Here’s the part you probably know. Currently, when your anxiety acts up and disrupts your life, your alarm system is going off when you don’t need it. So let me tell you the part that many people don’t know. And it happens to be the crux of how to start fixing it.
Since we know our fear or anxiety isn’t rational, analyzing it or thinking through it won’t help, nor will positive affirmations, reverse psychology or calling ourselves mean names. That said, we might conclude that we need to get out of our heads entirely and just let minds wander.
But before we go in that direction, research on the subject of mind wandering completed by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, and described in the journal Science, found that people spent 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they were doing. And this mind wandering typically made them unhappy.
Mind wandering for many also seems to lead to feeling anxious or worried. It seems the tendency for us to slip into habits of ruminating about the past or projecting worst-case-what-ifs into the future has little resistance when we are letting them wander willy nilly.
So then, how do we calm our minds and our nervous system?
Glad you asked. We need to bypass our normally helpful intellectual brains and communicate in a language that calms our mind and our nervous system. The way we do this pulls together the steps on how to be a buffalo with an antidote to mind wandering.
- Label our anxious and worrisome thoughts false alarms and
- Grab control and slow our breathing and, here’s the new part,
- Focus our minds back on to what we are doing at that moment.. And we can literally be doing anything. That part doesn’t matter.
A great strategy to help us focus on what we’re doing in the here and now, is to use the 5 Senses Strategy. To use this strategy, you pick one of your five senses and identify something that fits in that category. For example, say you are at work and you feel your anxiety starting to rise. It is right before a big meeting in which you are on the agenda to present.
So, you label those anxious thoughts and feelings false alarms. You grab control of your breathing and slow it down. Then, you focus on the smell of the lavender essential oil you have at your desk. You take a big smell and really allow yourself to take in the fragrance that you love and that reminds you of other things.
As you do so, you ground yourself in the present and effectively make your anxiety do an about face.
About the Author
Eileen Purdy has been counseling and teaching for over twenty five years. She’s trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and have found variations of them to be extremely successful in helping women overcome anxiety.