Mindfulness and Anxiety

Tonight I was listening to On Being on the radio. The host interviewed Ellen Langer, langera social psychologist who has studied mindfulness for maybe the last 35 years. She doesn’t think of mindfulness as the practice of yoga or meditation–though she is not opposed to these things.  Instead, mindfulness is about actively noticing things in the moment. She also says that happiness and health are often about how we frame things. She gave the example of how re-framing the work that chambermaids in hotels do as “exercise” rather than “work,” they lost weight and reduced problems with diabetes. We can be happier by taking things we consider drudgery and turn them into a game or play. She is very opposed to worrying about the future because we cannot know what will happen. Probably what will happen will be part good and part bad, or maybe even mostly good, she says. We just can’t know.

I think about her words and all my anxiety about my workload. What will happen if I don’t finish everything I’m responsible for? Some of it will be done by others. Some of it will be postponed. Some of it–well, we will all survive if it doesn’t happen. Someone might be upset that I didn’t finish something. Or, my supervisor might recognize that I’m working hard and if I can’t finish everything, maybe I have too many responsibilities. Or I might improve my ability to prioritize, since after all, I will end up spending my time finishing the things I think matter most.

Then I think about my anxiety about confronting and processing my past. But what is the worst that can happen? I could fall into a deep depression. I have done that before and survived. I have a loving husband and a skilled therapist and a psychiatric nurse and insurance; I’m very privileged in that way. I could start burning myself again. If I do, the burns will heal, and I will get help. I could also take apart the monsters I’m so afraid of and find they no longer have the power they once did. I could develop a wider range of strategies for soothing myself. I could be moving into a healthier future. I don’t know, and since I don’t know, I don’t need to assume the worst. It will be whatever it will be.

4 thoughts on “Mindfulness and Anxiety

  1. This is good stuff. Reminds me a lot of the way Dialectical Behavioral Therapy approaches mindful – as a way of reframing within the present moment. It can be challenging to do, but I think it’s so worth it.

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  2. So interesting to read this post. I was just thinking last night about how although I meditate (silent, seated meditation), my ‘mindfulness’ practice extends far beyond the minutes/hours I meditate in a given day – somehow I’ve evolved to just be focused on what is happening, as much as I can, in each moment. I’ve criticized myself for it, not being ‘mindful enough’ because I am not Buddhist or part of any disciplined practice per se. But reading your post and reading what Langer has to say, makes me feel that maybe I’m not off the mark, just following my own mindful path. And there is someone out there who endorses more or less how I feel inside. Thank you for sharing, Q.
    I agree with your self-assessment – ‘since I don’t know, I don’t need to assume the worst. It will be whatever it will be.’ Yes, and what I add to that is – it will be over/change soon enough. There is always another problem to worry about, isn’t there? If we allow ourselves (as people prone to anxiety) to worry – once you are on leave, there will be new worries cropping up. We can spend our lives worrying. Or we can learn, as you are doing, to be in the moment as much as possible and constantly turn the mind from worries to what is actually happening, now.

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  3. Q, this is what my therapy is like. And pretty much what you said about your workload and what if it doesn’t get done is what my T asked me! My T did the mindful trick with me using the same basic ideas. It was helpful to a point, at least to the point of getting me to take time off and realizing that things will either still be there or they won’t. I will either do it myself or someone else will. And what if it doesn’t get done….
    It is all very interesting and so not how our minds usually work.
    So you can hang in there for a couple more weeks (and a few days) or maybe decide to test the mindful game out and dare to see what happens. I can almost guarantee that the worst case scenario will not play out. And like you said, even if it did….
    But there is no right or wrong and you will know what to do and only you know what you need to do. At least that’s what everyone is telling me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am thinking about your words, “it was helpful to a point…” I had a similar experience. A lot of therapy focused on re-framing some of my thinking, and it’s helpful. But it can’t touch the deeper stuff. For that, there is so much emotional work that goes far beyond deliberately changing my thinking.

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