As I mentioned yesterday, March has been an emotional month for me. My mood has been up and down; and the shadow of anxiety has been with me each day.
At the same time, I’ve found solace in mindfulness and meditation.
Today, I’m going to share an exercise from Ruby Wax’s book, ‘Frazzled.’ Practising this, mid-anxiety attack at 4am, actually made me feel as if I was riding the wave of feelings and emotions, rather than drowning under them. I hope that this will help you as much as it helped me.
The short version is…
- When you’re experiencing a negative emotion, send your attention to the place where you feel this.
- Listen to and feel the sensations, and stay there just watching like a curious, detached observer.
- After a few minutes, turn to this negative emotion and greet it like an old friend.
- If emotions become too much, focus on your breath.
- If you need to, ‘change the channel’ and watch a happy memory/memories of a time you felt really happy/confident/relaxed.
The long version is…
When you’re actually experiencing a feeling or emotion:
- Just as you might notice physical sensations of pain when you’re moving, sending your attention to the source of the pain, so too should you do the same when you’re experiencing emotions and feelings. Do a quick body-scan, drawing attention to your feet on the floor and moving upwards. Go to your breathing. Notice where you feel the emotion in your body and send your attention there. Notice the sensation: is it stabbing, or pulsing? Is it flowing or throbbing? What shape is the feeling? What colour is it?
- If you’re not already acutely aware of them, you might notice patterns of emotions and feelings that repeat frequently. Accept them with kindness. If you’re a worrier like me, then when the anxiety and ‘what ifs’ begin… just notice and smile, acknowledging them like an old friend. Remember that you cannot control this and if you try to block out the emotion or run away from it, it will only shout louder.
- You can deepen this practice by taking a little time to turn to it, speaking to it with compassion and kindness, as you would to a friend who was suffering.
- If you’re so inclined, you can strengthen your emotional resilience by practising a 5-10 minute meditation regularly, whereby you intentionally bring up memories that ignite negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, rage etc. and then turn to them with compassion like this. This doesn’t feel good at all to begin with, but it will help you to cope with negative feelings when they arise.
- If emotions become too unpleasant, focus on your breath then create positive images in your mind. It’s a great idea to have a few positive scenarios and images to run through that make you feel happy. Practise visualising these happy memories or scenarios and you’ll be able to turn to them when you really need them.
I’ve used the whole exercise, as well as pieces of it, when I’ve been feeling particularly anxious this month. And it really has helped. Approaching anxiety like an old friend has been particularly fruitful; its taken away my fear of the feelings of anxiety.
Have you tried this? How did you get on? Do you have an exercise that might be even better? Comments, thoughts, ideas and guidance welcome: