Breathe easy to combat anxiety: The mind tricks that can alleviate symptoms


The Mindful Manifesto, by Dr Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell: available at and

More than 870,000 Britons suffer from anxiety, a condition that triggers unnecessary feelings of uneasiness and worry.
Increasingly, mindfulness – a psychological therapy with roots in Buddhist meditation – is being used by the NHS to help alleviate the symptoms.

Here, in the final extract from his book The Mindful Manifesto, co-written with Ed Halliwell, Dr Jonty Heaversedge explains how it can help.

  • Before directing your mind towards the anxiety you are experiencing, focus on your breathing – the sensation of air slowly flowing into your nostrils, streaming down the back of your throat and into your lungs. Feel the beating of your heart and imagine how it pumps oxygenated blood around your body. Continue until you’re ready to meditate.
  • Now, shift your attention to your anxious thoughts. What thoughts are present in your mind right now? Are there many moving quickly or does each one remain for a while? Consider the thoughts objectively rather than reacting to them emotionally.
  • There’s a myth that when you meditate, you should have a blank mind. But thoughts are  not the enemy and trying to stop them will only lead to more struggle. Treat the thoughts during meditation like having a radio on in the background – you can hear it, but your main focus is elsewhere. In mindfulness, you’re paying attention to the fact that you have a thought but you are not buying into what it is saying. Try not to judge the thought  as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Cultivate an attitude of equanimity to whatever goes through your mind. Watch your thoughts with curiosity and kindness and they will become easier to bear.
  • Whenever you notice  your mind is wandering, acknowledge that it has meandered and gently bring your attention back to observing your thoughts.
  • Continue working with your worries in this way for the period of time you have chosen. Working mindfully can be challenging, so it’s good to practise for short periods at first.
  • You may feel dizzy when you start but that’s because you’ve suddenly stopped spinning around in circles. In the stillness of meditation, it can also seem as if you have more thoughts than usual but this is not so: it is just that you are becoming more aware of them. The more you practise, the more your mind can deal with worries in a less panicked way.

2 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi ,
    I have suffered from anxiety, I think we all do in some form or other. But its a question of degree, when it gets out of hand it can trigger IBS symptoms and even lead to agoraphobia, amongst other ‘irrational’ fears – flying, public transport etc.
    To try and follow the instructions given here , without a regular mindful meditation practice would I think be futile ! I don’t want to sound defeatist, to try to concentrate on breathing during an anxiety or panic attack , is rather tricky, in the least.
    It takes a foundation of meditation practice , for me, now with my basic breathing practice , I can feel the start of anxiety / panic when in stressful situations , and let it be ! If I go hot , i go hot ! if I go red in the face if I feel ill if I feel sick etc . I let it be and thats ok. It doesn’t mean I am numb to the sensations, I still feel them as a sensations , I am not bound to them as much as I was.
    Meditation works but it needs time and a practice.
    CBT Cognitive behaviour therapy is available on NHS and does help as well , to break the cycle of anxiety.
    To all anxious people , help is there if you want it , you don’t have to suffer or become a victim ! I hope this helps.

    • I get the impression that these instructions are aimed not at full-blown anxiety attacks, but at the more ordinary and common kind of anxiety that just about everyone experiences — like when people have social anxieties, or people who just tend to worry a lot about things.


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