By Aubree Brown
Originally published on ElephantJournal.com
Ok, so it’s a stressful time to be human-- there’s a lot going on. If you’re in America, there’s the election, Coronavirus is making the rounds, and then there’s your average everyday fears of death, environmental destruction, or general looming catastrophe. It’s a lot to work with, especially if anxiety is present in your life.
If you are not feeling any of this stress, good for you. I, however, am, and so are many of my clients. There are some real concerns on the horizon and, though I hope to offer some solace, I’m not here to minimize or gloss over the issues. I AM here, however, to offer simple mindfulness tools that allow us all to return to ourselves at will, and not feel consumed or controlled by the madness surrounding us currently. These tools can be used to work with everyday anxiety, but are especially useful right now as we all collectively and individually work with the stress of this current moment in history. Get curious, give these tools a try, and just see: What do you notice?
1) Finish the sentence: “I feel…”
-Get quiet and say to your body-spirit, “I feel…” and see how it finishes the statement. Allow it to be as descriptive of your current state as possible.
For instance as I’m writing this, I’ll try it myself.
“I feel…” (posing the question to my body-spirit and allowing the answer to arise organically) “...scared that I’m wasting my time with this article and no one will read it.” Phew! That's honest, eh? But the body never lies and that’s the truth of what I’m feeling in this moment. Give this a try and see what comes up for you.
2) Say “yes” to every feeling.
-Ok, so bear with me here. What if you didn’t push away ANY feeling, no matter how annoying or unpleasant?
That anxiety? “Yes.” That fear? “Yes.” That panic? “Yes.” That irritation? “Yes.”
Whatever it is, see what it’s like to not push it away. Allow it to be there, even momentarily.
-The practice is to notice whatever you’re feeling and say “yes”. Tara Brach, the author, meditation teacher and psychologist who developed this tool, suggests placing a hand on the heart to amplify the feeling and make it more tangible.
-Note that the point here is not to say that whatever you’re feeling is 100% accurate about the situation. If you are feeling like there’s no hope, it’s not saying, “Yes, that feeling is accurate”. It’s saying, “Yes, that feeling is here. I’m going to allow it to be here for now.”
3) Ask “what’s here?”
-Ask yourself, "What's here?" Drop the story about what’s happening right now-- all the circumstances and people at play-- and simply feel whatever sensations are present in the body. Then stay with the physical sensations as long as they last.
-Buddhist nun and renowned teacher, Pema Chodron, has stated that if you stay with the physical sensations of an emotion and experience it fully without pushing it away-- or fueling the story-- the maximum time it will last is about 90 seconds. In my experience, it’s even shorter. Isn’t that crazy?? People can spend years, or lifetimes even, ignoring unpleasant feelings out of fear that they will consume them or destroy them. But the truth is, that facing and feeling them directly, even just for 90 seconds, can set them free.
4) Name voices and feelings, and say “hello” when they arise.
-All of us have “voices” in our heads, and or feeling states that pop up habitually. We know them well, but most of the time we are identified with them, unable to zoom out and say, “Oh, it’s that voice again. Not me.”
-So for this exercise, start with one voice or feeling state you experience relatively frequently. Perhaps it’s road rage, a feeling of inadequacy, or fear about the future.
Then ask yourself: If I had to give this voice a name, what name would fit? Tilly, Norbit, Francis? Get a little silly with it if you can-- alliterations are always helpful. Perhaps it’s Negative Nancy, Debbie Downer (classics).
Or perhaps, if it’s a feeling state rather than a voice, it’s called Panic Place or Fear Factory. Find a name that fits it fully.
-Once you’ve landed on a name, whenever it comes up you can just say the name quietly to yourself, with the attitude of, “Oh, hey! It’s you again.”
If it’s a voice, you can also say, “Hello, _____. I see you.” Or “Thank you, ______. I hear you.”
The point of each and every one of these exercises is to notice, acknowledge, and accept what’s present within, so that it doesn't control our actions or worldview without us knowing it. Mindfulness creates choice. My hope in sharing these tools in this time of stress is to offer a feeling of control and calm as you ride the tides of any anxiety. Regardless of what you’re experiencing that made you click on this article, globally or hyper-locally (i.e. inside you), I hope it dissipates quickly and with ease. While you wait, consider adding these tips to your toolkit so that when anxiety arises you can feel your body, feel your feelings, find genuine solace, and then go live life. Times are hard, so practice presence and patience with yourself, and see how your worldview shifts to match.