When I ask people to say why they came to the class in the feedback form every newbie fills out, the main reason is anxiety. It was certainly the reason I learnt to meditate. My mind was so consumed with worry and anxiety I felt I needed some way to be free from it all.
I recently read: “what we need to learn to notice is when and where we worry, not necessarily what we worry about”. This is a key principle of mindfulness. We may not be able not stop ourselves from worrying, but we can learn to notice what the triggers are for us to worry and learn from that our pattern of anxiety.
Worrying comes from not feeling safe, it is the ancient brains way of trying to figure out potential dangers and consider ways to deal with them before they occur. This is fine if our worry is what to do if we meet a sabre tooth tiger as we hunt, and we then have a clear strategy in place for this event. But if our worry is more generalised – an anxiety about life, anxiety about social situations, anxiety about how popular we are….then there is no end to this spiral of worrying thoughts.
When I did a CBT course we had a few methods to try. The first distinction was between worries that were real and hypothetical worries. If a worry was about a legitimate situation, such as a leak in the roof, then one would ask is there anything I can do about it right now? If there is one takes practical action – put a bowl under the leak to catch water, call a roofer or organise a repair. If there is nothing one can do about it right now then one practices putting the worry aside.
If a worry is hypothetical, then one reflects that this worry is about something that is not happening right now so there is no need to spend time worrying. Say one is worried about what would happen if one lost one’s job. But there is no immediate likelihood of that. Then there is no need to worry about how bills would paid or how to avoid going into debt.
One way to put worries aside is worry time: at some point towards the end of the day open a note book, write down everything you are worried about, then close it without reading it back. This can help as a way of getting it all out on paper. It’s important to then not read it back or dwell on it.
Another method is to imagine putting our worries in the basket of a hot air ballon and allowing them to drift away.
A mindfulness practice for worry is to imagine worries as busses – we stand by the road and watch the bus go past, but when we then get on a ‘worry bus’ as soon as we notice we get off again and return to watching the worry go past. The way to watch is by tuning in to your body – feel the worry as a sensation in your body rather that a thought, and breathe into the place you feel the worry. Imagine giving it space, and that it is as if the breath surrounds and holds this sensation in your body.
A method from the 8 week mindfulness based cognitive therapy course I teach is to say to yourself: “thoughts are not facts” – as a reminder that just because you are thinking something it does not make it true. As the quote form Mark Twin at the top of this email reminds us, our life can be full of terrible things, only a few of which actually happen to us!
From Brett Moran’s book, ‘Wake the F**k Up’ I got the approach of saying an assertive statement. He suggests simply saying to the worry “stop” or “enough” or “this way of thinking is not helping me” – the idea is to connect with a more assertive and self aware part of consciousness that can say to the worrying mind enough, stop.