Mindfulness does not only benefit the mind. The practice also connects you to your body to help you become more in tune with your emotions. As I began to practice mindfulness, I noticed that I was able to find physical sensations that happened when I was experiencing difficult emotions.
For example, learning how the body reacts to emotions has helped me understand the physical effects of anxiety. The more often I can analyze my body when in a state of anxiety, the more comfortable I become with feeling those effects.
When we’re experiencing something like anxiety, it’s hard to pay attention to what your body is doing. It’s also difficult to practice mindfulness when you’re dealing with extreme emotions and anxiety, so how can you calm yourself down?
Anxiety can feel like the end of the world. Being in a state of panic shocks your nervous system, and causes physical effects that can feel unmanageable. The good news is that practicing mindfulness will help you become familiar with the physical sensations, and the more you practice the more comfortable you’ll become.
Anxiety and Mindfulness
To start, it’s easier to take note of physical sensations in the body when you’re in a calm state of mind. When I’m feeling secure, I’m able to separate the thoughts and emotions from physical effects to analyze them. The problem is that when I begin to feel anxious, it’s almost impossible for me to stay present and I fall into a state of panic.
The panic can set in so quickly that there’s no chance for me to focus on mindfulness to calm down. Anxiety can manifest itself physically in many ways, including:
- Feeling restless
- Difficulty breathing
- Unable to focus
- Increased heart rate
Anxiety appears differently in everyone, which is why mindfulness is important in understanding your symptoms. I start to notice my anxiety increasing when I start to feel physical symptoms. I start to have rapid and shallow breathing, my throat swells, and my chest tightens with sharp pinching pain in my muscles.
When I start to feel any of these symptoms, I know anxiety is on its way and I go into panic. Focusing on the physical effects amplifies them and can make them worse. Then, I start thinking something is wrong with me and that these feelings will never go away. As my thoughts become pervasive, it turns into anger.
Once I’ve gotten angry about the fact that I’m anxious, any idea of mindfulness goes out the window. Even as I type this, thinking about my anxiety has my heart starting to race. However, practicing mindfulness has made me aware that this is happening and I can take a step back to stop it before it starts.
The ability to bring awareness of what’s going on in your body takes time and practice. I have managed to do this during mild and moderate anxiety. As I feel the anxiety coming on, I take a few deep breaths. If you’re able to pull yourself out of it and have awareness, you can apply mindfulness practices to prevent full panic.
“As the saying goes, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. If you can simply stay present with whatever is arising in awareness – whether it’s a first dart or a second one – without reacting further, then you will break the chain of suffering right there.”
- Handson and Mendius, Buddha’s Brain
Let’s look at this quote in terms of managing anxiety. The first dart is the mental or physical discomfort, and the second dart is our reaction to it. For me, it’s the second dart that turns my anxiety into panic. Spending time with my anxiety and learning how it affects me physically has allowed me to detect it before I’m spiraling into something unbearable.
Checking in With Your Body
It’s important to slow down and take time to check in with your mind AND your body. When I make the effort to do this, I experience anxiety in an accepting and gentle way, instead of earth shattering despair.
Checking in with my body frequently allows me to notice the beginning signs of anxiety, and I can give myself the self care I need in the moment. It’s important to remember that this isn’t about pretending anxiety doesn’t exist or avoiding it. You’re taking the time to experience the anxiety and deciding how to calm yourself down.
The more you practice, the easier it gets. Sometimes it can be as simple as lovingly placing my hands on my chest and taking a few deep breaths. Being able to acknowledge that I’m anxious can prevent it from escalating.