Breaking Up with Anxiety: 3 Steps to Freedom Through Mindfulness

I am no stranger to anxiety, but I wouldn’t say I’m his bestie either. Generally speaking I find I keep an adequate amount of space between myself and this worthy opponent, but late term pregnancy seems to bring out his guns, and trust me they come a blazing. What is it about impending change that conjures up the fierce fires of worry? Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it.

I happen to come in contact with anxiety, fear, and worry daily in the therapy room. Anxiety doesn’t care if you’re 5, 10, 20, 50, or 100 – anxiety is ageless. Sadly some of the most intense faces of anxiety show up on the kiddos that I work with, as they of all age groups tend to feel the most powerless over the external world. Yet, the truth is we all are powerless. To some extent…

I’ve been examining my own sense of worry as it’s rained down on me the past few weeks, asking Anxiety, “Why? What for? What’s the purpose of your visit, right here, right now?”

I have come to understand that anxiety is directly reflective of the amount of control I perceive that I have over my life, my future.

Hence why change pulls back the curtain to reveal my opponents shadowed face. Change in essence implies not knowing, in full, what the future will bring. I may have a sense for it but I don’t fully know it or understand it, yet. I have to trust. I have to leap. I have to go forward unknowing of what the now blurry image in my mind will look like when I approach it in the present. Anxiety somehow tries to give us a sense of power and control where we have none. A type of control that is nothing more than a grand illusion. In fact, going into this realm of control tends to send us down a tunnel of losing control – of our emotions, of our thoughts, of our physical responses. We land face down in the dirt of panic and stress. Certainly not a productive place to be.

So what can you do when your mind is racing, sleep is lacking, and fear is creeping around your brain?

With this pregnancy anxiety in full bloom I’ve had the opportunity (or no other choice) to put my mindfulness skills into action. Especially during those sleepless hours when I’m imagining every possible outcome and solution to the multitude of terrifying possibilities. Senseless thinking I tell you, senseless. So, in effort to clock some genuine sleep before sleep is a thing of the past, I’ve found some relief in practicing this…

1). Mindful Breathing:

Simply focusing my full attention on taking deep breaths in and out. Sounds too simple even, but when your mind is caught up in a fantasy land of panic, chances are your body is responding by morphing into a state of stress resulting in shallow breathing and a heavy, rapid heartbeat. Not very relaxing. So step number one – calm your body. Then you can calm your mind.

2). Ground Yourself.

Focus your attention on the here and now. This means directing your attention to what is actually happening right here in this moment. Not the past, not the future, just the NOW. Here is a great grounding technique that can help you connect with the moment and disconnect with the worry:

3). Replace Negative Thoughts.

Recite helpful phrases to replace the fearful, unhelpful thoughts. Two of my favorites to use with clients, young and old, are very simple yet very effective:

“I am safe.” 

“I am okay.”

Seems too easy? Try it and see for yourself. Just imagine how telling yourself “I’m safe. I’m okay” might be better than, “Oh shit! Oh no! What if?” Pretty obvious which one is the winner here.

4). Return to step 1 and repeat all steps as needed.

Fear is state of mind. Not a state of reality. It’s a figment of our imagination used to try and protect ourselves from danger, real or imagined. Fear becomes dangerous when we believe the imagined threat is real. Thus, anxiety is born. It takes practice and well intentioned initiative to disengage with this masterful foe. You don’t have to fight against fear, don’t actually. Anxiety loves resistance. Notice it, see it, recognize it for what it is, and tell it graciously, “I am not going to play with you today. I’ve found a better friend. A friend that comforts and supports me. In fact, I thought you were my friend before but now I realize you never were.”

I’m moving on from you, Anxiety, mindfully moving on.


14 thoughts on “Breaking Up with Anxiety: 3 Steps to Freedom Through Mindfulness

  1. I loved how you wrote: I have come to understand that anxiety is directly reflective of the amount of control I perceive that I have over my life, my future.

    I couldn’t quite put into words what anxiety really is at its core but you nailed it!

  2. Thank you for this! I definitely find the breathing and my yoga time to help with the anxious thoughts, but I still struggle. I love this!

  3. Mindfulness is such an important yet overlooked practice! Our society is so into instant results that we don’t have the patience for it. It’s sad, really, because I love the concept and think that it has potential to work for almost anyone! Thanks for the great tips, I’m definitely pinning this post to my mental health board on Pinterest 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing the grounding techniques. Anxiety creeps up on me and I don’t even know why half the time. So, I’m going to try the grounding techniques and will hopefully get myself back to breathing again.

  5. These are great suggestions. I think I need to work on your step two, “focus your attention on the here and now. This means directing your attention to what is actually happening right here in this moment.” This seems like it will be a really great way to calm a racing mind. Thank you for sharing 🙂

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