Curiosity Is The Newest Addition To My Mental Health Toolkit. Here's How

February 9, 2022

Has anyone ever encouraged you to embrace life with the “curiosity of a child”? If so, there seems to be good reason. Research indicates curiosity is associated with greater life satisfaction and psychological well-being. Many readers here understand how mindfulness and meditation are beneficial for mental health. But lately I am also employing curiosity to maintain mental wellness.

How can curiosity improve mental health?

Consider this scenario: someone is experiencing some panic. Their breath is shortened, their mind is foggy, their muscles are tense and they are feeling unwell. During times like that, folks tend to think about how miserable they feel. Maybe they become angry because they are lying awake when they should be asleep. They may even begin to worry for their lives. Unfortunately, it is a difficult cycle to break as these reactions will simply exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety.

Instead of spiraling, why not invite some curiosity? Examine the physiological sensations being experienced. How does your anxiety feel when it manifests in your body? How does your head feel, your shoulders and your hands? Isn’t it somewhat fascinating how a biological tendency to fight or flee plagues so many of us with unpleasant symptoms like this?

Curiosity helps because it redirects attention.

By leaning in to curiosity, the person experiencing anxiety is then preoccupied with being curious. Which, in my opinion, is an infinite improvement. In fact, our brains release dopamine and other happy chemicals when we encounter novel stimuli. (Ahem, curiosity did not kill the cat).

Further, examining one’s state of being requires a bit of detachment. When we deliberately focus our attention on examining a feeling being experienced, suddenly we are on the outside of it, looking in.  A bit of detachment can be beneficial while working through an episode of panic. It may even allow some insight to be revealed.

When you look at your current state and how your feelings are manifesting, it creates space for inquiry. Ask “Why?” Instead of feeling paralyzed by fear and anxiety, curiosity invites new perspective.

And sometimes there isn’t an answer. Sometimes anxiety is generalized. But often times, anxiety is “set off” by a specific trigger or stressful time. So, explore. Ask, “What led to these feelings?” Maybe a stressful project at work, an argument with a loved one, caregiver fatigue, adulting in general. Curiosity can help point to the culprit.

And perhaps that understanding is enough on its own to help you feel better. After all, many creatures of habit enjoy understanding “why.” Perhaps through identifying the source of your distress, you will decide on a plan of action. And then there is no longer a need to worry. Have a sigh of relief! Nothing to be done except rest.

In my experience, inviting curiosity to my panic provides me the space to breathe. And that intoxicating, euphoric breath is what we all have to come back to when times are hard. If you are interested in incorporating curiosity into your mental wellness practice, check out this brief YouTube meditation video. I found it a great place to start.

Also see: 3 Lifestyle Hacks To Tame Anxiety-Induced Insomnia

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Photo: Omid Armin via Unsplash

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