As a generalisation, we can say that worry and anxiety is our response to fearing the future in some way.
It is our fight or flight system working overtime because we feel threatened and unsafe in the world.
So we’re continually scanning the future for danger, fearing the worst might happen. And our body responds by being on red alert.
Our reasons for feeling unsafe may be based upon past experiences or influences around us – what happened when we were kids, watching how our parents behaved, what we read in the newspapers, what’s happening at work, and so on.
What is common in all of this is that our attention is on the future for most of the time.
Mindfulness encourages us to place our attention on the present moment.
But what is mindfulness? And how can we use mindfulness for anxiety management and relief?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center gives this definition:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
This definition emphasises that the focus of attention is intentionally placed upon what is happening around us right now, and accepting it just as it is.
We intentionally direct our attention to our senses :
- what can we see right now?
- what can we hear?
- What can smell, taste and feel right now?
We intentionally place more emphasis on the sights, sensations and sounds around us, be it the weather, nature, or even road noise. We give full attention to what we are eating or drinking. What is its texture, temperature, is it sweet or sour?
We also do this non-judgementally. We’re not wanting it to be a certain way. We accept and even enjoy that it is raining, for example. We take pleasure in experiencing the qualities of the weather, whatever they may be at this moment in time. In this way we accept it just as it is.
Not only does this enrich our everyday experience, but it takes our mind’s emphasis away from a fear-based future.
Where we are right now is generally safe and manageable. And we can practice trusting that when we get to some future point that will also be safe and manageable.
We’re then sending signals to our bodies to turn off the red alert. Over time this can move towards increasing relaxation and enjoyment of our current experience.
And the more that we gently bring our attention back from the future to the present moment, the more this becomes our habitual way of being.
Mindfulness has been a mainstay of Eastern religion and tradition for hundreds of years, and it is now becoming increasingly recognised and utilised in the West.
There have been many scientific studies proving its effectiveness for issues such as anxiety and depression, and is often recommended alongside other medical approaches.
There are a number of 8 week part time courses now being run across the World that teach mindfulness, as well as University trainings and qualifications.
For examples, see
As mentioned earlier, one of the leading instructors on mindfulness is John Kabat-Zinn. He has written a number of introductory books on mindfulness. See:
Other mindfulness books include :
Once we’ve grasped the fundamentals of mindfulness, it’s down to practice and instilling new positive habits.
Each time we find ourselves spending too much time thinking about the future, we gently bring our attention back to the present moment and tune in to our senses and experiences right now.