Counting Breaths to Calm the Mind and Train the Attention in Moments of Anxiousness
Counting my breaths grounds me and helps me get off the thought-train when I'm lying awake at night.
Recently, Brené Brown hosted Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind, on the Dare to Lead podcast. In my house, Brené Brown is such a familiar voice and figure that we offer refer to her as "my friend Brené" or simply "my friend." For example, if I told Natalie, "I was listening to my friend's podcast today," she would know exactly who I was talking about.
In this particular episode, Dr. Jha walks my friend Brené through the differences between attention, focus, and concentration. For our purposes, this isn't really important, but what is important is the myth she dispels in this podcast and in her book. Many people believe that meditation is about clearing your mind of all thoughts.
Tell that to my anxiety-riddled thought process that's been popping off lately. As I've documented elsewhere, we are in the midst of a major life transition. As the breadwinner in the family, learning that your contract will not be renewed and you'll need to find another employer can certainly be nerve-wracking.
It's keeping me up at night. My FitBit sleep data proves it. Worse, however, than the data is the experience of it. I'm struggling to sleep because I'm just lying awake strategizing:
- How do I position myself in this interview I have later this week?
- What kinds of questions will they ask? What will my answers be?
- How do I leverage my network to create more job opportunities?
These are all great questions but not at 2:00 am.
I call this line of thinking "the thought-train." When the thought-train leaves the station, it can be really difficult to bring it back.
In situations like these, it would be great if I could empty my mind, clearing away all thinking. I want to go blank and let the thought-train disappear.
That's just not possible.
What is possible, however, is training my attention on something else. In my case, what seems to be the most helpful is counting my breaths. I simply start counting:
- INHALE = 1
- EXHALE = 2
- INHALE = 3
- EXHALE = 4
Counting my breaths grounds me and helps me get off the thought-train. It's not easy and it takes some practice, but it definitely helps.