Friday, 19 October 2012

Anxiety, mindfulness & purple elephants with pink spots on.

General anxiety can be difficult to shift. Thoughts can go round and round and give us no peace. We may feel unable to relax enough to get a good night's sleep; but not alert enough in the day to focus. It can be a vicious cycle.

One way of tackling this however is through mindfulness practice. It can help give us some distance from these difficult thoughts. This is not to say that I think we should avoid our thoughts or try to suppress them. They tend to have a way of either not going away or coming back to bite us somehow. If I say 'don't think of a purple elephant with pink spots', what is the first thing that comes into your mind? The chances are that it's a purple elephant with pink spots!

Rather than forcing thoughts to appear or not, mindfulness helps you gain control of your thoughts in a more healthy and gentle way. In the elephant example, you might allow the thought of a purple elephant to come in to your mind and then let it fade away of its own accord, neither forcing nor trying to stop the process.

Another example would be to imagine that your mind is the clear blue sky, and your thoughts are like clouds going across it. You can't stop them appearing or disappearing, but you know they will go of their own accord.

The problem with our own thoughts, as opposed to clouds or purple elephants, is that we worry about them. In fact we worry about worrying! This in itself raises our level of anxiety. Perhaps we worry about worrying as we think there might be something wrong with us.Why are we worrying like this? Other people don't seem to get like this ...Actually though it is very common, easily done, a vicious cycle. A cycle however that can be broken.

Mindfulness practices have helped many people with these problems. Being practices means that in order for them to help you have to practise rather than just think about them. If you're stuck with nagging thoughts though, it can be a relief to be able to focus on things beyond these thoughts.

How about going for a brisk walk at lunchtime, just five or ten minutes round the block? Focus on your body and how it feels as you take each step. If your mind wanders to your thoughts again, just gently bring it back to the sensations in your body as you walk. If you did this each day, you would be beginning to train yourself in a new and mindful way that could help you tackle your level of anxiety.

Lin Travis Counselling Services

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