Anxiety involves our threat detection system which can hijack our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When in threatened mode, our attention narrows and we understandably seek out situations that will help us feel safe. In this mode, we make decisions based on fear and tend not to make decisions that are in our best interest long term.
Luckily, our bodies are also equipped with a compassionate mind system that can be activated to help us shift out of threatened mind and into a more courageous and balanced state when desired. The compassionate mind engenders feelings of support, warmth, encouragement, and patience which can help to decrease the experience of anxiety (Tirch, 2012). We are then able to be motivated based on our own desires and needs and not from a place of fear, anxiety, or worry.
In order to help you connect with your compassionate mind in the service of decreasing anxiety, MindWell NYC has compiled five of our favorite techniques to elicit self-compassion.
Breathing Space Exercise- Take three minutes to check in with yourself. First, notice any thoughts, physical sensations, or emotions that you are experiencing. Once you have located all of them, bring your attention to the breath in your body. Any time your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath. Then, bring your attention to your body as a whole and notice any sensations (including breathing) in the body. This is an exercise from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.
Self-validate- Whenever you are feeling an unwanted emotion such as fear, anxiety, or worry, see if you can understand why it makes sense that you are having this experience or this emotion. It might be based on previous history, current thoughts, your current situation, or physical sensations. Once you identify this, tell yourself in a compassionate and warm tone that your feeling makes sense and that you can accept it is it is in the present moment.
Consider how you would treat a friend- Imagine that a close friend of yours is struggling with anxiety or a challenge similar to what you are experiencing. Ask yourself how you would respond to them. What would you do? What would you say? What tone of voice would you use? Pause for a brief moment and then consider how you might respond to yourself in a similar way. (Neff, 2017)
Extend compassion to others- The way we treat others impacts the way we feel about ourselves. In an effort to increase compassion, find a way to contribute to others. Internally, you can extend kind or loving thoughts to someone you care about or to someone who is struggling. Externally, you can purposefully smile at others, do a quick favor for someone else, or take part in a more formal volunteer opportunity. We can tap into our compassionate selves by participating in the world in a kinder, more engaged way.
Utilize RAIN- Recognize what is happening, Allow life to be just as it is, Investigate inner experience with kindness, and Non-identification. When recognizing, ask yourself about what is happening and listen kindly to what is going on for you. Next, allow yourself to enter into your experience and relax into it. You may experience a compassionate feeling of openness or relaxation. For investigation, try to allow anything you are experiencing to be welcomed and to focus your attention on your current experience. With non-identification, kindly recognize that your sense of self is not fused with your current anxiety or experience. There is no action to take with this step; rest in knowing that you are present in a natural awareness. (Brach, 2013)
We hope that these techniques allow you to begin to connect with your compassionate mind. We are here to answer any questions you may have about how to utilize self-compassion techniques to help manage anxiety.