Much is written about happiness. Books. Articles. Songs. Videos. Happiness seems to be a universal pursuit and one that has existed through ages; indeed, it was a frequent topic among philosophers from the ancient worlds of West and East and has been pursued without pause since then. No one has yet to discover a single answer to how to find happiness. Russ Harris, a important leader in acceptance and commitment therapy, wrote a book entitled The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. Is happiness attainable, or is it a trap, a sham? Read More...
Anxious. Unsettled. Uneasy. Agitated. Frustrated. Tense. Racing thoughts. Obsessive thoughts. Rumination. Headache. Heartburn. Chest pain. Lump in your throat. Clenched jaw.
This list could continue on and on. And it does continue within us. These are some of the things we can experience when we’re anxious. There’s a way to deal with being anxious both right now and going forward.
Spend Less Time Anxious. Expand Your Quiet Space
Take another look at the list of anxiety words. Notice that being anxious involves your whole self: thoughts, emotions, physical sensations. Anxiety is an experience within us—mind and body—that is a reaction to things around us.
When you’re feeling anxious, turning inward can be calming. However, forcing calm and quiet doesn’t work. (Raise you’re hand if you’ve tried to make your thoughts stop. Raise your other hand if it didn’t work and the mental chatter and anxious feelings only became stronger.)
The key is not to try to make quiet space in your mind and body but instead to find the space that is already there.
Finding the Space Within
Reducing anxiety involves being still despite the thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and people and situations outside of us. These things crowd us, pressing in and shouting to dominate our attention. While we always have some choices and a degree of control over how we respond to circumstances, we can’t fully control everything. Some things make us anxious but we either can’t or decide not to (often for good reason) do anything about them.
What we can do is to turn our attention away from the stressors and onto other things such as our values, vision, purpose, and passions. To transition our attention from being anxious to thriving, turn to the space within you.
Two prominent sources of space within everyone are
- Within our breath, between every inhale and exhale
- Between our thoughts
Deep breathing is powerful, with numerous benefits for our mind-body health. Breathing slowly and deeply can significantly reduce anxiety. There’s more to the breath than just the inhale and exhale, however. There is the space between them.
Right now, place your hands on your belly and breathe in slowly. Breathe so that your hands are pushed out (your inhale should cause your belly to expand rather than your shoulders to lift). Breathe out slowly. Inhale once again, but this time notice the pause that occurs before you exhale. In that pause, there is quiet space.
The same goes for your thoughts. Despite the fact that it seems like they never stop, they do, even if only for the briefest of moments. Between one thought and the next, there is a small pause to switch direction. In that pause, there is quiet space.
Mindfulness in Your Quiet Space
These spaces are small, and that’s okay. Being aware that they exist gives you something new to focus on. When you catch yourself thinking anxious thoughts or feeling anxious feelings, you can shift into that quiet space. Sitting in quiet meditation or practicing mindfulness either while meditating or while doing your current task at hand will allow you to shift into the quiet space between thoughts and breaths.
A few ways to do this:
- Pay attention to your breathing, especially the pauses.
- Take a walk, inhale fresh air, and note how it makes you expand.
- Look for space around you, such as the space between leaves on a tree or the space between your pots on the stove when you cook. Space is everywhere. Let it continually remind you to find your quiet space within.
- Focus on the quiet rather than creating noise by fighting with your thoughts. They exist, but if you don’t pay attention to them, they can’t keep you anxious.
In an article dispelling the myths of meditation, Deepak Chopra states,
Although we can’t impose quiet on our mind, through meditation we can find the quiet that already exists in the space between our thoughts.”
Shifting your focus to the quiet spaces you already have inside you will help you become less anxious with more room to be how you want to be instead.