MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. - Mindfulness, it's something more and more people are becoming familiar with as researchers continue to discover how it can improve both our mental and physical health.
I learned about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation the hard way as I silently battled an anxiety disorder and panic attacks.
It's something I have only shared with my friends and family until now.
I want to share my story now to hopefully raise awareness about not only mental health, but the resources available to help, starting with mindfulness.
My story begins in Bakersfield, California where I anchored the weekend newscast. What viewers didn’t see on their T.V. screen was my internal struggle to get through a newscast without my anxiety taking over.
I wasn't anxious about delivering the news of the day. It was just a feeling that I couldn't control and it would happen without warning.
It started after I experienced what I later learned was my first panic attack and when the random panic attacks continued, I knew I had to get help.
I tried many things including therapy where I learned about the importance of breathing and mindfulness.
When I moved to the Central Coast, practicing mindfulness meditation and breathing through my panic attacks helped me cope.
Mindfulness isn't a new concept, but one that is becoming more mainstream.
"There is more of an interest, more of an understanding. It is being talked about by people in the media and performers and sports so it's definitely becoming more well known,” said Marianne Rowe, Cofounder of the Monterey Bay Meditation Studio.
So what is mindfulness? Just Google the word and you'll find plenty of information online.
But I decided to visit the Monterey Bay Meditation Studio in Pacific Grove to talk with co-founders Marianne Rowe and Katie Dutcher.
“We have these things called thoughts which are little stories we tell ourselves and we tend to believe them and we lose perspective of what's occurring right now. What mindfulness does is helps us cultivate the capacity to have thoughts, but not be captured by them so we can have the thoughts and be aware we're having thoughts or sensations of emotions or physical sensations,” said Rowe.
“Mindfulness is really being aware of what true reality is. It is this acceptance and willingness to be with whatever is here and not judge it,” said Katie Dutcher, Cofounder of Monterey Bay Meditation Studio.
Amanda: “It can be scary the first time it happens and you have a panic attack especially when it's a little more severe. I thought I was dying. I didn't know what was happening, my heart was racing and I thought take me to the ER. After it happens, you learn it is just anxiety and learn almost to accept it and know you're going to be okay, but I think that is kind of the hard part.
"We tend to resist things that are uncomfortable and certainly an anxiety attack or panic attack is very uncomfortable so we resist those things, we want them to stop and as we are experiencing that I want this to stop, I want this to stop, we are resisting what's happening which then amps it up a bit,” Rowe explained.
Amanda: "I almost felt like I was going to die."
"There is a tie between thoughts, emotions and bodies and when we are in the midst of a swirl of anxiety it is as if all things are happening at the same time and one things developed with mindfulness is this ability to step back a bit and recognize thoughts are thoughts, they are not
necessarily the reality that is occurring, so I am telling myself I am dying, am I dead? No. I'm still here,” said Rowe.
It seems so simple, just tell yourself you're okay, but it's not always that easy.
That's why practicing mindfulness meditation can help and there's no right or wrong way to do it.
"Mindfulness isn't just one thing. If you look at meditation as just 30 minutes of sitting still and quiet and you think no I couldn't do that, well it doesn't have to be that. It can be 10 minutes, 5 minutes, it can be scaled, it can also be guided and supported and that's what we do here,” said Dutcher.
Mindfulness also isn’t the answer to all of your problems, but it is a start, at least, it was for me.
It is important to note that if you are suffering from a panic disorder or mental illness please contact a mental health professional first.
For more information on the Monterey Bay Meditation Studio click here.