Calming Your Anxious, Worried Mind

worryWhy is it that when we’re feeling anxious, we tend to worry so much, even though worrying tends to do nothing except make us feel even more anxious? One reasoin is that it’s easy to regard worrying as something that can be productive: that it either helps us deal with anxiety, or protects us from the thing we’re feeling anxious about.

If worrying actually did have these effects, it would be quite beneficial. But unfortunately, worrying usually only increases anxiety. So why do we continue to do it time and time again?

Worrying tends to feel a lot like problem solving. When we problem solve, we identify a problem, come up with some possible solutions, weigh their pros and cons, and then take some sort of action to resolve the problem. Problem solving is a very constructive, rational thought process to help us deal effectively with a problem at hand.

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Cognitive Defusion and Letting Go of Thoughts

In a previous post we looked at some ways to practice letting go of thoughts, but it can often be difficult to let of thoughts because they have such a powerful pull, especially when the thoughts are related to a strong emotion.

In this post we’re going to look at some things you can do to get some separation from your thoughts when your emotions are particularly strong and you’re having some thoughts you’re finding hard to let go.

Steven Hayes, who developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), coined the term “cognitive fusion” to describe times when we are so tightly stuck to our thoughts, we become “fused” to them. When we’re experiencing cognitive fusion, we can’t separate ourselves from our thoughts. Our thoughts become our reality. We feel removed from the world outside of our thoughts, removed from our senses, from what we’re doing, and even from the people around us.

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Watching Thoughts and Letting Them Go

cloudsIn a recent post we looked at how mindfulness can help us let go of our thoughts when we get caught up in ruminating or worrying or just thinking in circles. Letting go of thoughts is never easy, however, and in this post we’ll look at how simply watching our thoughts can help us let them go.

Thoughts pop into our heads all the time, and usually we don’t pay any special attention to them: they enter and leave our minds all on their own, just like a car that drives into our line of sight, remains in our field of vision for a few moments, and then drives along and passes out of our line of sight again.

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Letting Go of Thoughts Mindfully

racing thoughtsIt’s easy to get swept away by our thoughts, especially in the face of strong emotions. We get stuck ruminating and dwelling about the past, filled with guilt or regret. Or our minds start racing and we can’t stop worrying about the future and imagining all the things that could go wrong. Or we replay conversations over and over again in our heads, trying to make sense of them or figure out what we could have said differently.

When our minds get going like this, not only is it exhausting; these patterns of thinking tend to make us feel bad, intensifying the emotions we’re already feeling and generating additional negative emotions as well. Because this experience is so unpleasant, it’s natural to want to these thoughts to stop, and to be able to prevent yourself from even having them in the first place. We often wind up trying to make these thoughts go away, and shut them out completely and make sure they don’t come back. But just like we can’t control our emotions or suppress our emotions, neither can we control or suppress our thoughts.

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STOPP and Be Mindful

 
 

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and anxiety or distressing emotions, it can be diificult to know how to manage these feelings.

Often we allow our stress and anxiety and emotions to build and build all day without doing anything to calm them, trying to just ignore them and hoping they’ll go away. Then, when we finally can’t take it anymore and start feeling overwhelmed and desperate, things have often accumulated too much and begun to spiral downwards and it can be so hard to get any relief.

The more we allow stress and distressing emotions to accumulate, the more difficult they become to address. That’s why one of the keys to managing our feelings is to find ways to not let them build up so much in the first place.

One effective way to accomplish this is with an exercise called STOPP. STOPP is designed to help you stop stress and anxiety in their tracks, as soon as you begin to notice them, rather than waiting until they become overwhelming. Read More



Abdonimal Breathing to Calm and Relax

When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, one of the most effective ways to calm your body, mind and emotions is to pay attention to your breathing.

When you focus your attention on your breath, things start to slow down. Physiologically, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops, and any tightness or tension you feel tends to relax. Breathing mindfully also calms your emotions, making them more manageable, and helps slow down a racing mind.

In the next post, we’re going to learn a few techniques to help you follow your breath, but first, it’s important to ensure that you’re breathing in a way that helps calm you, rather than in a way that can increase your level of stress.

To learn about abdominal breathing, you can watch the following video or read the description below:

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Give Yourself a Mindful Break From Stress, Anxiety and Depression

breathing spaceIn a couple of recent posts, we looked at some things you can do to help stop stress and anxiety from becoming overwhelming, and to give yourself a breathing time out from stress, anxiety and depression. In this post, we’ll look at a couple more techniques you can use to manage stress and anxiety, and to help your emotions from becoming overwhelming if you’re experiencing depression or anger.

The first is called the Three Minute Breathing Space, and it was developed as part of the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy program for people with depression. Like the Breathing Time Out, it’s a way to bring your attention to the present, give yourself a break from whatever stress or emotions have been building up, and then return to the rest of your day, more refreshed and focused on the present.

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Take a Breathing Time Out

time outIn a recent post we looked at a couple of exercises you can use to help stop stress and anxiety from becoming overwhelming. Another technique you can use throughout the day to manage stress and anxiety, and to help keep strong emotions and feelings of depression and anger from becoming overwhelming, is to give yourself a Breathing Time Out.

Just as a time out can be an effective way to help children calm down when they are acting out and starting to get out of control, when our thoughts and emotions start getting carried away, a time out is a great tool to help calm ourselves.

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Following Your Breath Mindfully

In a previous post about our breath we looked at the difference between abdominal breathing and breathing from your chest, and how abdominal breathing can help alleviate stress and calm your body, mind and emotions.

It’s as simple as bringing your attention to your breathing for a few minutes, or even just a few breaths. This is easier said than done, however, as our minds tend to wander a lot at the best of times, and when we’re in distress, it’s even more difficult to keep our mind focused on our breath.

Below are some techniques to help you keep your attention focused on your breathing. Along with each technique is an MP3 audio file to guide you through the exercise, and help you keep your attention on your breath and bring your mind back to your breathing whenever it starts to wander (which it will tend to do quite often).

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Bringing Mindfulness into your Daily Life

mindfulnessMindfulness isn’t just something we practice when meditating: anything we do throughout the day, we can learn to do mindfully. Once we learn to bring mindfulness into our everyday lives, we can reduce a lot of the stress, anxiety, depression and anger that tends to build up when we go through life relatively mindlessly.

It would be great if we could go about our whole day completely mindful, bringing our full attention to whatever we’re doing, while we’re doing it, and not getting carried away by distractions or thoughts of the past or about the future. But although mindfulness sounds simple, it does require effort. It takes a continual effort to notice when our mind’s started to wander and keep bringing it back to the present, and it’s not something most of us can do all day long.

So instead of striving go about the entire day mindfully, it’s good to start with some small steps, and find ways to gradually add more mindfulness into your activities throughout the day. Below are some ways you can start bringing mindfulness into your days on a regular basis.

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