Mindfulness for Anxiety

Mindfulness for Anxiety

As I was part way through writing this blog about using mindfulness as a tool to manage anxiety, I received a call that really tested my ability to stay calm in a very stressful situation. But more on that in a moment!

Stress and anxiety are almost guaranteed in life. For some people it presents worse than it does for others, but irrespective of the severity, there are a number of techniques that can help to ease anxiety. This blog aims to provide a few simple management techniques that have worked for me, and are simple enough for anyone to do, even children!

My Anxiety Story

For me, anxiety appeared out of nowhere in my early twenties. I was at work one day when I started feeling sick, began shaking and shivering, my skin went red and blotchy and I just felt like I had no control. I had to leave work for the day, and then every day after that for some time. I didn’t realise at the time that I was having daily anxiety attacks, I just knew that something wasn’t right. I stopped eating because I felt sick constantly, though I probably also felt sick because I wasn’t eating. A catch 22! I lost a lot of weight when I was already quite thin and survived on two Up & Go drinks a day. My loved ones thought I was suffering from an eating disorder, but the reality for me was that I so desperately wanted to eat but I was just so scared to! In my mind, if there was food in my belly, there was food I could throw up. I have always had a phobia of vomit but at this point the anxiety took over my life and was affecting my physical health so I sought professional help and went to counselling. My counselling of choice at this time was hypnotherapy, which essentially is a deep relaxation exercise. Gradually my sessions started to show some progress where I’d be able to eat a big meal right after, but then not another one until my next session. It was a pretty rotten time of permanent hunger and nausea! But slowly, with persistence and practicing mindfulness, I was able to take control of my anxiety and stop letting it control my life. 

Fifteen+ years on, anxiety is still something I live with. I wish I had learnt about mindfulness as a child, as perhaps I could have managed my anxiety better when it arrived unannounced and uninvited in early adulthood.  For this reason, I have sourced a selection of eco-friendly mindfulness resources for children. I’d love for all children to have the knowledge and resources to tackle stress and anxiety head on when it rears its ugly head. 

Tips to Manage Anxiety

These are my personal tips for dealing with anxiety. Please note that I am in no way a mental health professional, these are simply some techniques that have helped me with my ongoing journey with anxiety. 

Reset the Breath

Something as simple as resetting your breath can have a huge impact. I personally like to practice box breathing if I’m feeling anxious (or having trouble sleeping). All it is, is breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, breathing out for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds and repeat as many times as necessary.

Another popular breath exercise is the 4-7-8 method which is a particularly good one to help soothe into sleep. This method involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 7 seconds, and breathing out for 8 seconds. And repeat as needed!

The Mindfulness Magic Ball (also known as a breath ball) is a great tool for kids (and their parents!) to learn mindful breathing. It is a great way to visualise and focus on the breath.

Fresh Air

Sometimes anxiety can make you feel like you’re suffocating. Step outside for some fresh air and a change of scenery if you can. Go for a walk or run, or just sit outside and breathe in the fresh air. No easy outdoor access? Stick your face to an open window. Been there before!

Mindful Activities

Find an activity to do where you can focus your attention. The ABCs of Mindfulness Colouring Book is perfect for this. Pull it out any time for a moment of pause, relaxation and focus (for you and the kids) and experience the benefits of mindful poems and colouring in for years to come. This book was featured in Oprah’s list of favourite things in 2021 so you know it’s going to be good!

Pull out a yoga mat if you’ve got one and practice some simple yoga poses combined with those deep breaths. Slow, focused movements can do wonders for a stressed body and mind.

Another great product to help children turn their focus away from anxiety are the Patience Pebbles which encourage the art of mindfulness through play. This is another product loved by Oprah and is featured in her Favourite Wellness products of 2023

Meditation

Meditation is a technique that can be practiced by the young and old! If you haven’t tried it before, it’s not too late to start. There are plenty of free guided meditations on YouTube, though I highly recommend the Calm app if you can get your hands on a subscription. The app offers guided meditations, stories to help you drift off to sleep as well as mindfulness programs for kids. I’ve been using it nightly as of late to help me relax into sleep.

Acknowledge your Feelings

One of the first techniques I learnt in hypnotherapy was to simply observe. Observe my thoughts and the sensations my body is feeling. Imagine them as clouds and watch them float across the sky. They are there, they are real, but they cannot hurt me. 

We are all human beings and unfortunately we cannot feel good all the time. Instead of ignoring any negative feelings, acknowledge them. There is a saying by Jack Kornfield that says ‘If grief and anger arises, let there be grief and anger’. As someone who has experienced my share of grief and anxiety, I have found that the only way to actually process it, is to acknowledge its existence and face it. If you try to ignore things, they will catch up with you. 

Seek Professional Help

If you feel as though anxiety, or other mental health issues are impacting your life, I highly recommend seeking professional assistance. There is nothing weak about getting help. I have seen a psychologist over the years to help me navigate relationship breakdowns, the stillbirth of my son, and my subsequent pregnancy after loss. 

If you feel as though professional help might be the right path for you, make an appointment with your GP to discuss getting a referral and be sure to enquire about whether a Mental Health Care Plan is available for you to access subsidised counselling services. Don’t suffer alone.

My stressful week…

As I alluded to at the beginning of this blog, I was put to the test this week with a very stressful phone call. I was at work when I received a call to say that my partner Silas had been injured at work and his throat had been cut with a chainsaw. Not a call anyone would want to receive! The only information I had was that there were about 10 ambulances there and a helicopter was on its way. I was able to talk calmly, however, my body went into shock and I found myself shaking and shivering. Once I had packed up and got myself on a train, I took a moment to reset my breath and calm down the shivering. I acknowledged that I had no control over this situation and working myself up will not achieve anything. I said several prayers and then turned my focus to arranging care for our daughter Elle’s. Talk about a stressful situation!

Miraculously, Silas escaped with only superficial injuries to his face and neck which were cleaned and stitched back together in surgery. While he was in the emergency department waiting for surgery, I put on a guided mediation for Silas to listen to as a way to help ease his nerves about the injuries sustained and the upcoming surgery. Meditation doesn’t have to be lengthy. Even a couple of minutes can help. If you listen to LeBron James’ content in the Calm app, you will hear about how he has spent basketball game time-outs in a short meditation!

Thankfully, Silas’s accident was not as bad as it could have been and, physically, he will recover just fine with some cool scars to show for it. Mentally though there may be some trauma that needs to be treated.

If you’ve experienced anxiety, I’d love to hear how you manage it! And if you’ve had children with anxiety, please share what has worked for them so I can share with the Eco Chicos community. One of the many benefits of teaching children mindfulness techniques, is that they serve as a reminder for us parents so we too can manage our stress better!

Kathryn xx