As someone who has dealt with personal anxiety over the years, I feel compelled to share two strategies for its prevention that have worked very well for me. Rooted in the practices of mindfulness and self-compassion, they can help you make an internal shift, enough to heal and enhance the quality of your life.
Anxiety is one of the most common mind states that we experience today. In fact, it’s been said that parenthood alone breeds anxiety because of the “what if” factor—responsibilities and worries about our children. Statistics tell us that over 20 million women suffer from it.
Since anxiety (precipitated by worry) is so common, it is wise for us to head it off at the pass before it becomes a serious problem in our lives. These two practices can help. Each one prevents build-up, as well as having the power to diffuse anxiety when it begins to rise. By incorporating each into your daily routine, you can create a safe and stable “interior home” for yourself. Schedule one or both of these practices in because if you simply hope to remember to stop to do them, likely you won’t. Like an Energizer Bunny, you’ll just keep going and going—and that’s anxiety producing, too!
1. Use Mindfulness Bells
In temples and monasteries throughout the world, there is often a call to meditation or prayer, sometimes several times throughout the day. These are actually “bells of mindfulness” or chimes that ring at certain times to invite us to stop, breathe, and take stock of how we are being in the world. This is literally a “sacred pause,” a time to stop everything we’re doing and connect with our innate peace.
You can use your watch or the timer on your smart phone to do the same thing. Choose specific times of the day for this: mid-morning or lunchtime, mid-afternoon or early evening. Anytime is a good time to stop and answer the call of a bell of mindfulness. When the bell sounds, simply stop what you’re doing, and take 3 deep breaths. Check-in with yourself throughout the day and notice any tension in your body. Repeat the process.
2. A Breath Prescription
Anxiety can build throughout our days as circumstances arise and things don’t go as planned. Worries build up too. Often doctors prescribe something to take our minds off our troubles. Breath practice can serve us in the same way—naturally!
Designate 2 20-minute periods each day for taking your “breath prescription.” Place your hand upon your lower abdomen so you can see your breath moving into your body. As you inhale, your belly will rise. As you exhale, it will lower, your hand right along with it. Continue this practice for 20 minutes until you feel more calm and centered. (If you can’t dedicate 20 minutes to this practice, start with 5 minutes and build up from there.)
Breathing in this way acts as preventative medicine. It keeps us AWAP (As Well As Possible). And a practice such as this begins to build a strong foundation of inner calm because breathing properly, with intention, stabilizes us. With a strong foundation, the storms of life do not knock us off center so easily. We feel more stable, more able! It can also serve as a trustworthy “prescription” to take when we need a hefty dose of Ahhh ...
Children need to learn how to be self-compassionate, too. As parents, grandparents, caring relatives, teachers or mentors, it really is our responsibility to share what we know with the next generation—who we hope, of course, will be even more aware, kind and compassionate than we are.
With gentle guidance, we can teach children about the importance of applying self-compassion so they can easily apply it when they need it the most.
This is an exercise I developed a few years to help a child remember to be kinder to him or herself; to soothe oneself when s/he is upset. I call it:
I Pledge Allegiance to My Heart
Our heart is the visible reminder that we have a place within us that serves as a placeholder for love, inner peace, kindness and appreciation—for the “virtues of the Spirit.”
When your child is feeling anxious or upset, invite him to sit down and reconnect with his good, calm heart.
Have him place his hand over his heart center, to sit quietly and to feel his chest rising and falling. Then to take a few slow, centering breaths.
It is not necessary to count inhalations or exhalations. Focus, instead, on the feeling of the breath moving into the body at the base of the nostrils and moving down through the body, filling the lungs and belly with air.
You may wish to do this practice alongside your child so he feels as if he is doing it with someone, which can create greater ease. “Let’s do this together, shall we?”
You may wish to invite him to repeat these phrases along with you.
“I pledge allegiance to my heart.
I have a good heart.
I have a kind heart.
I have a calm heart.”
Continue to breathe together and repeat the “pledge” until equanimity returns.
Note: Of course, as adults, we can do this practice too, and I hope you will!
Blessings of ease to you,
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Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace., and is the co-founder and director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.