A plethora of thoughts swirl around the canals of my brain as I trudge through muddy fields. I stare up at the oil-black sky that seeps through the bony branches of the trees surrounding me. The cold, winter air kisses my cheeks, leaving them with a chilling warmth. The gentle hum of distant traffic reminds me that I’m not completely alone. The longer I walk, the quieter my mind becomes and serenity is restored.
Yesterday, I woke with the overbearing sense of that familiar, yet unwelcome, cloak of anxiety slowly creeping over me. I could feel it attempting to shroud my shoulders and weigh me down. It’s been a while since I’ve had a ‘down day’, but every once in a while they’ll come and yesterday was one of those days. When those days come, I feel suffocated by the world around me. I know my anxiety is both counterproductive and irrational. Yet knowing this doesn’t change the hold it has over me. My initial reaction is to run, push everything and everyone away and just escape. To outrun my thoughts and feelings. But the truth is running from it doesn’t help and neither does fighting it. Instead, I’ve learnt to just be mindful. I was first introduced to Mindfulness whilst I was studying Psychology at University. When I chose to study and practice mindfulness, I was unaware of how wonderfully significant this practice would be to my life. Through mindfulness, I’m able to find calm in the storm.
Last night, as the cloud of anxiety loomed over me, I decided to wrap up warm and go for a walk. Something about being outside instantly calms me. The feel of the marshy fields below my feet, the damp smell of winter leaves, the sound of silence and the crisp, night-time air. It lifts the cloak of anxiety from around my body. When I walk, I am wholly present in the moment. I walk mindfully, guiding my awareness back to the present moment whenever I feel it drifting away. I don’t shy away from my thoughts or my emotions. Instead, I think of each thought as being a cloud in the sky; observe the thought, notice it’s existence and then allow it float on by as I bring my attention back to the present moment using my breath as an anchor, reminding myself not to get lost in the clouds.
Mindfulness practices, like this, can seem strange at first. We aren’t used to slowing down our thoughts and quieting our mind. But with practice, it gets easier and any moment can become an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Last night, a gentle walk mindfully meandering without intention calmed the rumination in my mind. It freed me from the clutches of anxiety.
Mindfulness practices vary in formality. It can be something as simple as steadying your breath, feeling each rise and fall in your chest with every breath you take. It can be eating a chocolate bar by savouring the taste, the scent, the way it melts in your mouth, the sound of that first bite. It can be walking and paying attention to your footsteps and all the sensations in the world around you. Mindfulness can be practiced at any moment in life, whether you practice for just 10 seconds or 2 hours, is up to you. You could even practice mindfulness next time you have a relaxing pamper night. More formal practices include breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. As you practice mindfulness, you’ll begin to notice it slowly edging into your daily life, protecting you from falling victim to the chaos.