What is anxiety?
Lots of people suffer from mild to severe anxiety. In Western countries between 14 to 29% of us have suffered from anxiety in their life. (1) Anxiety is a constant worry about what might go wrong in the future, it is this constant ‘what if…’ in your mind that you can’t seem to let go of. Rationally you know that most of the things you worry about won’t happen anyway. And you also realise that worrying about it won’t make the situation any better. It is needles, pointless, but still you do it. We can have anxiety about all sorts of stuff. You might be wrestling with the thought that your partner might leave you. You are constantly stressing about your career and that you might not be able to keep up with the pressure. That you might not be able to make that deadline. Worry about how people might perceive you, what they might think about you and say about you. A lot of the time the anxiety that you feel is completely out of proportion to the actual situation. Even when your life is outwardly safe you are still in an anxious state about what the future might bring. We can simply define anxiety as an irrational form of fear.
Recognising the storyteller
Our minds loves to make up stories. When you start to become more familiar with your mind you will notice how it comes up with all kinds of stories about certain events and people. When our friend forgets to call back we have a story ready that he/she is angry with you. When our partner is out alone and doesn’t text you, in your head you might have decided that he or she is probably cheating on you. When your colleague is giving you a strange look you are certain that everyone is gossiping about you.
Surely, we rationally know that those stories are likely not true. But at that moment in time we completely get caught up in them and do definitely do feel real. Mindfulness is one of the most effective remedies against this feeling of anxiety. By being completely in the present moment and acknowledging what is happening in the present you will also realise what is happening to you. You got caught up in a story your mind is telling you. It is just a story about a possible situation that might happen which is not the truth. All that is actually ‘wrong’ is you just having a thought. I thought that you don’t have to do anything with. You learn to recognise the stories your mind is telling which are often the same stories over and over again. Instead of being alarmed by them, you will recognise them and know it is just your mind at work.
Mindfulness has even proven to change the reactivity of your brain that is responsible for anxiety. The part in your brain that is responsible for triggering all this fear is called the amygdala. People that follow a Mindfulness course were able to even turn down the reactivity of this area. (2) Numerous studies have found Mindfulness meditation to be one of the most effective methods to beat anxiety. They examined people that suffered from high levels of anxiety varying from social anxiety to eating disorders and found that Mindfulness had helped them significantly to reduce their symptoms. (3)
- Hölzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Evans, K.C., Hoge, E.A., Dusek, J.A., Morgan, L., Pitman, R. & Lazar, S. (2009). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 5. 11-17.
- Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 78, 2.169-183.