Many of us struggle with anxiety. Unchecked, anxiety can become catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is when we assume something bad---or even the worst---will happen. It involves believing that you’re in a more awful place than you really are, or magnifying the difficulties you face. It is the nature of our human condition to have to face fearful and stressful situations, and anticipating these situations ahead of time with anxiety has become our human habit. This habit is a stealer of our serenity, contentment, and peace.
Practicing a deep form of mindfulness can help calm anxiety. If you’ve thought of mindfulness as just some kind of heady thing, it is more than that. This practice involves our heart, too. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a mindfulness expert, also refers to mindfulness as "heartfulness.” In ancient Asian languages the word for “mind” and the word for “heart” are the same word. Mindfulness has to do with being fully present in the moment we are in now--not being stuck in our past, nor jumping ahead into our imagined future. Heartfulness goes a bit deeper. It is accepting ourselves just as we are in the present moment.
How does that actually work? Let's say you have an upcoming exam, job interview, a blind date, or a presentation to deliver. You find yourself worrying about your performance, imagining that you might bomb the exam or the interview, bore your date, or freeze in the presentation. You might become so anxious that you find yourself procrastinating on preparing for this event. Here is where you can decide to deeply inhale and exhale several times, and pull yourself back from your imagined future catastrophe into the present moment. The present moment where no catastrophe is occurring and you are safe and steadily breathing in and out.
That is practicing being mindful. Now, you decide to go a bit deeper---you can practice being heartful. You start by being curious about your mind's incessant anxious chatter---described as "vritti" by the ancient yogis thousands of years ago (see, this problem has been around a long time). Your curiosity is without criticism, just kindness and compassion---as if you were talking with your best friend. You may discover that you are anxious because you are afraid you will be seen as not good enough by the employer, unlikable or undesirable by your date, dumb by your teacher's standards, or having nothing worthwhile to offer your presentation audience. You realize that your own assumptions about the upcoming event are fueling your anxiety!
Our assumptions can feel very real, but are often not true.
Being mindful in this heartful way can help to strengthen your own kindness and compassion toward yourself. Regularly---it takes time---practicing being in this heartful state is an antidote to anxiety. You can tell yourself that you are someone who is exploring if the job or the date is a good fit for you. That you are someone who's exam score doesn't reflect your overall value as a person. That in your presentation you will share what you know about the subject and some will like it, and some may not, which describes more about them than you. You begin accepting yourself just as you are in your present moment without judgement.
By practicing heartfulness, over time, anxiety begins to quiet. Calm blooms.