Why mindfulness? Because there are no drugs that will make you immune to stress or pain, or that will magically solve your problems. It will take conscious effort on your part to move in the direction of healing and peace. This means learning to work with the very stress and pain that is causing you to suffer. – Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Fear and anxiety are attempts to get our attention so that we can overcome, heal, grow, and move forward in life. The longer we avoid their nudging, the louder and messier they become. When we can bring our awareness to that which calls our attention, instead of fighting or fleeing, we are drawn into health, freedom, and courage.
As a mindfulness and health practitioner, I am deeply concerned about the overuse of medication as a way to avoid the messages of fear and anxiety. Many medications take away the opportunity to strengthen inner qualities that can lead to freedom. We are meant to overcome our difficulties, not be overcome by them.
Cultivating new attitudes can be powerful. Our behavior reflects our attitudes (ways of thinking). Practicing mindful attitudes allows us to give fear and anxiety close attention. They allow us to cultivate our inner capacity to be nonjudging, patient, accepting, trusting, and to see things as they really are.
Below are mindful attitudes for overcoming fear and anxiety.
Nonjudging is a practice of noticing the judging mind claiming something is good or bad. Don’t react, just notice. Simply listen without a need to give advice or do anything.
Fear and anxiety have a message that desperately wants to be heard. When we can quiet ourselves to listen without judgement, like we would do for a friend, inner wisdom has potential to arise.
Mindful attitude: “Wow, that’s interesting. I didn’t realize we had such strong emotions surrounding that issue.”
Patience allows you to fully live in each moment without attempting to avoid any of them.
Slow down and be patient when you experience moments of fear and anxiety. Listen deeply, and observe the fear. This is not something you want to run away from. Ask yourself what you might be afraid of. Are you afraid of failure, judgement, or even success? Be patient and linger in the moments of fear to see what might unfold. Learn to stay and be present with difficult emotions.
Mindful attitude: “What might happen if I spent the next week being with my fear instead of running from it?”
3. Beginners’ mind.
Too often we let what we think we know from the past hinder us from seeing things as they really are.
Beginners’ mind is seeing things for the first time. When you think about it, there is no other reality. You have never experienced this moment before. It’s completely new, with endless possibilities.
Sometimes recent experiences cause fear and anxiety. Seeing things for the first time can be a huge game-changer when it comes to fear. For example, if the past nine people said no, we don’t stop because we think the next person will say no. The next person has just as much potential to say yes.
Mindful attitude: “This is a perfectly new moment and new experience. I’ve never walked in this moment before.”
Self-created fears of failure, judgement, and success dominate our anxiety-ridden culture. People are left feeling helpless and hopeless. The good news is, we are anything but helpless.
We have amazing potential to trust ourselves again. We can trust that if we fail, we can feel proud of ourselves for trying, and we are still OK. We can trust that we will be OK if people don’t agree with us. And we can trust when we feel fear or anxiety that there is nothing wrong — they are trying to help us.
Mindful attitude: “I will be OK if I feel rejected, or if they don’t like me. I trust that I will know what to do, or ask for help when I need it.”
We must be willing to accept things as they are, and accept ourselves as we are now before we can change.
Getting real and honest with ourselves is not easy. Try looking at yourself in the mirror and asking what is really blocking you. Have a compassionate, heart-to-heart inner dialogue with yourself. Accept yourself and try to understand. If the answers don’t come right away, give yourself some time. Approach yourself as a loving friend who wants the best for you and seeks to understand.
Mindful attitude: “That behavior is not serving me. It might be time to do something different.”