Mindfulness teaches us to step back and observe our minds and our thoughts. Mindfulness is learning to see exactly what is happening. It 'disengages' our 'automatic pilot' and gives us the necessary space to see cause and effect as it happens in 'real' time. Cause : thought. Effect: panic and/or anxiety.
Mindfulness is also known as insight meditation. Using mindfulness as cognitive technique, away from the framework of meditation, enables us to gain insight into our thoughts, and the effects of our thoughts, on our emotional well being.
As I discuss in Power over Panic (1), "Our thinking is so much a part of us, we don't pay any attention to the process. Without realising it, our thoughts create, dictate and control our life. We all know the endless silent conversation, the chattering thoughts and the continual negative cycles of thinking....
We create our fear by the way we think. We never take time to examine our thoughts. We don't even realise we can. We never watch our thoughts as they spin this way and that. We react to our thoughts without realising that they are actually separate fleeting moments in time.
Instead we believe we have no power over the continual progression of our thoughts, and our feelings caused by them. We don't see how our feelings can change within seconds of a change in our thoughts. We can be feeling happy one minute and anxious the next. Not seeing this progression from one thought to another, and not seeing the progression from one feeling to another, makes it appear that our anxiety and panic attacks are beyond our control. They aren't."
When I talk about mindfulness to people who have an anxiety disorder, some will say to me, 'who needs to learn how to be mindful. I know only too well that my thoughts are negative. They just go on and on and on. I don't need a refresher course !"
We can certainly be aware our thoughts are negative. We can be aware of how they go round and round, to the point we may feel as if we are going insane, but this is not mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the clear awareness of what is happening from one moment to the next. Of being present to the moment. We may think we are present to the moment as we fight our panic and anxiety, but we aren't. We are either drawing on past experiences of our panic and anxiety or, projecting our fear of these into the future - which is only a thought away !
With mindfulness we step back, we become aware of our thoughts; we watch our thoughts, rather than being involved in them. It is this separation between thinker and thought that gives us the opportunity to explore and investigate what is 'hidden' from view.
Hidden from view, because our mind has been conditioned over a life time and is on 'automatic pilot'. Our thoughts react to any given situation or experience that is happening to us. These reactions are not necessarily based on what is actually happening, they are mainly based on previous situations and how we reacted and felt in those situations.
I often speak of the "bigger picture" in regards to working through to recovery from our anxiety disorder. Part of this bigger picture is exploring what is "hidden". By this I don't mean going into psychotherapy and exploring child hood or current personal issues. In this instance, I mean exploring and investigating our thoughts and how they effect our emotional well being.
As an example, we all draw on the memory of our first panic attack. We draw on the felt experience of this attack, and the fear and terror we felt as a result. But what is hidden from view, is when we have our first panic attack, we didn't know what was happening to us. Many of us thought we were having a heart attack, or that we were going insane or that we would lose control in some way.
Even when we are told that we did in fact experience a panic attack, we don't believe what our doctor is saying to us. We don't deal with, or accept the reality of our experience.
Our mind goes back through all of our symptoms and we immediately reach the conclusion that the doctor has made a mistake. Our thoughts churn back over all that we have heard or read about heart problems, mental illness, and/or all that we have read or heard about people losing control. We think to ourselves that something terrible is about to happen to us. Our mind goes over it and over it, Our anxiety increases and we may have another panic attack which in turn increases our fear, which increases our fearful thoughts and round and round we go.