How to Deal With Anxiety (or How I Learned Mindfulness from a Navy SEAL Boot Camp Instructor)

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The other day Stacia said to me, “I just love how in the moment you are! You want to get the most out of whatever is going on!”

It’s true. I really love living in the moment, and sometimes I’m pretty good at it. When we’re having an amazing meal, it’s not hard for me to eat a little more. When we’re having a great time with friends, it’s not hard for me to stay a little longer.

But if I’m honest, most of the time, I’m not very good at staying in the moment. Much of the time it’s easy to worry and be anxious.

There are a number of unknowns in my life right now.

The biggest is that we’re expecting! Ahh! Come November there’s going to be a baby boy as a part of my daily life.

Along with a little human entering the world comes a whole slew of unknowns. How are we going to make ends meet? How is a third member of Team Cumberland going to affect our life? What’s this going to be like? And on and on and on.

Further complicating matters is that our living situation has been up in the air for a long time. Without getting into details, it makes it very hard to prepare for the unknowns and trust that things are going to work out. Even simple questions like, where is the baby going to sleep? Don’t have an answer just yet.

It’s easy for me to get really worked up about it.

The heart pounding, hands shaking, I feel sick to my stomach kind of worked up.

(Breath deep. Keep Breathing)

But then I remember. All of that. All of the fears. All of the worries about this or that not working out. All of that is in the future.

Right now, this very moment, is good.

Yes, I need to plan and think about what’s to come, but there’s a difference between planning and solving challenges and worrying obsessively.

This moment right now, without the worry, is actually a really great moment.

And this is what I’ve been learning: right now, everything is ok.

There’s whole fields of study, techniques, and theory related to the simple idea of being in the present called Mindfulness.

I’ve gradually been learning more and more about mindfulness over the past few years, but only recently did it click. And it came through the most unlikely place. A former Navy Seal and boot camp instructor.

How I Learned Mindfulness from a Boot Camp Instructor

I heard a talk by Mark Divine about enduring hard things and staying present. He’s a former Navy Seal who now helps people learn “mental toughness” skills. In his talk he explained about how when we are tested physically, say in a hard workout, that our minds quit before our bodies do.

His basic premise is that if we can stay in the present moment, we can continue much longer than we realize. It’s when we think about how far we have to go that our mind tells us we need to give up and that we can’t possibly persevere.

The difficulty is that our minds tend to run ahead and think about everything all at once. If you had to do 100 pushups, most people will think about how many they have left to do with every pushup. But if you can do one pushup and focus on that one. And then do the next one, and focus on that one. You can keep on much longer than you’d expect. In this way, 100 pushups doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it may seem.

Mindfulness in The Rest of Life

This applies to more than just exercise. It applies to all of life. Any time you’re struggling with something— whether it be finding your way, creating something meaningful, or even starting a business — staying in the moment helps put things into perspective.

Whenever you feel anxious or stressed there are tools you can use to stay in the moment. Most mindfulness tools and exercises emphasis the present moment and your physical body. There are many different methods and whole books on the topic, but here is one that that I use on a regular basis.

Learning How to Breathe

Bringing your attention to your breath helps you return to the present moment. It helps you leave behind the anxieties and fears of the future and to focus on the moment.

There are a number of ways that you can return your breath. You can:

  • Count your breaths to 10 and then repeat.
  • Focus on the sensation of air leaving your body, or the rise and fall of your stomach and chest.
  • Inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 8.
  • Box breath: inhale for a count of 4. Hold for 4. Exhale for 4. Hold for 4. And repeat.*

Studies show that learning to focus on your breath is one of the best ways to deal with stress. The trick is to actually focus on the breath. The really hard part is the simultaneous releasing of all the other worries and obsessions that is required in order to focus.

Mindfulness, like most things in life, gets easier with practice.

But you must practice it.[tweet that]

I used to resist the idea because of it’s simplicity, but the older I get and the more I find myself taking risks as a part of making my own way, and the more I am finding solace in these techniques.

Whether you have a baby on the way like we do (ahhhh!) or any number of other unknowns in your life: Remember to breath. It might be the most productive thing you do all day.

Take action:

1) Set aside a few minutes today to focus on your breathing.
2) If this resonates with you, would you take a moment to share it? Hit one of the social buttons at the top of the page, or just email the url to a friend who might need to read it.

*(If you’d like to see Mark Divine walk you through box breathing step-by-step, here’s a video)

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

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