For the anxious, the mere whisper of going from living anxious to living mindful can send shock waves through our body.
Anxiety’s been with us for so long, and although painful and excruciating, we can’t imagine life and living without it.
Poised in high alert for danger and threats of harm, we’re always looking over our shoulder, and braced for the next shoe to drop.
Likewise, we’re assured of our hearts pounding us awake in the morning; that is, if we even slept.
Reflecting on my own life, anxiety was as natural as breathing; well maybe, as I was often holding my breath.
I always had my finger on anxiety’s trigger, cocked and ready, never fully knowing what was coming, and yet, sure that something was.
Be it a scolding, a berating, a teasing, or conflict or confrontation, I lived in a persistent state of high alert for a very, very long time.
Whereas “high alert” is priceless for survival or threat of possible harm, living in an incessant state of high alert deteriorates our nervous system, mind, body, and quality of life.
Constant or frequent high levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which ignite when our mind signals “high alert” can cause serious health issues; thus, we become a greater threat to ourselves than the actual, or perceived threat.
Generally, theorists, psychologists, and researchers agree that feeling anxious reflects our inability to handle uncertainty and change.
As if accepting “not knowing” seems increasingly unacceptable.
If we can simply know, and control, what lies ahead and what to expect, we can then pull ourselves together enough to get a handle on the situation and feel less anxious.
Obviously, we’re doing a pretty lousy job at all of it.
We’re psychologically more anxious than ever, with a quarter of us living with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, as per the National Institute of Mental Health.
In fact, a 2012 New York Magazine article painted the picture, “Xanax has eclipsed Prozac as the emblem of the national mood,” and do I dare say is also addictive.
And while an estimated 25% of Americans are coping with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, many are living with what’s referred to as “functional anxiety.”
In his New York Times Magazine article, “American’s New Anxiety Disorder”, Nitshu Abebe describes functional anxiety as a sneaky, more acceptable form of anxiety.
Perhaps more of a habit or way of being, functional anxiety vibrates at a lower frequency that doesn’t quite meet the criteria for a diagnosis, according to Abebe, and yet, as competitive, achievement-driven Americans, we’re proud to wear it as a “badge of honor.”
Seems as if living the American Dream has evolved into living anxious and living medicated.
Granted, we live in a society, and world, that hands us much to be anxious about today.
Uncertainty is at an all-time high; people are angry and behaving violently, while feeling more depressed and anxious than ever.
Even Mother Nature appears enraged and reactive as evident by her extreme weather rants.
Reflecting on my many years of living and “functioning” anxious, my anxiety served no purpose except to cause me suffering and lower my quality of life, work, and relationships.
My anxiety solved no problems; it most certainly did not help others solve their problems.
Living anxious added to my perceived stack of problems; I’m sure it aggravated others more than served them.
Yet much like Byron Katie, who after years of struggling with depression, awoke one day and decided to end her suffering, one day, I simply chose to stop living anxious.
No longer did I want to vibrate on high alert, function anxiously, and numb-out on “benzos.” (Benzodiazepines are used for sleep problems, anxiety, seizures, convulsions, and as muscle relaxants, e.g., Valium, Xanax.)
I wanted to break my anxious habits and release anxiety back to it’s normal, emotional role.
Truth be told, living mindful was not one of my intentions when I chose to put down my shield and stop living anxious.
I’d assumed alternative options; but never did I fathom the notion of living mindful.
My vision of mindful living was sitting in lotus pose silent for 90 minutes, which made me feel even more anxious.
Plus, my compulsion for immediate reinforcement blocked my ability to see the point and purpose of living mindful.
A pill, or some other psychedelic substances, provided instant numbing relief.
Mindful living was going to take time, and my already restless nature was not having it.
However, after running through and out of options, I tossed the pills and threw myself at the mercy of mindfulness and cried, “Help me,” literally.
My first attempt at living mindful was yoga and within a few months of consistent practice, I felt better and more connected with my breathing, mind, and body.
Once I’d settled into a regular yoga practice, which was perhaps the most mindful thing I’d ever done, I added meditation.
I started with guided meditations and after a few months added metta, or “loving kindness” meditation.
Today, I use a variety of meditations, such as body scans and progressive muscle relaxation, as desired.
After a year of yoga and meditating regularly, I hired a coach and took on my mindset, which was one hot mess.
In time, the results were life-changing.
I now have a regular mindset practice supported by journaling and cleaning up my thinking.
All my mindful practices care for my mind, body, and spirit; collectively, they have transformed my life from living anxious to living mindful.
I practice them daily and continue to experience gratifying benefits; I am proof of their effectiveness.
Yet, I’ll warn you that living mindful is no easy feat or walk in the park; we live in a fast-paced, reward hungry, quick-fix society.
Consciously shifting from living anxious to living mindful can be, and is, challenging; it’s not always a calm, serene stroll, sashaying through our mind.
Likewise, self-compassion and non-judgment are vital to living mindful, and yet, mere relics in today’s society where judgment, criticism, harsh opinions, and extreme self-loathing abide.
Nonetheless, living mindful is simple, relatively free, and is now an honorable emblem of my life; it’s a badge I’m grateful to wear.
So if ripping off the badge of your anxious armor is of interest to you, and I hope it is, here are my top 3 ways to start living mindful:
The research is clear about the positive effects of movement.
I recommend slower, focused, deliberate movement, such as yoga, dance, swimming, walking or even running.
Select movement that allows you to create a gentle, attentive rhythm between your breath and your body.
In other words, cultivate meditation in motion.
Studies report as little as 3-5 minutes of daily mindful breathing can do wonders for the mind, body, and spirit.
Start with finding a comfortable seated position; close your eyes or lower your gaze; focus on your breath going in and out of your nose; settle into slow, deep belly breathing; allow thoughts to drift by like clouds, as you breathe gently, slowing, and deeply for 3-5 minutes. That’s it.
No, you’re not going to see any earth-shattering, bright and shiny, tangible results at first; and yet, with consistent practice, surprising changes in how you think, feel, and act will emerge.
You’ve got to clean up your thinking. Period.
Our minds are overflowing with drama, old stories, made up tales, assumptions, and false predictions.
It’s no wonder we live anxious.
Start with writing down every single anxious thought in your mind; download every last one.
This is a powerful first step to removing negative mental clutter and rewiring your brain.
I suggest committing to 90 days of mindful movement, meditation, and mindset practices; give yourself at least 3 months to experiment, adjust, and notice.
Tailor the practices to your preferences; make them work for you, but stick with them, even on the hard days.
Commit to changing the emblem of your life from living anxious to living mindful; that’s a badge worth honoring.