When we feel anxious, staying with our experience is usually the last thing that we want to do, but practicing doing so even just a little bit on a regular basis can be huge for reducing anxiety in the long run and getting more out of life. Such a practice that many people, with and without anxiety, have found helpful is to do with mindfulness. There are a vast number of ways to practice mindfulness, from formal meditation to simple tricks that you can do just about anywhere, but common to all of them is a striving toward awareness of your experience in the present moment with an attitude of acceptance.
In this case, acceptance does not necessarily mean liking what you notice, rather it means without trying to judge or deny it. Mindfulness also does not mean stopping your thoughts, "rising above", or making anything in your experience go away. Mindfulness is a practice that everyone finds difficult, but many find rewarding; it’s a skill that you practice, attempting again and again to notice your experience in the present moment with acceptance. Some people attribute spiritual and/or religious meaning to mindfulness practice, but this is not necessary, and if you are skeptical, I’d recommend considering the vast empirical research demonstrating the many health and psychological benefits of mindfulness practice, including in the treatment of anxiety.
I’d like to share with you one of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness. What I do is I set an alarm for a predetermined amount of time (so I don’t have to think about how long I have been meditating), I sit on a cushion in a quiet room, staring at a blank spot on the wall and breathing steadily until the timer goes off. While I am sitting like this, my mind may go many places and I may become aware of many things and when I notice that I am getting caught up in something I focus my attention on my posture and my breathing. I do this over and over again throughout my time sitting and while I get practice paying attention to the present moment, I also inevitably notice thoughts, feelings, and sensations that are meaningful to me. Something else that I have noticed since starting this practice a few years ago is that my ability to be more aware of my experiences in the present moment has not only increased when I am sitting, but it has spilled over to other moments in my life, which has led me to a much richer experience overall.
If you struggle with anxiety, or you would just like to have more presence in your life, consider starting a mindfulness practice. The exercise that I described may not be for you, and that’s OK, a Google search will reveal so many different ways to practice mindfulness, there is bound to be some approach that will be a good fit. If you do try mindfulness 1) know that it is hard and everyone struggles to be mindful 2) take it slow, even a little bit of regular practice has long term benefits and there’s no reason to overwhelm yourself and 3) give yourself credit for taking the time to be with yourself and invest in this fruitful skill!