Experiencing anxiety can be painful. Tightness in our chest, racing thoughts in our mind, and feelings of overwhelm that can spread throughout our whole body.  When it evolves into a panic attack or robs us of sleep, it leaves us feeling achy and tired all day. Anxiety is often a physically and emotionally painful experience. It is so reasonable that we would want to push our anxiety away. Doing anything to avoid the related thoughts and feelings that accompany anxiety.

My anxiety has been known to show up at 4 AM. I wake up with a start, eyes wide open, adrenaline rushing through my body, racing thoughts. It’s like waking up in the middle of a nightmare where a lion is chasing you but instead of feeling relieved that it was only a dream and going back to sleep your mind continues to race with emergent thoughts. My body feeling panicky and racy inside. All of which makes it impossible to get back to sleep. I lie there knowing there is not much I can do and tomorrow will be rough as I will be very tired.

The anxious thoughts are quick and intense. They could be about a million things all at once or something very specific such as an upcoming talk I agreed to give. Caught in my anxiety, I start to question, “Why did I agree to this? What do I still need to do to prepare? Do I have time? How do I get the page numbers on the PDF documents? What the F*** was I thinking agreeing to this? Why did I agree to this? I shouldn’t have! I have poor judgment when it comes to these decisions!”

“Yikes! Can I get out of this spiral please?!?!”

“Oh yeah, mindfulness.” Noticing we are caught in anxious thoughts can feel like realizing we have been sucked into a vortex. A little like realizing we are dreaming.

“I am experiencing anxiety.” – Mindfulness. By naming the anxiety we can start to become a curious observer of what is happening versus being yanked around by the inner thoughts and turmoil. Imagine being in a movie theater, engrossed in a really intense scene, gasping when someone comes out from behind a door. Then you realize, “Oh yeah, I am in a movie theater. I am safe.” Your blood pressure and breathing begin to return to normal.

Only in this case, the anxiety has created a movie in your mind with your racing thoughts. Then you notice, “I’m experiencing anxiety.” “This is anxiety.” Now I have stepped into the role of being an observer of my anxiety.

Understandably, we often want to push feelings like these away. They are uncomfortable and the surrounding thoughts are not helpful. However, I’ve learned through meditation whatever we resist persists.

As I was learning how to use mindfulness when it came to my anxiety I’d think, “I’m not going back to sleep anytime soon. I might as well try this mindfulness thing out.”

The R.A.I.N. practice, I learned from Tara Brach became my go-to tool for moments like these.

Recognize – As stated above, “I’m experiencing anxiety.”

I like to imagine the experience of anxiety like experiencing rain. I’m not anxiety and anxiety is not me. It’s something I’m experiencing. Can I notice the quality of it much like I would observe the rain?

Allow – “Welcome to the party anxiety.” (Thanks Jeff Warren!)

Can I allow the anxiety to be here versus judging myself for it or trying to push it away?

Investigate – “What happens to my thoughts when I am experiencing anxiety?” Using the rain analogy, “Is it a light drizzle or a heavy downpour?” “Are my thoughts a little more busy than usual or is my mind racing?”

“What does the experience of anxiety feel like in my body?”  Just as you might observe what it feels like to stand in the rain, you can observe how anxiety feels in your body. In the rain, I might feel wet and cold. I might notice my face feeling damp, the soft pelts of water droplets on my arms.

In anxiety, “Are my shoulders raised and tense? Is my stomach in knots?”

Essentially, I am attempting to make friends with my anxiety. Or at least get curious about what might my anxiety be trying to tell me.

Need – What do I need right now to support myself through this “rain storm” of anxiety?

At 4 AM, I just needed help to shift my thoughts so I could go back to sleep. My favorite go-to is turning on an episode of Friends or The Office and listening to an episode. I turn my phone face down and just listen. I already know what is going to happen, there is comfort in the humor, the known, the predictable and it gives my mind a little something to focus on instead of my worried thoughts.

Because I have turned toward my anxiety checking out with a mindless show is now an act of mindful self-compassion.

Thought for the Day

Experiencing anxiety can be uncomfortable, and sometimes even painful. It’s understandable that we would want to push it away. Unfortunately, that often keeps it brewing or showing up in ways that cause more suffering in our lives. We can, however, learn to turn toward our anxiety with compassion and curiosity.

~Michelle

Michelle Puster M.Ed.

Mindfulness Informed Professional

Helping burned out parents find inner calm and compassion

440 Cobia Drive Suite 1301

Katy, TX 77494

832.361.1547