Although the current version of myself would hardly indicate such, I have always been one of those people who has discretely battled anxiety for most of my life. For years, it had a major say in the actions I took and held me back from my true potential in ways I certainly would have never realized until breaking free. In many ways, it was this struggle with anxiety that initially exposed me to the unique and incredibly helpful world of mindfulness and meditation. To some it all up, I was sick of allowing my anxiety to control how I felt, control how I acted and control what I was capable of. I knew there were people out there fighting their way free of this mental trap, and once I found them they led me exactly where I needed to go. Nearly each and every one of them was, and still are firm believers in mindfulness as a lifestyle practice, and, on my own timeline, I certainly learned why. Mindfulness and meditation have truly abolished 99% of my anxiety. Although there was more at play than simply inducting a few new practices into my daily routine, the contribution this approach has made for me is simply unmeasurable and what I want is to share my advice and my experience with others who may be going through the exact same thing.
Although I personally have found a great deal of stillness and progress in this form of self-work, I will absolutely acknowledge the personal nature of the experience of anxiety. Each and every one of us experiences life in our own way. And thus, each and every one of us has our own way of approaching, combatting and overcoming our personal demons.
If I had to sum it up as briefly as possible, the practice of mindfulness boils down to a few key principles:
- Listening to our thoughts and feelings objectively before reacting to them. This allows us to then respond accordingly, free from an emotional and irrational reaction.
- Working through our experiences, feelings, and thoughts. We do this so that we can bring more understanding into our lives, in the form of self-awareness, and external awareness. Awareness then brings understanding, intention, and possibilities.
- Acceptance of the present moment. The world simply is the way it is. In this practice, we can be present to what is so, accepting that the need for control is nothing more than a conscious choice to be anxious. Control will always be nothing more than an illusion.
When it comes to achieving these three concepts, there are a variety of methods available. We can engage in sport to find that flow state of pure presence to the moment. We can dive into contemplation with people around us to work through experiences and better understand our view of the world. For myself personally, I have explored many ways of achieving these three elements, including and not limited to meditation, journaling, running, extreme sports and group gatherings. I learned about each of my approaches through research, and have reviewed them based on experience. All in all, the combination I chose completely erased the vast majority of anxiety from my life, symptoms and all. Because of how effective these tools were for myself personally, I’ve shared the list of practices that were the most powerful for me in the next section of this article.
This is my list of the tools I have found to be the most impactful when enhancing and healing my mental health.
This practice is first and foremost on my list of mindfulness techniques, and for good reason. Truly disciplined and regular meditation practice is a life-changing habit. Exercising the art of consciously observing our thoughts without allowing them to take a hold of our emotional, physical or rational response is powerful. It allows us to approach life from a solid, reliable and consistent emotional place. It allows us to respond before we react. And it allows us to strengthen our resilience to stress while we are at it. In more recent years, the science behind meditation has joined the argument behind it in a very convincing way. Meditation strengthens the grey matter within our brain, cuts stress dramatically and enhancing cognitive capabilities. Considering stress is among the largest contributors to disease as a whole, this is some pretty decisive evidence in favour of sitting for a vow of silence at least once a day. For myself personally, starting and ending my day with meditation has allowed me to virtually dissolve stress in my life and avoid letting my monkey mind take over throughout the day. Not to mention, it’d a pretty peaceful way to start your daily grind. The state I pick up in the morning tends to stick with me all day, and I certainly notice when I go without.
So often in life, we collect thoughts, feelings, and emotions without truly understanding what they are, or what they mean to us. This is where a journalling practice makes its contributions. Journalling as an exercise of self-awareness allows us to process the information we would normally allow to collect in our minds. It provides an opportunity to cut through the clutter of our experience and comprehend our emotions, our dreams, and really anything else we want or need to give some thought. Throwing thoughts on a piece of paper has a surprising ability to place us gently back in alignment with who we are. For myself personally, journaling has helped me lay out how I feel about the moments I am experiencing. It has helped me to see the consistencies in the way I look at things, allowing me to layout my value system with precise accuracy. And of course, it has helped me stir some more intentionality into the actions and the thoughts I choose to embrace in my life. It really is pretty amazing what each and every one of us is capable of when we step away from the auto-pilot way of living we are so used to.
Contrary to what many people may understand about them, the vast majority of our human thoughts are nothing more than habitual. At some point in our life, we experienced something, and then something else, and then something else. At each of these experiences, we chose to think a certain way. By the third or fourth time, that way of thinking is part of our programming. It is part of our subconscious response. This is why negative thoughts grasp us before negative moments even occur. It may be a wild concept to anybody first hearing this, but we CAN choose our thoughts. We CAN consciously add new programming to our mind’s automatic response. How do we do this? Affirmations. Affirmations train your mind on what to think, what to believe, and what to create as a feeling on the default level. If we make a very conscious and very consistent effort to tell ourselves the things we want to feel, we will start to feel more of them. Practice telling yourself how much you love who you are. Practice telling yourself you are confident. Practice telling yourself you are capable. If you practice the way the affirmations feel, and you daily for 50-100 days, you will almost certainly and inarguably experience drastic changes in your thoughts. For myself personally, I read my affirmations every night, every morning and sometimes, even more often. I have completely revamped my way of thinking for the better and the results are obvious. The birthplace of action is thought. If you want more results from the outer world, you need to start by working on your inner world.
I know this element will not apply to everybody, but if you are anything like myself, this one will pay itself back in dividends. For anybody out there who struggles with the same thing as myself, I have a common tendency to get all caught up in what I produce. My self worth becomes indiscriminately intertwined with my ability to create results and progress. When I stop for a moment, I feel guilty. I fill my mind with all the possibilities I am missing out on creating. I fall into the trap of attaching my value to some external means of validation, and that kind of mindset is not helping anybody be less anxious in their lives. Taking breaks is a very important aspect of mindfulness, and particularly for the self-work necessary when overcoming anxiety. Just like our legs need some rest after running a marathon, our minds need time to unwind, regenerate and recuperate. Not only is this necessary on a hormonal level, but it is necessary on a thought level. A major part of general anxiety that keeps it alive and well, is our habit of feeding unhealthy thoughts. The goal here is to give ourselves a break from those and break the habit once in a while. A healthy body needs rest and so does a healthy mind. Practice bringing more balance into your life. Work and relaxation need to come together in some sort of equilibrium for us to be at our best, and each of us has our own unique threshold for this. Take some time to unwind, and most importantly be happy about it. You deserve some time off, and you can rest easy knowing you will be even better when you return.
In complete honesty, modern society is not as great for this as many of us may think. Here in North America, we really do live in an era where much of society teaches us to cast the responsibility for the circumstances of our lives elsewhere. Our agency for creation is truly our largest and most real tool. The only difference between us and self-made millionaires with thriving relationships is that they simply chose to be that way. If you want an outstanding life, you need to apply yourself, because the universe likely has no plan on tossing you a lottery ticket down the line. Much of what anxiety inherently is, is the fear for the future. The fear that we will not be able to be alright. The fear that we will be incapable of influencing the outcomes of our lives. When I was at the darkest and likely weakest point of my life, a lightbulb finally turned on in my mind. I realized that I would feel better about the future if I simply made the future better. I knew that creating a comfortable future would provide my mind at least some form of ease, and it did. It was at that moment that I began working on a brand new career for myself, and I haven’t turned back once. It is never easy at the beginning, but applying myself has helped me feel more confident in what I am capable of as an individual. It has helped me embrace the future, knowing that I can rely on who I am, that I will always step up to take care of myself. And it has helped me rest my mind better in the present, knowing that I am indeed living more comfortably than I was before. Discipline and accomplishment are perhaps two of the greatest mental skills we can have.
Expanding My Comfort Zone
As I mentioned in the last paragraph, a dominating aspect of anxiety is an inherent fear of the future, and fear for situations we are uncomfortable with. With this in consideration, there are few ways to slowly diminish anxiety than to simply expand what it is that we are comfortable with. For myself personally, this was easier said than done, and I eased my way into this process. During the initial stages, I rarely took large steps, but I did take them consistently. I shared more articles, I shared more feelings. I said hi to more people. I smiled at more people. I became more vulnerable to the people in my life. I tried new things. I went for the things I wanted. As one might expect, these habits eventually became normal, and they are certainly no longer as scary as they once were. Expanded comfort has created expanded opportunities, expanded my sense of calm, and has truly helped me see my world in terms of possibilities instead of limitations. I’ve since come to realize that discomfort is the answer to all true expansion. Seeking discomfort creates more comfort for us on a whole. It’s a simple but powerful philosophy that has changed the lives of many.
Simplifying My Life
Lastly, there is a hidden power in simplicity, especially when it comes to our mind. When our minds are full of clutter, they are inefficient, and they operate poorly. A scattered life and a scattered mind often come hand in hand. One powerful way to bring more ease to our mental experience of the world, it so simplifies our experience of the world. So often we fall victim to the belief that busy is better. This is far from the truth. Cutting back on my commitments, or at least managing them more simply had provided me with a truly significant amount of relief. I’ve become a scheduling pro and a minimalism expert. I’ve found that the fewer things I own, the fewer thoughts I need to think about them. The fewer thoughts I need to think about them, the more stillness I am able to experience. I am still a high producing individual, only now I do it strategically. I still enjoy nice things, only now I consume very consciously. Without managing the stimulation in our lives, the reality is that we simply become a product of our environment. De-stimulating and turning inward is powerful.
“Worry a little bit every day and in a lifetime you will lose a couple of years. If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.”
– Mary Hemingway
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