How often have you felt like your thoughts take over your life?
Or that your brain never ever stops?
Or that you’re always thinking, even when you’re not actively thinking?
What if this kind of thinking, this never-ending brain activity that goes nowhere important, might be contributing to the stress and anxiety you experience in your daily life?
All of our automatic thoughts are conditioned
From a young age, we experience the world and learn every single step of the way. What we physically touch, emotionally feel, and visually see – it’s all kept in memory.
These memories that we develop over time begin to piece our world together. As we grow up, new and unique experiences continue to build the world that we live in – the world our mind perceives.
This is why we all have unique views; we’ve all had unique lives and unique experiences that shape our perception of reality and the world.
But what happens when those automatic thoughts don’t serve you?
What happens when you allow fear to begin to guide your mind?
How the idea of ‘fear’ permeates our society
So many of us live in a fearful world. Sometimes it’s because of what we’re taught when we’re young – don’t touch that or you’ll hurt yourself, don’t talk to strangers on the internet or you’ll get hurt, don’t walk alone at night or someone will attack you.
Many of these are valid points, and truthfully there is risk in everything that we do, but we have allowed our lives to be dictated by fear. And fear is simply an emotional reaction to a thought. It’s often a perceived stress, based on past experiences or beliefs that we hold. We wouldn’t fear walking alone if no one told us to be worried.
And sometimes the things that we fear are completely made-up scenarios that we’ve put together in our minds, even if we haven’t experienced them ourselves.
Living in fear contributes to anxiety and stress. It forces us to watch our every move. It takes over our ability to think logically and rationally. Fear can sit behind our unconscious thoughts, guiding us to worry or feel anxious about situations that may arise, or may not ever arise in a million years.
And then we get trapped. We get trapped in this mind and in these thoughts that run off of fear.
Practice Mindfulness to free yourself from the mind
But what if there was an opportunity to reset that mind?
What if there was a way to simply witness your thoughts, but not let them affect you emotionally?
Mindfulness has become a very popular word, especially when it’s associated to meditation, yoga or other spiritual practices. But mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anytime, anywhere.
The act of mindfulness is simply observing your thoughts without judgement, witnessing them, and letting them go. It’s a big part of meditation, as many people meditate by disconnecting themselves from their automatic and unconscious thoughts, and simply “watching” and “witnessing” the thoughts that pass.
What does this mean? Think of your thoughts as cars on a highway. When you allow your thoughts to affect you, you’re driving the car. You’re driving those thoughts. Practicing mindfulness takes you out of the driver’s seat and puts you in the house that backs onto the road. Now you’re watching your thoughts pass through your window, allowing them to simply be, and letting them go.
That is practicing mindfulness.
How to practice mindfulness to reduce fear and anxiety:
Here are five steps to practice mindfulness to reduce fear and anxiety. These steps may sound easy and simple in theory, but in practice they can be challenging. Remember, it’s not about perfection, it’s about the journey. And in the journey you will learn a lot about yourself.
Step 1: Create awareness of your thoughts
Create awareness of your mind by beginning a 5-minute daily meditation practice. This doesn’t have to be a big commitment, but giving yourself the space and opportunity to check in with the mind is the most effective way to hear these automatic thoughts.
Step 2: Identify your recurring thoughts
Develop this awareness further by doing a brain-dump journal exercise at night. Brain dump all of the thoughts, fears and anxieties that you experienced during the day. Go through them and pick out the ones that were recurring.
Step 3: Notice when those recurring thoughts pop up
As you develop awareness for the thoughts that keep coming back, the recurring ones, you will begin to notice yourself thinking them during your day-to-day activities. This is when you’re beginning to grasp the idea of mindful thinking. Notice them, and acknowledge them.
Step 4: Consciously let your recurring thoughts pass
When you notice yourself thinking automatic thoughts that trigger fear and/or anxiety, take a moment to remember that these thoughts come from your mind and oftentimes your subconscious. Acknowledge them and watch them pass.
Step 5: Release judgement
Never judge your thoughts. It’s easy to tell yourself that a thought was silly, irrational, or stupid. But this is simply letting your mind back in. Who are you to say that the thought is silly? Allow your thoughts to pass without judgement.
As you develop your mindfulness practice, you will feel much more in tune with your automatic and intentional thoughts. In time, you can become a master of your mind, taking back control and allowing yourself to simply be.
Because that’s all we really want. We just want to be. Free from judgement, free from fear, and free to be happy.