Whenever I am at the end of a depressive or anxious time in my life, I often wonder if I made it all up.
If I, someone who has been through difficult times with my mental health, question whether or not my depression or anxiety is real at times, it’s no wonder the stigma or disbelief exists around the invisible illnesses and health of our minds.
I talked about this with my therapist and she said,
“…it’s akin to trying to recall what it feels like to have the flu when healthy, or how it feels to be healthy when you have the flu.”
Although it is really hard to remember, I have become more sensitive to the signs and physical sensations that my particular flavor of anxiety or depression brings. I usually start waking up or not being able to fall asleep due to a dull heaviness in my chest, coldness in my stomach and sometimes tingling in my ankle and wrist joints. Yup, I’m a weirdo! I’ve actually experienced these physical sensations from when I was a young child and even told my mother about it, who lovingly took my expressions seriously enough to ask my doctor. However, the doctor always told my mom they were “growing pains” or that I might “just want to skip school that day.” As an adult, I’ve made the connection that I start to feel these physical sensations when I start to get flooded by worries or non-present thoughts, which I guess does kind of mean I might want to “skip school that day.”
As I’ve traversed the paths between mental wellness and illness, I have learned to lean into mindfulness to prevent getting drowned in the waves of my thoughts.
The definition of mindfulness as I’ve been able to incorporate into my life is to recognize that: you are not your thoughts.
Once you can separate yourself from your thoughts, you can rise above them and not get swept away. Note: Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now is an amazing resource on this.
How do I personally work with mindfulness?
I take a few long deep breaths to bring pause and highlight the separation between me and my thoughts. When life isn’t too overwhelming, I’ve become fairly good at this. But of course when shit starts to hit the fan, mindfulness gets super difficult, and of course that’s when we need it most!
So when I feel a surge of emotion or strong reactivity to a thought starting to suck me into my anxiety vortex, I need something a bit more potent than deep breathing.
In those times when there is much mess and confusion muddying my mind, I started to use the following question to keep things simple and very binary:
“Is this a helpful thought?”
Not, is it helpful to humanity or mankind or anything grand, just very simply is this a helpful thought for me right now? I try to remove all feelings from it, and just be extremely unemotional and practical about it. Then, after deciding yes or no (and so far, it’s always been no), I quickly focus on a statement of gratitude so that the next thing my mind sees or attaches to will empower me and bring joy to my current moment.
I have found that this method has been working quite well for me in a pinch.
It’s been a mini, invisible, painless slap in the face to get back to mindfulness in a more dizzying situation.
What are some practical ways you rein in anxious moments in your life? I’d love to gather some more practical tips for my arsenal.