Articles & Events | Psychiatric Associates of Iowa CIty

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Calm Your Anxious Mind

April 13, 2020

By Sandra Kessler | LISW, Psychiatric Associates

These are unprecedented times. The coronavirus consumes our waking consciousness. It dominates the media, our conversations and our minds. Uncertainty permeates everything and everyone. 

So how do we regain our balance? How do we reclaim our thoughts?  

At the center of our psyche is a place where we can observe our moods and emotional reactions. It is the center of ourselves. In ego psychology, it is called the “observing ego.” Buddhists refer to it as the “witness.” In Internal Family Systems Therapy, it is called the “self.” 

What is the “self”?

The self is the core of our essence, from which we can observe ourselves and others through the eyes of compassion, understanding and non-judgment. 

It’s in this space that we can let go of anxiety, worry and apprehension. It’s from this place that we can tap into and become aware of feeling whole. When we’re in the state of self-awareness, we’re able to observe the anxious parts of our mind—but not be taken over by them. 

Mindfulness exercise

The following exercise is taken in part from Empowering Dialogues Within by Kate Cohen-Posey. It does a nice job of helping you step out of your emotions/thoughts and back into a place of wholeness. 

To do the exercise, find a quiet space and sit comfortably on a chair. Take several deep breaths, noticing the movement of the air into and out of the lungs. 

Read the following slowly to yourself, pausing throughout. Let yourself feel what it feels like to be fully present. 

  • Who am I? I have a body, but I am not my body. I can feel sensations in my body – pressure, warmth, tightness, heaviness, lightness, pain. I can see and touch my body, but I am not my body. Sensations come and go but do not affect that which senses – the vast, free, open Witness of them all. 
  • I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts. Concepts, ideas, hopes, memories all arise, come and go, stay a bit and pass. I can know my thoughts, but what is known is not the knower – the vast, free, open Witness of them all.
  • I have emotions, but I am not my emotions. Desires, love, anger, fear, sadness, worries, happiness, joy all arise, come and go, stay a bit and pass. I can feel my emotions but what is felt is not the feeler – the vast, free, open Witness of them all. 
  • I am what remains. A center of pure awareness. I cannot doubt that the Witness exists in this moment because the Witness is there to observe the doubt. I cannot see my Seer, for it is doing the seeing. I am the simple Witness of my ordinary I. I am that I am. 

If you don’t have time to engage fully in the exercise, you can use just a portion. For example: “I am feeling afraid, but I am not my fear. My fear may come and go, but I am the constant, unmoved witness of fear.” 

Being mindful of this will help you to remember and bring into conscious awareness that thoughts are only mental events. Thoughts are not facts, and we are not our thoughts. 

We don’t know how this pandemic will play out, nor do we know the toll it will take. We can only control that which we can control. Using the exercise above can help to contain and maintain our perceptions—helping to calm our anxious minds. 

For more support

If you think you could benefit for additional help dealing with anxiety, Psychiatric Associates are here to help. Call 319-356-6352 to schedule an appointment, or use our Request an Appointment form.


Sandra Kessler, LISW

Sandra is a Licensed Independent Social Worker specializing in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), cognitive behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, solution focused therapy and mindfulness.