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

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  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.

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.

Originally published: September 20, 2016
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