Anxiety is a Sticky Business

Anxiety is a Sticky Business: Mindfulness for Coping with Anxiety

Only the things we care a lot about cause disturbing anxiety. Most of us can easily turn our minds from thoughts of ceiling fans or paper clips, but intense anxiety, gripping worry, and panic are different. They impair our ability to take part in important relationships, impair us at work or school; or rattle our brains about finances or health. These anxious states of mind are “sticky” mental states that can grip us like Superglue, addle our wits, and defy our valiant efforts.

When we’re facing actual danger or at high risk, we naturally persist in coping with threat until it subsides. But in the absence of imminent threat or real danger, this tendency to dwell on what could turn frightening can become irrational and become highly disconcerting. And when we try to control it – to “unstick ourselves” by pressuring ourselves to stop over-worrying or obsessing – our efforts are likely to founder or even lead to the opposite of what we intend by intensifying, rather than curbing, the upward spiral of mental turmoil.

Mindfulness can be the answer. Since these fear-based, stuck states are at the core of anxiety and panic disorders, training in skills for unsticking our bad moods can be extremely useful. Practice in mindfulness generally involves learning and practicing techniques of focusing our attention on the breath or slow, measured walking to help focus and steady our attention on the here and now.  By mastering mindfulness techniques, individuals often find they’re able to keep from getting caught up in cloudy thinking, develop a fuller perspective, and abide with disturbing feelings rather than getting drawn into negative moods. They can often become better able to focus, and their mental flexibility increases as they become more aware of the movement of their minds and the flux of their emotional feelings.

But mindfulness in itself does not resolve emotional disorders. In order to get help coping mindfully with disturbing emotions, your best bet might be to contact me for treatment with mindfulness-informed psychotherapy. I have been practicing meditation for nearly seven years. I’ve studied both MBCT and ABBT (mindfulness treatment of anxiety), published on mindfulness in scholarly journals, written a chapter on mindfulness and irrational thinking, and developed a very effective anxiety workshop program in use at Kaiser Permanente that utilizes mindfulness- and acceptance-based therapy.

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