We all get nervous, unfocused and stressed, and for the most part, we all know the common solutions to ease our anxiety.
For example, I avoided writing this article in a timely manner by doing a bunch of mindless tasks. Zoning out was meaningless and I knew it, but watching videos of Siberian Husky pups frolicking in the snow was easier and funner than writing an article about The Big A.
Honestly, I knew this bad habit would jack up my anxiety come nightfall, but yet, I slacked on. When self-awareness did creep in I was tempted to: take deep breaths, visualize the completed article, and envision a good night’s rest knowing I met my goal.
These are not hard tasks.
But without intentional focus on self-awareness, they are.
Your mind cannot become calm, confident and clear, if you don’t pay attention to paying attention.
~You can’t stop boredom from bothering you if you don’t realize you’re checking out in the first place.
~You can’t overcome avoidance if you don’t recognize you’re dreading what’s happening right now.
~You can’t practice steps to feel calm if you don’t listen to your body’s stress signals.
Awareness is everything to anxiety.
The problem isn’t finding solutions to anxiety — but recognizing the signs of anxiety before nervousness, panic and rapid breathing hijack your emotional wellness. I know this may seem counterintuitive: Why wouldn’t I want to find out how to stop anxiety? is a logical argument, indeed. The problem is anxious people spend a lot of time in Why is this happening to me? rather than How can I be more aware of what’s happening inside my mind?
Once we recognize the signs of stress, the fixes are (relatively) easy.
The problem isn’t just being aware of what’s going on — it’s remembering to be aware. This remembering is what mindfulness is about. Too often we forget to be aware. ~Leo Babauta
Let’s break down awareness of what’s going on, and how to remember.
Awareness of Anxiety Signals
Being bothered by boredom. Life is, by and large, not about entertainment. Preparing reports, studying statistics and changing diapers can be a drag. Viewing repetitive tasks as necessary evils makes them less tedious when you’re aware of the bigger picture.
Avoiding reality. Nobody likes to feel pain, but learning coping skills to deal with problems is a critical wellness skill. Unhealthy coping mechanisms like hitting the bottle, turning the other cheek, and acting like everything’s fine are temporary fixes. Knowing all feelings go somewhere, and unaddressed conflicts only get bigger can prevent you from checking out with Xanax.
Not working your calm game. One of the difficulties of having an anxious mind is dealing with feelings like dread and uncertainty. Life flows better when it’s organized and predictable. Why do I have to have anxiety — I want my old life back! may seem like a logical way to expend your emotional energy. However, rumination and worrying about which shoe’s going to drop next never leads to calm. Remembering there was a time when your situation was more manageable can motivate you to practice calming techniques. Intentional and daily focus on deep breathing, positive visualization, meditation, and reframing negative thoughts into healthier, more realistic thoughts are key actions.
These are some of the more common examples of what’s going on when we’re in an anxious state. But how do we become aware? How do we remember to be aware?
How to Remember
wp themes style="font-family: helvetica; font-size: 14pt;">The problem with remembering to be aware is that we get caught up in our daily routines. Once we open a computer, for example, a series of habitual responses takes over and we’re suddenly two hours in and five tabs deep. It could be some time before we realize we’re lost in busy work.
What we need are a set of tools for remembering.
Here are a few tips to try out:
Consider the damage. The first thing you need to admit is that anxiety is bad for you — if you think it’s not a big problem, you won’t take action. So what damage is your anxiety causing? Well, it might be stopping you from feeling comfortable in social situations, or from testing your boundaries and pursuing new adventures. It might be leading to depression, and making your home life miserable.
Commit. Making a commitment to being aware is a great tool for remembering. I’m a fan of writing reminders on Post-Its. Telling a trusted person in your inner circle increases accountability. Plus, you can ask this person to check back and make sure you’re remembering to remember!
Set your intentions. As you start an activity, like checking your phone, or running errands, identify what your intention is with that activity. Be mindful and notice your physical triggers. Are you hungry? Tired? Edgy? Pay attention to the speed and depth of your breath, and check in with your heart rate. Because our bodies are always with us, it’s easy to forget that even though our physical self runs on autopilot, we still need to monitor ourselves.
Check yourself. Every hour or two, find a way to be aware of your mental state. I recently discovered the Chime sound on my iPhone and it’s a lovely reminder that I need to be be “here.”
Recognize triggers. Signs that your mental well-being is off include worrying about being productive, compulsively checking your mobile device, or a rising urge to go do something other than the present task. These signs might be physical (increased heart rate) or they might be behavioral (yelling at your kids) — but you can learn to recognize them with practice. These red flags are telling you that something is amiss. Give yourself the gift of time before you react or respond impulsively.
Your anxiety didn’t start yesterday, and it won’t go away overnight. Time, practice and commitment are your friends. Solving the mindfulness problem makes anxiety a more manageable beast.
If you’d like to put your awareness skills to the test, “A Month of Meditation & Mindfulness” is a Team Happy project. Members have access to all recordings, tutorials and resources for the lifetime of the membership. With tools + terms like that, how could you forget to remember your awareness? 😉 Click this link for details.
Gratitude to Leo Babauta of Zen Habits for the inspiration for this article.
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Namaste and gracias.