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Setting Mindful Boundaries

anxiety boundaries cognitive behavioral therapy emotional regulation meditation mental health mindfulness psychology self-care stress management May 15, 2024

We've all experienced anxiety at some point - that uneasy feeling of worry, fear, or dread about what's to come. Anxiety is a normal human emotion. But for some people, anxiety can start to dominate their lives, leading to panic attacks, avoidance of certain situations, and a constant state of stress. One powerful tool for managing anxiety that has gained a lot of attention recently is the practice of mindfulness.

So what exactly is mindfulness? In essence, it's the act of being fully present in the current moment - not obsessing over the future or ruminating on the past. It's noticing the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise without judging them or getting caught up in them. Think of your thoughts as clouds passing through the sky of your mind. With mindfulness, you're just watching those clouds go by rather than getting swept up in the storm.

One simple but effective mindfulness technique is to focus your attention on your breath. Just take a few minutes to sit quietly and notice the sensation of breathing - the rise and fall of your chest, the air moving in and out of your nostrils. Every time your mind starts to wander (which it will), gently redirect your attention back to your breath. This act of noticing and redirecting trains your brain to be less reactive to anxious thoughts.

Here's a 4-step framework for applying mindfulness when anxiety strikes:

  1. Recognize: Notice the anxious feeling arising in your body
  2. Allow: Don't try to push the feeling away; just let it be there
  3. Investigate: Get curious about how the anxiety feels without judgment
  4. Non-identification: Remind yourself that you are not your anxiety; you're just experiencing a temporary feeling

By practicing this framework regularly, you start to create some space between yourself and your anxious feelings. You learn that you can handle feeling anxious without getting overwhelmed by it. As you do this, your brain starts to rewire itself and your capacity for tolerating anxiety will expand.

Here's an exercise to try the next time you feel anxious: take a minute to just sit with the sensation of anxiety in your body. Notice where you feel it and what it feels like. Is it tightness in your chest? Butterflies in your stomach? Just observe it with curiosity, without trying to change it. Then direct your attention to your breath and take a few slow, deep breaths. Remember: in this moment, you are okay.

Mindfulness is also a powerful tool for setting healthy boundaries. When you're mindful, you're more in tune with your own needs and limits. You're able to recognize when you're taking on too much or tolerating unhealthy situations. You can then make purposeful choices to say no, delegate, or remove yourself from toxic environments. Mindfulness allows you to respond rather than react.

Remember, learning mindfulness is a process. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. Some days will be harder than others and that's okay. The goal isn't to never feel anxious; it's to change your relationship with anxiety. With consistent practice, mindfulness can help you find a sense of calm and stability even in the midst of life's inevitable ups and downs.

Get Dr. Cloud's free guide on how to deal with the toxic people in your life. 

Dr. Cloud can help you live the life you were meant to live!