If done persistently and well, it represents an extremely effective method to manage negative emotions and stress, with proven health benefits to one’s body (treating chronic pain for instance) and one’s mind (helping with reducing stress and anxiety, and improving attention and concentration, amongst other things).
Sometimes bad feelings about the past — such as grief, anger, or guilt — and sometimes anxiety and stress about the future may steal away from our abilities to be mindful, to stay anchored in the present moment.
We all have stress and it can be a good thing: it may sharpen us to be the best we can be at the moment; having our muscles, bones, lungs and heart be ready for the moment we are going to jump. But more often, it is an unwanted, unhealthy feeling which tires out our bodies and brains and which robs us of feeling fully appreciative of what life offers us.
When that happens, when the fearful feelings are foremost in one’s mind and one is unable to be fully mindful, it needs to be addressed.
The most important thing to understand about fear is that when one runs away from it or tries to avoid it, it grows. The more one avoids it, the more one runs from it, the greater the fear becomes, and the more it makes it impossible to be mindful. Therefore, in order to gain the upper hand on it, one must face the fear and stare it down, or if that is too much, at least spend time in its company without turning your back on it.
With the help of a professional, one can learn how to do that, how to change the intensity and duration of fearful emotions by changing one’s behaviour, or by changing how one thinks.
Learning to relax whilst you are stressed is the most common way to deal with this. There are a great variety of relaxation methods that are not hard to learn. One can do progressive muscle relaxation techniques such as monitoring the tension in each specific muscle group in the body by tensing up and then relaxing that muscle group. Other techniques include deep breathing exercises, choosing images to focus on which one has associated with pleasant memories and sensations, yoga, or listening to soothing music. Research shows that the best music for this purpose is that which helps “entrain” the brainwaves, and keeps the heart rate to a lower-than-usual beat of about 60 per minute; with low bass tones and white-noise sounds. Some tracks to check out are Electra by Airstream, Weightless by Marconi Union, or Watermark by Enya.
Changing one’s thoughts is even better as it teaches us to refuse to accept that the anxiety or worry is stronger than us. A rich fortune trove of tools also exists in improving the negative way one thinks about the stress or anxiety. One such method is to choose to make the anxious thought even worse. For example, we may think: “What if I get fired?” Then we need to escalate this, first by asking: “Why am I afraid of getting fired?” and the answer may be something like: “Then I don’t have money”. Once that deeper fear is identified, we need to follow the same routine: “Why am I afraid of not having money?” and go deeper and deeper with the levels of fear. Most often we land up at a place where the deepest exposed fear is clearly not even rational and a large part of that fear complex tumbles down like a set of dominoes. Sometimes we land up at fears that are at our bedrock, such as that we are fearful of shame, or criticism, or being abandoned. If we get to these types of fears, it is really useful to bring them to the attention and care of a qualified mental health professional.
As we continue to look at fears, please consider the next few questions:
1. Is what you are worrying about going to be still important five years from now? If not, why worry?
2. Whether you worry or not, one day you will die. So why worry?
3. Have you ever worried about an upcoming event or meeting and then the meeting or event turned out even worse than you imagined? It’s never happened to me. So why worry?
4. Do you trust yourself? If “yes”, why worry? If you trust yourself, you will do the best you can with the challenge you will face, and you will have no regrets. If “no”, get some help from someone you trust to restore your faith in you; and you will worry less subsequently.
I love what author Jack Kornfeld states; in that there are only three things that matter in the end:
“How well we have lived,
How well we have loved,
How well we have learned to let go”.
Learning to let go of one’s anxieties, learning to live “in the current breath” helps to achieve a wellness of life that fills us up to give freely and kindly; and to love without expecting anything back.