Learning to bring the anxious, chaotic mind under control with mindfulness training may be a large part of successful anxiety treatment and a large part of any therapy for anxiety. A good anxiety therapist should have a solid working knowledge of mindfulness training.
DOES THE IDEA OF MINDFULNESS MAKE YOU ANXIOUS? You may feel even more anxious at the thought of having to do something with your mind that seems absolutely impossible. After all, you might be wondering: if I can’t control my anxiety, how can I control anything else I need my mind to do?
THE CHAOTIC MIND CAN NOTICE ITS OWN CHAOS: The question raised in the paragraph above rests on the slightly erroneous thinking that mindfulness is successful only when the chaotic mind is focusing on one simple thing, such as breathing. But this is only partially true! Mindfulness can begin to be effective when the chaotic mind begins to notice its own chaos and is amenable to being brought back to focusing on one thing. In other words, the ability to notice one’s own mind and to notice when it has become distracted is the first important step to successful mindfulness practice.
BRINGING THE MIND BACK: The second important step to successful mindfulness practice is to gently bring the mind back to focus on one simple thing, such as breathing. This process—noticing that the mind has become distracted and bringing it back to focus—this is the key to bringing the chaotic mind under control and the key to training the mind to focus.
ANXIETY THERAPY LOOKS TO HELP YOU REIGN IN THE CHAOTIC MIND: Note that I’ve not written anything about sustaining one’s focus. In anxiety therapy, especially at the beginning, mindfulness work naturally takes place at the site of the chaos, which is the constant and exhausting bouncing from anxious thought to anxious thought. Simply noticing when this is happening and gently bringing the mind back to the breath establishes some order and control! This act, like any exercise, can only be practiced and perfected over time. And at the beginning, it often takes the help of another person to guide you by gently reminding you to bring the mind back to focusing on one simple thing, such as the breath.
AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION: My point here is that like most other areas of experience for the anxious mind, new challenges almost always feel frightening, or too much, or overwhelming. Understand that you’re not alone, and that the mindfulness work in anxiety treatment centers on the repeating task of bringing the mind back to focus—not on the ability to remain focused without distraction for long periods of time. This is a distinction that should be clearly understood.