Monday, August 16, 2010

Working With Fear, Panic, and Anxiety

From Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Working mindfully with highly charged thoughts and feelings does not mean that we do not value the expression of strong feelings or that strong feelings are bad, problematic, or dangerous and that every effort should be made to "control" them or get rid of them or suppress them. Observing your feelings mindfully and accepting them and then letting go of them does not mean that you are trying to invalidate or get rid of them. It means that you know what you are experiencing. It also does not mean that you won't act on your thoughts and feelings or express them in their full power! It simply means that when you do act, you are more likely to do so with clarity and inner balance because you have some perspective on your own experience and are not just being driven by mindless reactivity. Then the force or your feelings can be applied creatively to solve or dissolve problems rather than compounding difficulties and causing harm to yourself or others, as so often happens when you lose your center. This is another example of the way in which the emotion-focused perspective and the problem-focused perspective can complement each other in mindfulness.

As we change our relationship to our thoughts by paying attention to the process of thinking, we will also come to see that perhaps we should change the way we think and speak about our thoughts and feelings altogether. Rather than saying, "I am afraid" or "I am anxious," both of which make "you" into the anxiety or fear, it would actually be more accurate to say "I am having a lot of fear-filled (or fearful) thoughts." In this way you are emphasizing that you are not the content of your thoughts and that you do not have to identify with their content. Instead, you can just be aware of it, accept it, and listen to it caringly. Then your thoughts will not drive you toward even more fear, panic, and anxiety but can be used instead to help you see more clearly what is actually on your mind.

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