Anxiety is a lot like getting dumped. You feel like crap. It seems that you will feel that way forever. There's probably some crying involved. You forget how awesome you are. You keep asking yourself the same questions - what did I do wrong? Will I ever feel better again? Why can't I just move on? You quickly get tired of asking yourself those questions. Friends and family are initially super supportive, but they too get tired of answering the same questions over and over again. (Alcohol anybody?)
But moving past anxiety is a lot like getting over a bad breakup too. You hurt and you struggle and you try too hard, until one day, when you have carved out enough space from that past relationship, that shared apartment, those memories and all the emotions that go along with them, the clouds lift and life suddenly seems a bit rosier. So too does anxiety lift when we create a little space between us and the stressors of life and from the scary stories we tell ourselves about those stressors.
I've come to find that meditation and mindfulness help me (and a lot of my clients) create that space. I recently read this online article by Ed Halliwell, which also happened to appear in the June 2013 issue of Mindful Magazine, that does a great job describing how mindfulness helps us create that space. As Ed describes his initial struggle with anxiety: "I convinced myself there must be some ready cure I could find, and I embarked on a frantic tour of the therapeutic merry-go-round to relieve my pain. I desperately reached for any doctor, therapist, or support group. I gobbled up whatever advice or pills they offered, but nothing changed." Sound familiar?
For Ed, for me, and for many others, it was not until we gave up that desperate search for 'the anxiety cure' that we were able to take the time and make the effort to truly try mindfulness meditation. And to our wonderful surprise, mindfulness helped us put a little bit of space between us and the scary stories our anxiety liked to weave. As Ed so wonderfully describes: "My stressful struggle to fix and change things faded little by little. A subtle and profound transformation occurred as I allowed myself to rest in the experience of just being. I became more willing to experience all the energy of my emotions and feelings—even the unpleasant ones. I stopped fighting with myself so much, and with that, ironically, came the very relief I was seeking."
Mindfulness meditation is not easy. Don't ever let anyone tell you that it is. It takes practice and persistence, but it is also quite powerful. The effect of mindfulness on anxiety is a lot like that wonderful head-over-heels infatuation at the beginning of a new relationship that very quickly makes you forget why you were so bummed out by the end of the last one. That feeling doesn't change that you got dumped or your initial reaction (I'm thinking sweatpants and binge watching Netflix), but it does change your association with those memories and emotions. Mindfulness can't remove the stress of final exams, childcare, work presentations, terrible drivers, or mean-spirited co-workers, but it can absolutely change your anxious association with those stressors.
To learn more about how mindfulness and how it can help you overcome anxiety (or be better at life in general), take a look at Ed's article.