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What People Don't Say About Practicing Mindfulness to Help With Anxiety

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 mind·ful·ness

/ˈmīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/

noun

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. “their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Mindfulness is hard. There’s a huge community in mental health around mindfulness due to its proven positive effects for those who have disorders like anxiety, PTSD and more. My therapist has been recommending I give mindfulness a shot from day one. Even after I started medication and was seeing results, she still insisted that in the long run, mindfulness is what will help me stabilize and be at peace with my disorder.

What people often don’t hear, and what I had to realize on my own, is that mindfulness can be incredibly difficult.

Everyone’s experiences will be different, but I have to say, in my experience and conversations with others who have anxiety disorders, mindfulness is often no easy task. I am by no means an expert, but I have been attempting to practice mindfulness for over two years now. I started with traditional hatha yoga and meditation practices, attending classes and finding videos online. Now, my practice varies from reading “The Little Book of Mindfulness” to listening to guided meditations for five to 10 minutes at night.

And still, I find myself not accepting myself. The point of mindfulness is to bring us back to the now. What are you feeling, hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, doing — right in this very moment, and can you just be? Accept the moment for what it is — accept yourself and your feelings for what they are.

As someone with intense anxiety, that sounds like hell. And it kind of is.

My mind wanders. I have what I like to call “high-functioning anxiety.” I don’t think people in my day-to-day life would guess the amount of struggle I go through to keep my life on track. I go to work, I do my job well, I keep my house clean, I’m a dutiful fiancée and dog mom, and I have a regular social life with friends. But inside my head, I’m an unorganized mess. Most of the time.

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Mindfulness is supposed to help you bring yourself into the moment, to discourage anxious and obsessive thoughts, and instead help you bring your mind into a state of relaxation, usually focusing on your breath.

It sounds simple enough, and, hey, don’t we breathe all the time? But I’m here to tell you — it is not easy, and you don’t need to feel like it should come naturally. I was severely discouraged from it because I felt like a failure every single time my mind wandered — every time I was interrupted due to intrusive thoughts, every time I couldn’t sleep due to compulsions, every time I skipped a day or two of meditation and felt intense guilt. For those of us whose anxiety manifests as a form of desire to succeed and perfectionism, attempting something we’re not able to master and check off our list can be excruciating — at least, it was for me.

Until I had a breakthrough one day. It was shortly after I’d finished “The Little Book of Mindfulness” and successfully completed a 30-minute guided meditation — by far the longest I’d stayed “relaxed” in years. I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed, feeling alive and noticing the things around me — how peaceful the morning light in my room was, the feeling of my slippers on my feet, how delicious the strawberries I had were — all of these things delighted me, and I realized that for the very first time, mindfulness was seeping its way into my natural train of thought.

That day at work, I made one of the only spontaneous decisions I have ever made in my life — I got a tattoo that I only thought about for maybe an hour. It’s a “pause” symbol. It’s on the inside of my wrist. And it’s a daily reminder to pause, take a breath, be mindful, and then continue moving forward.

I am by no means healed, or a meditation master. I do not wake up every morning and appreciate the little things. I don’t always take a step back and breathe in the moment. I am simply a girl trying to do better, for herself and her family. I have a million things happening in my life right now, but I now have a constant reminder to live in the moment and keep breathing.

Mindfulness is hard — but it really is the only tool I’ve found that makes me feel better, even if only for a brief pause. I encourage you to give it a shot, in whatever way feels most comfortable to you.

Follow this journey on Naturally Sheyna.

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The 'Weird' Thing That Brings Me Solace When Anxiety Takes Over

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For me, the anxiety is like a blanket. It comes and drowns me in thoughts, twitches and repetitive actions that just don’t stop. Even hours later, the effects can be seen.

My friends often can’t tell. It’s not because they don’t notice. It’s because I’m good at hiding it: Can’t sit still? Oh, I’m just stretching my legs at work. Tapping my pens? I’m just keeping the beat of the music I’m listening to on my headphones. Always an explanation.

Those of us with high-functioning anxiety can be very good at explanations. We may try to use them to settle our own anxiety at the same we use them to keep friends and family from noticing.

I hear the thoughts coming and suddenly feel frozen. They take over and run rampant. So I try and ignore them. Then I try to focus on something else. When I can’t succeed at either, I’ve begun to find solace in “white noise.”

White noise has been documented to help insomniacs in reaching and staying in a sleep state. Waterfalls, forest sounds, etc. can give a person something other than thoughts or anxieties from a day to focus on.

My white noise is nothing like that. Crickets chirping? Here comes the anxiety: Where is it? Find it now! It will just keep chirping all night!

No, I have my classic rock.

Weird, yes. Something designed to “move” the body and mind helps settle me. Odd, perhaps. Anxiety comes knocking; throw on some AC/DC. Turn up the volume. I don’t drown. The thoughts, twitches and repetitive actions do.

I know that part of the reaction I have to my version of white noise is that I got my love of classic rock from my father. He is a man who always seems cool under pressure. No anxiety to be seen no matter the situation. Driving in blizzard conditions at night? Turn on some Pink Floyd and sing along.

My association to white noise might be different from what most people understand. It’s supposed to be calming. Mine is everything but. It works for me. By overpowering the anxiety, I can overcome it. I can move beyond it, even if it will come back. I am not controlled by it.

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In my family, the anxiety is well-earned. All four of us struggle with some form of it. My anxiety stems mostly from obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’ve found what works for me. It doesn’t mean it will work for others, but it helps me keep my anxiety at a manageable level. It allows me to live the life I mean to have.

Anxiety can be a daily battle. Something goes wrong in a day’s plan, and I break out my music. I sing along. I head-bang. When I connect to the music, my white noise, I can finally focus. I can see what is freezing me is not going to stop me. I will succeed.

No waterfalls included. No crickets involved. Good, I’m not a fan of bugs anyway.

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The Anxious Teens

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I know what you’re thinking. Who wants a world full of struggling teens, who are ridden with irrational worries? A world where teens are frozen with fear and avoidance? But if you know teens with anxiety, you also know a different side of them.

Along with a heightened sense of awareness, comes a heightened sense of empathy.

Along with the burden of being emotionally sensitive, comes the desire to not hurt other people’s feelings.

Along with the fear of what other people think, comes the desire to make other people feel good.

Along with a tendency to be overly cautious, comes the ability to problem-solve.

Along with a keen awareness of others, comes the ability to pick up on other people’s emotions.

Along with the impulse to keep life from feeling chaotic, comes great organizational skills.

Along with being hurt by other people’s actions, comes a selfless, giving friend.

They are the ones who always remembered my name and asked how I was doing. They are the ones who refused to say anything mean to bullies because they didn’t want to hurt their feelings. They are the ones who spent some of their session worried about people other than themselves. They are the ones who offered comfort and advice to their friends. They are the ones who warned their friends when they had unsafe ideas. They are the ones who saved their money to buy family presents. They are the ones who talked about how to make the world a better place.

Yes, the world needs more people like them. You see, despite their anxiety, their inner beauty radiates. The same genetics that cause them to be anxious helps them be considerate. The same genetics that cause them to feel self-conscious gives them the awareness to notice when other people are upset.

The world could use more kind, considerate and empathetic people. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone had the ability to be tuned in to other people’s emotions? If everyone had the awareness of how their behavior affects those around them? If everyone thought of other people, and not just themselves? I would love that kind of world!

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Anxiety can be a package deal, and these wonderful qualities sometimes go hand-in-hand with the nasty beast. But we can teach our teens to crush their anxiety. We can give them the tools to obliterate the dictator in their head, so they have an opportunity to let those wonderful qualities shine.

We can teach them they have much to offer the world. That they are special. That along with their anxiety comes some beautiful qualities, qualities that will shine, once the clouds of anxiety are lifted.

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4 Ways to Help Someone With Anxiety Who's Going Somewhere

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Since I’m going somewhere today, I’ve decided to post a list of things I find helpful when going somewhere with someone with anxiety. Please, note these are my opinions. You should always ask someone with anxiety the best way to help them. Not every method is beneficial to every individual.

1. Give us more than 24 hours notice.

If you want to go somewhere with us, then please let us know before 24 hours beforehand. While knowing about a certain event too early may cause us to over-think until we don’t feel able to go, springing on us the fact that you want us to go somewhere or just showing up unannounced will add extra, unnecessary stress!

2. Scope out the place ahead of time and report back.

While this may sound extremely needy, if we’ve never been somewhere before, then sometimes it helps put our mind at ease if we know the lay of the land. If it’s not too much to ask, then maybe even take pictures so we can visualize what the place looks like and how it’s set up.

3. Tell us what time we’re going out.

If you’ll be picking us up, then it’s helpful to know when to expect you. As mentioned in my first piece of advice, showing up unannounced can be nerve-racking!

4. Be patient with us.

This is the most important piece of advice overall. For people with anxiety, going out can be extremely difficult. The fact that we’re trying is a big step. While that may be hard to understand, yelling at us when we struggle will only make things worse. Please, try your hardest to be understanding and patient!

Thank you so much for reading! If anyone has any other advice for traveling with anxiety, then please feel free to comment!

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Getting Through Anxiety.

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On the Days I 'Fail' With Anxiety and Depression

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Today, I failed.

Thus far, in the last 24 hours, I cried at least four times. I panicked three times. I cancelled two appointments and I’ve thought about terrible, nightmarish things I don’t even want to mention.

By all accounts, I am failing. I feel like my depression and anxiety are having a rap battle for the winning spot in my brain. I can’t hear anything but them, and I want to pull my hair out.

Yet, I am here.  

There are days when by all accounts, I suck and I don’t like myself very much. I don’t meet my standards. I let myself down or I am just too much. Days where I feel like I am filled with earthquakes, fires and storms. Days where I feel everything too intensely, like I’m drowning in a sea of voices who all need something different that I can’t give. Days when I call my fiancée too many times crying again because I can’t handle anything. There are tons of days when I want to quit. Days when I wish I could just not exist because it would be so much easier for everyone.

I can’t quit. Every awful day means I am closer to a good day. Every time I make myself do something that scares me is a day I succeed.

That’s what I want to tell you. I won’t lie and say it gets easier. Sometimes, it is easy. Sometimes, it is ridiculously hard to get out of bed and leave the house. Yet, every day is worth living for. You are a fighter and your own demons may be intense, but they are not stronger than you. This is not bigger than you, and although no one can save you, there are people who love you and want you to keep going.

There are some ideas that won’t work. There are some promises you won’t be able to keep.  There are some great plans that will be great disasters, but that is the nature of life. Don’t let it weigh you down. Drop your pack and keep moving.

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You deserve to be here. I deserve to be here. We deserve to exist. We deserve life. Keep failing. Keep trying. Keep fighting. Keep living.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

 

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Another Night With Anxiety

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I struggle mostly with depression but also experience anxiety. Sometimes I find myself contemplating which is worse. But without a doubt there are some unbearable nights where anxiety is in control. Many times it not only makes me feel bad emotionally,
but physically. I get a pounding headache, I feel like I’m going to be sick and on a few occasions I actually was sick.

When you eat something bad and throw it up later you may feel somewhat better, but with anxiety you only feel worse because now on top of your worries you feel sick, and then your anxiety somehow convinces you you’re dying.

I want to tell you what it’s like for me at night time as someone with anxiety. Although each night is different and the thoughts and feelings vary, I want someone out there to understand what I — and tons of other people — are going through nearly every night.

I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing. I hear a little creak in the house. I’m suddenly wide awake, my heart beating harder than ever. I feel cold and hot at the same time. I’m shaking and sweating. I’m scared. I’m alone.

“There’s a burglar in the house,” my mind tells me. “He’s going to hurt you. He’s going to hurt your dog.”

A takes a few minutes, sometimes even hours, for it to sink in that if the dog’s not barking then no one’s in the house.

I try to go back to sleep but can’t. The voices inside my head are still talking to me.

“Don’t forget you’ve got to get up early in the morning. If you stay awake all night you won’t be able to function properly in the morning”

“Hey, remember that time you were with that person and you… well I bet that person still remembers and is still mad at you. She’s planning a cunning way to get back at you. You’ll be sorry.”

I go on Facebook and start a conversation with someone else who’s online to try to calm myself down. They don’t answer straight away. In fact, they go offline.

Immediately the voices start up again.

“You get on her nerves.”

“She can’t stand you anymore. She’s just not blocking you because she feels bad for you.”

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No one really likes you or cares about you.”

I toss and turn trying to get back to sleep, but more thoughts come in to my head.

“If you carry on like this all night you won’t be able to get up in the morning, and you’ll miss your bus. You won’t be able to get to work, and then they’ll fire you just like when you got fired from your last job due to your crappy mental state.”

I get up and turn on the light. A rush of relief flows over my body. I go back in to bed slightly more relaxed now, but still feeling a little uneasy. I close my eyes and try to get back to sleep.

“If you fall asleep with the light on you’ll run up a large electricity bill.”

I get up and turn off the light, still hoping to get some sleep before it’s time to get up.

Eventually I fall asleep moments before my alarm rings, and it’s time to face yet another day.

***

The anxiety — and the depression — are still there throughout the day. But for that I can write a whole new post.

Image via Thinkstock.

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