As I'm writing this I feel anxious, restless and tense. This has become my default mode of being after years of stress, depression and anxiety. To the point where I have to examine myself mentally to realise that yes I am feeling tense and anxious, because this state of mind has become normality for me. To not feel this way would be a shock to my consciousness, anxiety has got a hold on me and it isn't going anywhere, it sees the concept of peace and happiness as a threat to its parasitic hold on its host (me).
I get the impression that to a non-anxious person the very idea of someone being affected by anxiety or depression can seem ridiculous. This is because we tend to understand the world through our own experience, ‘I feel OK so why can’t you just feel OK too?’ Also in this particular human trait lies the root of anxiety, as I see it. I believe that I have come so far down this road that the anxiety I feel, whatever it’s true origin or cause, exists simply because it has existed ‘I feel anxious now, so I will always feel anxious no matter what happens to me’. I write all this as someone who has little or no grasp on the science behind psychological conditions and simply write from my own experience, research and opinion.
Only recently have I truly acknowledged my issues and tried to confront the demon of anxiety, by attempting an eight week course of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is based on the importance of living your life in the moment, as this moment is really all you have control over. It can be an extremely liberating concept for those who constantly worry about relatively minor problems, as well as things that are out of their control like past events that have already happened and future events that have not and may not happen. Another core aim of mindfulness is to bring your consciousness back into your physical body, by undertaking meditations based on your breathing in order to connect your conscious mind to the bodily sensations happening at this particular moment. This is very helpful for training yourself not to expect the world, your body and your mind to be a certain way, but to accept these the way they are now and move on with your life.
I must confess that after the initial eight week structure programme I have found it difficult to keep up the meditations, as I find that I need a clear plan to anything I undertake, without organisation I feel anxious as the possibilities are too great and I shut down! However, I have to admit that I will be contacting a local practitioner of mindfulness to get along to some classes and get back on the horse, as it were. In those eight weeks I had moments of peace, which was a total revelation for me, and found the exercises based on rooting your conscious mind in your body particularly liberating. These teach you to accept and acknowledge your stream of thought (rather than trying to fight it) and to focus your attention on the world around you, as well as your own body, to root you in the moment. The very process of thinking about the aim for this week’s practices helps to keep your mind occupied, even if the exercises themselves don’t have the impact you’d ideally like them to. I found the mindful walks especially helpful as I noticed sounds, sights and smells that would usually have been masked by my constant torrent of negative thoughts. It sounds simple but it really did help my mental state and made me realise that through my worrying I was missing the truly important things in life, and that things may not be as hopeless or as awful as I tend to convince myself they are.
I suppose the key message that I want to get across here is that mindfulness is an excellent way to accept yourself as you are, as a person who suffers from a heightened state of anxiety, to acknowledge this but not to let it become the definition of who you are and how you behave. I would recommend anyone who suffers from anxiety or depression to try this. Although my one slight concern is that a central part of mindfulness meditation is taking your consciousness into your physical sensations, and anyone who has worries around their health, as I do, may find themselves focusing on these problems even more than they usually would. Although saying that, maybe confronting a physical problem and acknowledging it for what it is, not what you have convinced yourself it might be, could be a positive thing if you think about it differently.
Just to re-iterate I have no medical background and only write from my own experiences and limited research, obviously if you are really worried about your mental health then a trip to the doctors should always be your first point of call.
Here’s a link to the book I used for the eight week course, it was really well written and accessible with limited jargon and some interesting exercises. It also came with an audiobook which you can get via the audible app on your phone or computer: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mindfulness-practical-guide-finding-frantic/dp/074995308X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386527136&sr=1-1&keywords=mindfulness
Please let me know if you try it and what your experience was: a) because it would be great to have helped someone out and b) so I know that at least someone read this!
All the best