For centuries, people have applied mindfulness to everyday life as a way to enhance clarity and focus. Today, we can apply this tool to better relate and respond to our busy minds, that are sometimes too full to interact or even function.
Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of our current, present experience and not that of past (regrets, sadness, loss) nor future (worries, fears, anxieties).
When we find ways to better respond and relate to our overwhelmed minds, do we really ‘fix’ the problems holding us back?
Not exactly ~ like many other worthwhile aspects of life, this is a practice, and that involves repetition. It includes the recognition that life involves suffering. This is not about pushing away these anxieties, worries, losses, regrets and sadness, but finding a way to make room for them all.
How can we do this? Invite ourselves into this moment.
The past has passed.
The future is not yet here.
All we have is the present, which can bring us some peace ~ perhaps in forgiveness (past) or calm (redirecting from future worries). This is mindfulness.
By identifying these very elements (anxiety, regret, anger, panic) as they approach, and without their attached story, we are already giving ourselves room to return to the present. We do it with softness, kindness and without judgment.
This is mindfulness.
We can mindfully wash the dishes, brush our teeth or take a walk. Keeping our awareness on what we can see, touch, hear and experience. This is mindfulness.
Life is never still ~ the mind is never still. Awareness is always still.
Settling into the present may liberate us from the busy mind (perhaps taking us into the past or future).
“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Most of us are forgetful ~ we are not really here a lot of the time. Our minds are caught up in worries, fears, anger, regrets and not mindful of being here. We are caught up in the past or in the future, which sadly results in us not living our lives fully in the present moment.
It is human nature for our minds to wander ~ it’s just what it does with thoughts and the stories that accompany them. When we recognize that our mind has wandered, we can access mindfulness to bring ourselves back ~ without judgement or criticism and stories; just accepting we are back and have the opportunity to start again.
We bring ourselves back by opening our eyes to what is in front of us, our ears to what we can hear and allowing our minds to experience this.
Think for a moment about all of the birds outside our window that we may have silenced by the active mind, or the sunsets and sunrises missed when worries flooded our minds.
If we mindfully return to the present, even for a moment, we have stopped talking (not only the outside conversation, but the inside talking, our mental discourse).
Then, we can fully awaken to what is in front of us while, even briefly, the rest seems to settle. We become aware of something, such as a flower, and we can be liberated from the anger, despair, worries and fears that previously took us away.
In Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout, they talk about how understanding the difference between a stressor and a stress response is crucial in helping us respond to both in healthy ways. A stressor is anything in our lives which causes strain or tension. A stress response refers to the physical changes in our bodies which occur in response to the stressor.
A deadline at work, an argument with our partner, a child who is struggling at school, or a to-do list that is longer than we have time for are all common examples of stressors. Your response and your neighbor’s response to any of these stressors may look very different. Sometimes resolving the stressor is fairly simple. We can work overtime to meet the deadline. We can resolve arguments with our partner. We can seek additional support for a child who is struggling in school. We can complete the to do list eventually. Some of these stressors will take longer than others to resolve, but whether by completion or the passage of time, the stressor will fade. What is left behind is the accumulation of the stress response.
Often we feel that the resolution of the stressor is sufficient, but Nagoski and Nagoski assert that it is not. We must also address the physical response to the stressor, and if we do not, the stress response will accumulate in our bodies to the point where it impacts our physical health. They suggest 12 methods for addressing stress response build up:
Creative self expression
Using your imagination
Superficial social connection
Intimate social connection
Connection with nature, landscape, or animals
Mindful self compassion.
The next time you feel stressed, take a minute to increase your awareness of your stress response. What changes do you notice in your body? What happens to those changes when you participate with intention, in one of the above methods?
If you find yourself overwhelmed with stress in your life and aren’t sure how to manage your stress response, give these suggestions a try, or for one-on-one support call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.
In a society where we are all required to do more, sleep less, perform better, get richer, and find room for others, it’s hard to find the “me” in much of anything. So much of daily living is performing where our minds are constantly racing to the next thing. Sleep is interrupted by alarm clocks and delayed by late nights. No matter what the reason, whether it’s family, work, or school, it seems there is never enough time in the day.
Reports of declining mental health is increasing in depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and addiction. The big question is: How to cope? Is it really possible to find time for you? To build a way to relax, think, and rejuvenate without any artificial replacements?
I say, absolutely! The way to finding “me” is through ME-ditation.
Meditation means different things to different people. Renowned psychologist Marsha Linehan defines mediation as the ability to open the mind and acknowledge thoughts and senses, without showing judgment or analyzing, while embracing the unknown, through daily practice.
The benefits of meditation far outweigh any screen time on a smart phone. These include reduced depression, lowered anxiety, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, improved relaxation and sleep, and the ability to find spiritual connection. Meditation is also used in addiction recovery. Perhaps the biggest evidence of the benefits of meditation is that it improves emotional intelligence!
John Cabot Zin outlines the ABC’s:
A-Awareness: Becoming more aware of the mind and body. Thinking and doing.
B- Breathe: Allowing yourself to be with your experience. Create your story without reacting or responding. This can create compassion for yourself and others.
C- Compassion: By creating a pause between the experience and our reaction, we can make wiser choices.
Research is beginning to show that mindfulness and meditation increase our emotional intelligence and the way we monitor the emotions in others and ourselves.
Here Are Some Tips For Your Meditation Practice:
*Acknowledge you need “me” time.
*Find a quiet space
*Sit or Lay down
*Put your hand by your side
*Clear your mind
*Close your eyes, or try a sleepy gaze
*Breathe in through your nose for 5 counts
*Pause or hold for 5 counts
*Exhale through your mouth for 5 counts.
If thoughts come into your mind during your exercise, sweep them from your mind. Be aware of your body and sensations. Focus on your breath. Feel the air in your nose or mouth as you inhale and exhale. Acknowledge what you hear or smell. Feel your body relaxing. And breathe. Start with 5-10 minutes daily. The key to prolonged benefits, is to practice, practice, practice. If you fall asleep during your exercise, that’s good! You need it!
If you enjoy this simple meditation, seek out our trained therapists to deepen meditation skills and other powerful approaches to mindfulness.
If you answered “yes” to that question, you’re not alone. Thoughts may come and go like clouds in the sky, and emotions may change like the weather, but when a thought storm comes rolling in, it can feel overwhelming, stifling, and paralyzing. In those moments, it is helpful to remember the following:
Anxiety is the body’s natural response to fear. It puts your body into “fight or flight” mode and it is completely legitimate to feel a fear response to a real or perceived threat.
Tuning into your body’s fear response is the only thing you can control and it’s the first thing you’ll want to attempt. Your brain can’t function and help you dial back your fear response if your body is readying itself for a fight or a sprint.
When you experience anxiety, check to see if you are in current danger or if you are worried about potential danger. Then adjust your response. If you are in current danger, get to a place of safety. If you are worried about potential danger, begin a calming process to help yourself understand what it is you’re worried about and why.
Pay attention to your breathing. When we are in fight or flight mode, our breathing changes to rapid, shallow breaths to help us move quickly in defense of our safety. Once we reach a place of safety, our breathing changes to slower, deeper breaths to help our system calm itself and return to a baseline of normal functioning. How do you breathe when you are anxious? If you can recognize your breathing and mindfully work to slow it, you will begin to calm yourself in the process.
So what do we do with our thoughts? We treat them like clouds passing in the sky, like pieces of the weather patterns in our lives. We treat them like cars on the freeway. We watch them come and we watch them go. We recognize that some thoughts will make our breathing rate increase and others will help it decrease. We realize that our thoughts are powerful but they are not the only reality we can choose to believe. We see our thoughts for what they are, ongoing experiences and commentary about our lives. Like radio static in the background or elevator music when you’re placed on hold during a phone call. Thoughts are present but they do not have to always be overwhelming or overpowering when we are able to remember that they change as frequently as the clouds in the sky. As we learn to watch the shape that our thoughts form, we can give our thoughts permission to change without taking us along for the ride. In doing this, we give ourselves permission to observe the process without becoming overwhelmed by or hooked into it. It takes practice and it takes awareness to get into the habit of observing your thoughts as thoughts on the stage of your reality. It is one of the most helpful ways to assist you in managing your relationship with anxiety.