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When worry becomes a physical sensation in the body

by Andy Puddicombe

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Question:

I’m half way through the Foundation packs and am reaping the benefits of a daily practice. So grateful that I’ve found mindfulness. I’ve experienced anxiety and worry all my life, and learning mindfulness is a great skill to deal with it. What do you suggest I do when the worry thought becomes a physical sensation in the body? Not during sitting, but in everyday life. For example, worry/anxiety thoughts arise, I get nervous, my heart races, restlessness sets in. This is where the real benefit of mindfulness takes place I believe. Not on the chair, but in everyday life.

Andy’s answer:

Thanks for your question and great to hear you’ve been enjoying Headspace.

In answer to your question, the trick is cut to loop between thought and feeling. At first that sounds like you have to do something extra or apply some kind of strategy, but that’s not the case at all.

Basically, once they get running with an emotion, the body and mind tend to feed off each other, but then you’ve probably already discovered this. So, the anxious thought arises, there’s a physical response to this, the mind registers this response and thinks “oh no, I really am anxious…” and so on and so on.

However, if you can bring a very gentle, yet focused awareness to the feeling itself, then the thoughts have no room to go anywhere. It is not that you need to try to stop the thoughts, it’s just that by redirecting the focus, you skillfully steer the mind away from them, thereby allowing them to fizzle out.

So, in short, as soon as you feel something physical — see it! Stop what you’re doing if you can and ‘look’ at the feeling. Don’t think about it… simply watch it. Identify where you feel it, what size it is, what shape is it, what intensity it is, etc., etc. When you do this honestly and openly, you’ll find there is a natural sense of curiosity which seems to take over from the emotion.

The important thing is that you approach it not to escape from the emotion, but to understand the mind. With the former there will always be resistance and tension. With the the latter, there will always be acceptance and openness.

Andy Puddicombe

Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace.