You Want Me To Focus on Anxiety? Seriously?
Thursday, April 28 2016 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
To focus on anxiety is not typically people want to do. To focus on anxiety is not typically advised to people who want to overcome anxiety. Of course, to successfully overcome anxiety and find inner peace, it's wise to focus on anything but anxiety. Ignoring anxiety -- paying attention to what anxiety isn't -- is a powerful way to train the brain to think about other things. However, there are times when it's actually helpful to focus on your anxiety; seriously.
Something all types of anxiety disorders have in common is that they scream for attention. Anxiety wants us to pay attention to it and only it, to think about anxious thoughts and feelings, and to behave fearfully. When we pay attention to anxiety's loud shouts, we can't focus on anything else. Anxiety wins the battle.
Mindfulness Helps Take Our Focus Away from Anxiety
Mindfulness can calm anxiety by pulling our attention away from anxious thoughts and feelings and onto our surroundings. Mindfulness meditation can reduce stress and induce calm by helping us focus on anything but anxiety.
Truly, learning to shift our thoughts and feelings away from the anxious ones and to replace them with positive, realistic, constructive ones is one of the most powerful ways to beat anxiety. Anxiety can't win if we're not paying attention to it.
That said, there are times, occasionally, when focusing on our anxiety is exactly what we need to do. It seems illogical, but it isn't.
Our Focus on Anxiety Can Help Us Know What to Do
Sometimes mindfulness doesn't calm anxiety. Sometimes, anxiety seems to take over our entire being all at once. Anxious thoughts race. Worry and fear feel all-consuming. Emotions are all over the place. Actions are halted. Physical symptoms are uncomfortable, even painful, from head to toe. This experience can be incredibly overwhelming. In times like this, it's easy to feel so overpowered that you don't know how to begin calming down.
It's during times like these that focusing on anxiety helps. To be sure, our anxiety is the last thing we want to focus on when it's this strong. It's bad enough as it is without paying even more attention to it, right? Yes, and no.
Yes, it's horrible and it's okay to want anxiety to disappear. However, no, it's not possible to successfully practice mindfulness when anxiety is so intense -- unless we're being mindful of, focusing on, anxiety.
Focusing on anxiety when it's raging helps us pinpoint exactly what anxiety is doing to us in the moment. What feels like it needs the most attention? Physical symptoms? Racing thoughts? A sense of fear?
When anxiety screams loudly for our attention and we focus on what it is saying and doing, we can then begin to know how to deal with it. In times like these, focusing on it helps us know how to beat it.
Focus On Anxiety To Make It Disappear
I elaborate on the idea of focusing on anxiety in this video: