Is medication the only way to treat anxiety and depression?
Mindfulness – either on its own or in addition to medication – is a powerful tool for those with anxiety and depression, and for anyone seeking peace and joy.
Accept and Embrace
Do you often feel stressed, anxious, chronically sad or lonely? Sometimes it seems like almost everyone struggles with some form of anxiety or depression. And yet, maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe, just maybe, focusing on what is right rather than what is wrong with us will open up a whole new way of envisioning emotional health and well-being. You are not your symptoms, or for that matter, your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations or behavioral urges. What if the goal was to embrace rather than to fix, to be mindful rather than dismiss, to live fully engaged rather than cutoff and constricted?
The Choice is Yours
Many of our experiences will come along with anxiety, stress, fear or worry. They are all an inevitable part of our human existence, experiences we share with everyone, and most importantly, they are not our fault. Thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and behavioral urges are indeed hard wired in. We can’t keep them from arising. However, by developing mindful presence and awareness we can learn to choose how to consciously respond in a more productive way.
What comes our way is largely out of our control. We do, however, choose how to understand and relate to our experiences. The freedom of our decision making consequently provides us with the the power to choose to live our lives with greater ease, harmony, peace and well-being.
To paraphrase a quote often attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor,
“Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in that space is our power to choose our response, and in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
In that space, you have the power to choose mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice that will benefit anyone who employs it, but will be especially powerful for those with anxiety and depression. I’d love to share with you two acronyms are helpful in beginning to develop mindful presence, awareness and understanding. They are RAIN, first coined over 20 years ago by Michele McDonald, and the STOP practice, created by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
Recognize and Relax
R The R of RAIN stands for recognize. What exactly am I experiencing in right now? Which afflictive emotions are arising and causing distress? What thoughts is my mind creating to go along with these uncomfortable emotions? How and where is my body responding to these thoughts and emotions? What behavioral urges are pushing for reactive action to ease this physical distress?
The R of RAIN also stands for relax. Once I’ve recognized, as much as possible, the component parts of my experience, can I relax into them and let them be?
Accept and Allow
A The A of RAIN builds on this last question and asks us to accept and allow all aspects of our present moment experience; each and every one of its components and the greater sum total, just as it is. Whatever we are experiencing is already happening. We can fight against it, deny it, wish it wasn’t or try to change it in any way. However, the A of RAIN suggests we acknowledge all that is happening, just as it is. Rather than criticizing, or judging, or rejecting any part of our experience, the A of RAIN suggests we allow it all in, bringing an open, receptive, curious attention to all of it’s nuances and wonder.
Inquire and Investigate
I The I of RAIN, which stands for inquire and investigate, provides a template for developing and refining that open and receptive curiosity. The process of Mindful Inquiry and Investigation is often misunderstood. Many believe it to be analytic exploration of past experiences, but it is most assuredly not. Rather, it is the practice of asking questions to track our moment-to-moment experience, avoiding getting caught up in any story line of ‘review and regret’ or ‘fear of the future.’ When we inquire, we ask, “What am I noticing in my body, in my thoughts and emotions right now?” It is the process of adopting a posture of open receptivity, as opposed to the analysis of the actual content, that is most helpful.
Note and Name
N The N of RAIN focuses this mindful inquiry process into one of noting and naming. Psychiatrist and Mindsight developer Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. has taught us “name it to tame it” That is to say, delve deeper into your physical sensations and name them: pressure, tingling, contracting, vibrating, throbbing, temperature, moisture, movement, intensity and any other quality of bodily sensation that may become apparent. Then you can step back and observe what is happening rather than being gripped by obsessive, ruminative thoughts and turbulent emotional state.
Dr. Goldstein’s STOP method is a more directed process to diffuse emotional reactivity. It calms our emotions so that we can respond more consciously to stressful situations.
S The S of STOP is just that: stop. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.00. Just stop. Ground your feet on the floor, come into your body in this present moment and just stop.
Take a Breath
T The T of STOP is take a breath. First, bring awareness to the sensations of breathing, not to change them in any way, not to do anything about them (your body knows full well how to breathe without any input from you) but rather to notice the natural rhythm of the gentle inflow and the gentle outflow of breath, wherever it may be most prominent for you, in the belly, the chest, the nostrils or in the back of your throat. Then, once you’ve relaxed into these sensations, perhaps, if it feels appropriate in that moment, take several deep, deliberate cleansing breaths.
O The O of STOP is observe: your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations and urges to move or do something. Bring a kind, gentle, open curious awareness to what is happening right now, in this present moment as it unfolds. Subsequently, avoid impulses to evaluate, change, fix, or push away.
P The P of STOP is proceed, move forward with the task at hand in a more productive and rewarding way.
Combining the wisdom of the body with the wisdom of the knowing mind opens a pathway. Mindfulness counteracts anxiety and depression, and is a life changer for those who employ it. It enables you to take a more active role in your own emotional health and well-being which consequently helps to decrease stress and increase your satisfaction and enjoyment of life.
For More On Mindfulness:
About the Author:
Ron Cohen, MD, The Mindful Psychiatrist, is a Board Certified Psychiatrist, Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapist, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) Workshop Facilitator, and Bowen Family Systems Theory Coach and Relationship Consultant. initially He is dedicated to bringing mindful awareness, presence and compassion to Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and relationship coaching. Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy and Mindful Awareness practices focus on learning to be with what is rather than trying to do something to change or fix your current situation. For more information contact Dr. Cohen at 516-493-8946, 29 Barstow Road, Suite 304, Great Neck, New York 11021.