:

Deep breathing: When our bodies experience stress, involuntary processes spring into action. Whether the stressful event lasts for a moment, for days, weeks, or even months, our physical bodies respond. Stress registers as danger in our brains and our natural responses to danger are flight, fight, or freeze. So, one of the first ways we react physically is by holding our breath. We freeze until we can figure out what to do next.

We can bring ourselves back to a state of calm rationality quickly, though, by mindfully breathing. Deep breathing stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system and promotes a sense of calm. It also increases the supply of oxygen to your brain, so you can literally think more clearly.

Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body—deep breathing brings your awareness away from the worries in your head and quiets your mind.

Tips for fitting relaxation breathing techniques into your life:

  • Schedule a time to practice each day. You may find it easier to stick to it if you make time first thing in the morning.
  • Practice relaxation techniques while doing other things. Meditate and listen to your breath while commuting to work or waiting for your oil to be changed. Try deep breathing while doing housework. Mindful walking can be done while exercising your dog, during your lunch break, or climbing the stairs at work.
  • Expect ups and downs. Don’t feel discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just pick up where you left off and build momentum again.

Moving my body in rhythm with my breath: We can connect with our bodies by moving in alignment with our breathing too. Any focused movement will help get us out of our heads and into a more upbeat rhythm.

Even while I was tethered to my IV waiting in the hospital, I was doing leg lifts in my chair coordinated with my breath. I found the movement so comforting. I focused on counting as I inhaled and exhaled, lengthening my breath, and timing my movements as well.

Tips for fitting movement into your life:

  • Set a timer on your phone and get up and move for at least 5 minutes each hour while you’re working.
  • Park further away from your office than you normally do to get in a few extra steps.
  • While watching TV, choose a series of simple movements to do during commercial breaks. During one break do 25 crunches. During the next break do 25 wall push ups. During the next break hold Superman pose for 30 seconds.

And using my journal every day: I’ve spoken before about how journaling focuses my mind. So, it should come as no surprise that when I feel anxious, I reach for my journal first. I wrote a lot during this crazy week. I wrote about outcomes. I wrote about how I was feeling. I wrote to make sense of everything going on. It was beautiful therapy.

My tip for fitting journaling into your life? Keep your journal next to your bedside. Before you close your eyes, write. When you can’t sleep, write. When you have a dream, write. When you wake up in the morning, write. Don’t worry about what you write. Just write.

I made it through my perfect storm of anxiety by practicing what I preach. What are your tips and strategies for dealing with anxiety? Let me know in the comments below.

For a deep dive into my mindfulness techniques, consider signing up for the next Conscious Strong™ Retreat February 8-10 at Fearrington in Pittsboro, NC.

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