Working With Anxiety: Focused Concentration

If you’ve ever come across guided meditations online or in a book, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of them begin by asking you to bring your attention to your breath. This is not just a way of relaxing you…

…it’s a practice in focus and concentration.

The fact that we have thoughts is not an issue; thoughts, in and of themselves, do not cause anxiety. Thoughts only lead to anxiety when:

We don’t notice that we are thinking AND 2. we give them energy.

These 2 factors are the greatest allies of anxiety.

When we don’t realise that we are thinking, our thoughts go off on a tangent – taking us wherever they want to go.

A lot of the time, these thoughts just come and go without any issues. But when an impactful, fearful thought arises, it grabs our attention. But more importantly…

…it manages to hold our attention because we give it energy. This is what can lead to anxiety.

Yet these fearful thoughts are absolutely no different than the thousands of unnoticed, innocuous thoughts we have throughout the day. The fact that we noticed them is the only difference.

The mere appearance of a thought does not make it important – it does not mean we need to give it special attention.

This is where our daily practice in focus and concentration comes in useful.

So try this simple 4-step practice:

  • Sit down in a quiet place for 20 minutes and observe your breath.
  • Thoughts will arise. Let them. No matter what kind of thoughts they are, just observe them without judgement and without getting caught up in their content. Be aware of the fact that you are observing them – I find it useful to consciously say to myself, “that’s a thought”
  • Feelings will arise. Let them. No matter what kind of feelings they are, just observe them without judgement. Don’t give them special attention. Be aware of the fact that you are observing them. Like the thoughts, you can say something like, “that’s a feeling”
  • When the thought or feeling naturally passes, which it always does, return your attention back to the breath.
  • Repeat

The key point in this exercise is to be aware of the fact that you are either thinking or feeling, and to actively observe it, with focus and concentration, until it passes. This disallows any chance of the thoughts or feelings going off on a tangent.

We are not getting lost in the experience and we are not giving any thought or feeling special attention.

Give it a try. The more you practice this, the more you will notice how different this experience is compared to being lost in thoughts and feelings.

N.B. Sometimes, certain thoughts or feelings may be too intense or distressing. If you find this to be the case, this practice may become unuseful. Don’t worry! Just gently return your attention back to the experience of the breath.

Perhaps you may find yourself in a more balanced place to observe these particular experiences tomorrow or next week. There is no rush. Give yourself the time and space that’s suitable for you.

I will be updating this blog every week with self-help for anxiety practices, so that you can begin breaking this cycle. Or you can head over here where I talk about some ways that you can continue this journey now.

Also, I’d be very happy to hear of any thoughts or questions you may have, so feel free to leave your comments below!

About the Author:

I am a fully qualified counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Dublin, Ireland. From my experience I have seen the transformative effects of an open-minded, non-judgemental therapeutic relationship and how it can help us to make useful and healthy changes to how we behave, think and feel about ourselves and our relationships with others. I hope you find some useful information here and feel free to contact me through my website.

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