STRENGTH & FOCUS: Overcoming anxiety – 6 steps to bring boiling thoughts down to a simmer
Regardless of whether I like admitting to it or not, I am no stranger to an anxious mind. Thoughts race, juxtapose, conflict, build up, and scatter all at a seemingly unceasing rate, and I am left feeling like an empty vessel fueled by what comes from the mind.
For some time, this is how my world was run, with my mind being the cruel, relentless ringleader. I felt as if there was no true sense of self, or no true sense of anything for that matter. After years of teaching yoga and reading a plethora of books centered around mindfulness, it finally begin to sink in that my mind being that cruel, relentless ringleader is actually a choice that I make – that we all make.
Countless hours spent reflecting, self-studying, and reading made it apparent to me that humans are beings of condition, even when it comes to thinking. We condition ourselves to think, act, and perceive the world in certain ways, which creates specific pathways in our mind – pathways that seemingly become us, and we seemingly become them. They feel like home, they feel safe and, over time, become second nature.
However, we are not the mind or anything that it creates. The truth is quite the opposite. We create the contents of the mind. Paving over the conditioned pathways to generate new ones is certainly not an easy task; it is not impossible, but it requires effort and time. Here are some tips on how to bring your boiling thoughts down to a simmer, straight from a professional:
1. As soon as you notice a thought beginning to circulate, ask yourself if what your mind is creating is something that you are fond of or if it is the opposite. If you find your answer to be the opposite, know that what comes from the mind is only of the mind. It is not an ultimate truth; it merely seems like it is. At the end of the day, the mind robs us of the present moment, or what is truly happening around and within you.
2. Check in with your breath. You may begin to notice that an anxious mind is a dear friend of short, shallow breaths. Breath and state of mind are weaved together and directly affect one another. We contain the ability to intrinsically control the breath and, therefore, contain the ability to intrinsically control the mind. Spend a few minutes practicing pranayama (breathing exercises), encouraging deep, long inhalations and slow, complete exhalations, allowing each exhalation to be twice as long as each inhalation. Put all of your awareness and attention onto your breath, noticing all of the associated qualities, characteristics, and tendencies.
3. Find or create something that will ground you, i.e. take you out of your head and root you in the present moment, whether it is moving the body physically, singing, reading, or anything that can bring you from a mind space down to a centered heart space.
4. Know that these fits of racing mind will pass even though it feels like a lifetime until they eventually do.
5. Once you find and take root in a centered space, replace the spinning thoughts with positive ones. For example, if a spinning thought you are having is a dire want to lose weight, thinking to yourself, “I cannot eat this bag of chips because it is not healthy, and I cannot lose weight if I eat something unhealthy,” will put a negative connotation on the entire situation. Rather, think something along the lines of, “I want to eat this apple because apples contain nutrients that will serve my body and keep me healthy.” This will keep the situation positive, thus making you want to do something as opposed to feeling like you have to. Try it out. It makes a world of difference.
6. Lastly, it is very easy to feel like no one else is experiencing the same situation that you are experiencing. However, that is not true either. In fact, millions of people experience anxiety on a daily basis. The only truth is that you are never truly alone. Talk to someone and share you story. Will it be scary and leave you feeling vulnerable? Sure, but we can only grow by doing what makes us feel that way.
Cristina Spradlin has always had a sensitive eye for the extraordinary. This keen sense of wonder and bewilderment is what ultimately led her through 300 hours of yoga teacher training and is what drives her to write creatively, amongst other hobbies, such as exploring nature and practicing martial arts. She is also a lover of animals, herbs, mindful reads, and all things spiritual. Contact her through e-mail or on Facebook.