Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment without judging the moment or our experience in the moment.
These days, there is certainly no shortage of things to be worried about. When worry becomes overwhelming, it becomes anxiety. Anxiety can easily take over our thoughts and it can even feel like it is taking over our lives. Studies show that mindfulness can be an effective strategy to alleviate and reduce anxiety both overall as well as in the moments when anxiety becomes overwhelming.
When we typically hold something that we are worried about, we often spend a lot of time telling ourself to stop worrying. Our brain responds by saying, “But this is really important!!” We will continue to have this fight with ourselves until we are just exhausted. We have effectively spent ALL of our time worrying about it and NO time worrying about it because we never gave it our full attention and focus.
A simple mindfulness exercise to help alleviate our anxieties is scheduling time to worry mindfully.
Instead of invalidating the worry and trying not to think about it, let’s acknowledge that if it’s worrying us and taking up brain space then it must be important. So instead of saying “Stop worrying about this, it isn’t important.” Try saying, “This is really important. In order to really worry about this, it needs my full attention. Right now, I’m distracted from worrying about it because I am working/family/trying to sleep/etc. Tonight at 7pm, I am going to give this my full attention.” Our brain responds a little differently when we validate the feeling and schedule that time to worry.
So what if instead, we change the conversation with ourselves?
Then, when the time that you have designated for worrying comes along, focus completely on the thing that is worrying you. Allow yourself to feel the worry and anxiety, and validate that this is something worth your attention. Continue to use mindfulness to stay present in the moment. Acknowledge what in the situation you do and do not have control over. Recognize what you can do now as opposed to what you can do nothing about until the future. For instance, you can’t get next week’s job interview over with now. No amount of worrying will speed up time and alleviate that worry completely. But you can practice interview questions now. You can research the company to be more informed about where you might be working now, you can even make a plan for getting to the interview on time so that you feel more prepared now. You may discover that you are already doing everything you can in the moment. Taking the time to sit down and focus might help you have an easier time letting it go.
Overall, remember that worrying is normal and a valid feeling and reaction to life’s stressors.
Also, to avoid unnecessary ruminating, give yourself a time limit. Designate 20-30 minutes as worry time. Use that time to the fullest and then move on. Even if you have to put unresolved worries away until tomorrow’s designated worry time, it is important to honor that time limit so you don’t get too deep in the quicksand of anxiety.
Mindfulness can help reduce anxiety and make worrying more manageable so that it does not take over your life. If you need help learning ways to cope, contact us here or call (217)203-2008