How Anxiety Impacts Your Present Reality –By Aditi Loveridge
Trigger Warning: This post has pregnancy loss related content.
The Beginnings of Anxiety
Ever since I can remember, anxiety has been a part of my life. It was a constant throughout my childhood; an imaginary “friend” that was always telling me that catastrophe was near. I remember standing in the corner window of our family home every night, anxiously awaiting my dad’s arrival from work. Every car that drove by that wasn’t him, sent my mind deeper into a tunnel of darkness. My stomach would be in knots and my heart would beat so fast, I would sometimes lose my breath. Then, just as every other day, my dad’s car would come into sight and my mind would release me from its grip. Embraced in the safety of my dad’s arms, the adrenaline would lessen but continue to pump throughout my body; a reminder that another threat was never too far away. I was only nine years old at the time.
Anxiety after Pregnancy Loss
The anxiety worsened in my early thirties, after I experienced my first pregnancy loss. My mind just could not safely enjoy any subsequent pregnancy. It would create outrageous scenarios that would send me into a tail spin of anxiety. I would be so engrossed in my thoughts, that I would become consumed in a future that had not yet happened (and would likely never happen). My catastrophic thinking kept me completely disengaged from the present moment; my reality.
I am fully aware now that my mind did this as a coping strategy. It kept me in a constant place of worry so that if something catastrophic did occur, I would be prepared. Worry would not allow the joy of a new pregnancy to seep in too deeply, so that in case I lost the pregnancy again, I would feel less pain. I laugh at the absurdity in that sentence, and at the blatant lie in it. Because when I experienced a second loss, the worry that I had convinced myself would “cushion the fall” did not. The pain of the second pregnancy loss was the same, if not worse.
How Anxiety Impacts and Takes You out of Your Present Reality
The birth of my daughter, though the most joyous moment of my life, furthered my internal struggle. After two pregnancy losses, my mind had convinced me that death was always around the corner. Loss was at the forefront of my mind, and so the first few months of my daughters’ life, were not spent living in the reality of her smiles and baby coo’s. They were spent spinning tales of every worst-case scenario that could possibly occur. Again, my mind was trying to “prepare” me for some “inevitable” threat—one that never came.
On my daughter’s first birthday, I looked back at the first few months of her life and I was filled with great sadness. As I looked at my beautiful, healthy, rambunctious, full of life little girl, I realized that I had missed out on so much. Anxiety had kept me living so far into a perceived future that was not mine, that I had missed out on my current reality.
As I put my daughter to sleep that night, I silently vowed to her (and myself), that I would never miss out on any moments again. It had become very clear what I needed to do– I needed to find a way to be truly present in my life; not just in body, but more importantly in mind.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment” (Greater Berkley, 2017). Becoming mindful of our present moment brings awareness to what is actually occurring and what is not. So how do we do that? In moments that my thoughts are taking me down a path of reality that is not mine, I focus on my breath. Before bed, if worry keeps me awake, I bring awareness into my body. Doing this does not stop the worry filled thoughts or negative self talk from bubbling up, but what it does do is ground me. If we are constantly in our heads, believing every thought we have, we are ungrounded and when we are ungrounded we are more likely and easily pushed into cycles of anxiety.
Mindfulness practices are really quite simple. What I like most about mindfulness is that it can be practiced formally (a carved-out time of day dedicated to bringing awareness to your breath and into your body) or informally (quick practices during moments that anxiety is creeping up). I find both informal and formal practice are the most effective. Just like when we go to the gym to work out our physical bodies, daily mindfulness practice keeps our mind (muscle) healthy. I find that the more consistent I am in my practice, the easier it is for my mind to engage in the present moment when challenges (internal and external) arise.
Though I had tried many things to manage my anxiety in the past, mindfulness has been the most helpful to me. It keeps me from spiraling and has become a constant in my life; an imaginary friend that silences the old catastrophic one. Mindfulness has become such an integral piece of my life that I use it in my parenting and in my work as a life coach.
Three simple ways to try out mindfulness first hand:
1. Breathe-this simple practice is a great way to quickly become present. Bring attention to your breath, wherever you feel it most dominantly in your body (your nose, chest, or abdomen) and follow your breath inward and outward. When thoughts come, gently bring your awareness back to your breath. Do this until you feel more grounded.
2. Body Scan—bring your awareness, without naming or judging, to each body part beginning at your feet. Slowly work your way upward until you reach the top of your head. If thoughts come in (and they will) gently bring your awareness back into your body.
3. Is it true? —in moments where you can not become grounded in your breath or body, ask yourself “is it true?”. When thoughts arise that push you into worry or any other negative self talk cycle, take a moment and ask yourself if those thoughts are true. More often then not, you will realize that no, the thought is not true, and you will automatically be reminded of your present reality. If, on the rare occasion there is some truth to the thought, ask your self what action you can take, instead of ruminating in negative outcomes.
The practice of mindfulness in not about being perfect, it is about practicing these simple strategies as often as you need to help keep yourself tethered in the present moment; the only moment that matters.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, connect with our life coach for a one-on-one session today! http://redefinesupport.ca/services/life-coaching/