Lessons from Arunima’s clinical practice
Anxiety is the most common concern that people want to work on in therapy. Anxiety is a natural response to aversive events; therefore, a certain amount of anxiety is normal and to be expected. However, when we judge anxiety as bad and battle with it, this invites anxiety to be an ongoing experience rather than a fleeting reaction to a stressful situation.
The following techniques from our Associate, Arunima Sharma, help people disentangle themselves from the unnecessary battles that keep them in a state of anxiety. By connecting to the body and to the present moment through these mindfulness practices, we invite anxiety to ripple through us, instead of engaging in the circular thought patterns that keep anxiety alive.
1) Engage the senses
The quickest way to escape anxiety’s grip is to become fully aware of the present moment through the senses. Next time you are lost in anxiety, try to tune into your senses and notice the details of what it is you are actually sensing in that moment. Pay attention to what you are seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, touching, and hearing. Perhaps you can feel your foot inside your shoe; perhaps you hear the tick of a clock in another corner of the room, and the birds chirping outside. Engaging all five of the senses helps us ground in the present moment and get out of our heads—where anxiety tends to imprison us.
2) Get into your body
Whether through exercise, yoga, walking, progressive muscle relaxation, body scanning, or simply bringing awareness to how your body feels right-here-right-now, getting in touch with the body helps us gain distance and perspective from the dizzying thoughts that are part-and-parcel of anxiety. Most people who experience anxiety spend too much time in their heads, and as a result, loose connection with their bodies. The body is always in the present, always anchored in reality, whereas are minds are frequently travelling into the past and the future—often, imagining the worst.
One way to invite this practice is to become aware of any point of contact that the body is making. Take note of how your sit-bones feel on the chair you are sitting on, or how your back feels against the couch. Notice the effect of gravity on your body, and allow the body to be carried by the couch, chair, floor, or grass upon which you sit. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Instead of tensely holding your body up, surrender to gravity and feel the weight of your body being supported. Let go into that support. Physiologically experiencing this letting go creates a parallel experience in the mind. Getting in touch with the body and relaxing into gravity takes people out of the cyclical thought patterns in their mind and calms the nervous system enough for perspective to be possible.
3) Take a witnessing stance to your thoughts
When we are caught up with anxiety, there is likely to be little pause between one thought and the next and little space between our thoughts and our reactions to them. Usually, we indulge our thoughts and let them run in circles. Anxious thoughts are usually circular in nature, and the longer these cycles go on undisrupted or unexamined, the more habitual anxious thinking becomes. The only way out if this cycle is to disrupt it. One way we can disrupt the cycle is by taking a step back from our thoughts and simply observe them. This is called the witnessing stance.
One technique is to watch your thoughts as if they were clouds passing across the sky—to pay attention to the form of the thought, rather than getting lost in the content. Notice a thought arising, notice its pace, its sound, its shape, and notice how when you just witness it, it quickly falls away, and another arises, and so on. Another technique is to watch your thoughts as if they were someone else’s; this allows people to experience some space from their thoughts, and allows them to see them for what they are with less judgment and reactivity. By increasing this space from our thoughts bit by bit, we can break the pattern of our repetitive thoughts and experience more and more freedom from anxiety.
We hope these tips serve you well. If you would like more support with freeing yourself from your anxiety, feel free to contact Arunima Sharma, MA, RCC, or any of the other therapists at Kerry Moller & Associates, and we would be happy to help you. It is possible to live a life not dominated by anxious thoughts!
photo: Kristin Horsman