How to manage stress and anxiety, in yourself and others by adopting a Mindful approach.
‘Mindfulness’ is the buzz word. But what is it? How is it different to meditation? First of all let’s address what mindfulness is.
In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
And a good way to get a handle on what mindfulness is, is to explain what it is not.
The opposite to mindfulness is:
- Scattered thinking;
- Not being present-minded – thinking about the past or worrying about the future;
- Being judgemental;
- Being selfish or arrogant;
- Trying to control events and people around you; and
- Noticing other people’s faults but not your own.
This process we call mindfulness begins with ‘awareness’. Simply the idea of noticing what’s happening, as thoughts and emotions arise on a daily basis. Sometimes things come up that causes anxiety. It could have been a memory, something someone says to you, something you saw on TV – and we can suddenly find ourselves confronted with a challenging thought or emotion which seems to have come out of nowhere.
Here we can see how mindfulness is different to meditation. We want to meditate when we decide we want to ‘switch off’, chill or focus on our inner or ‘higher’ self. Mindfulness can be used as a meditation but its power is when you can use it to defuse a moment like we have just described.
Here is the mindful process to follow when this happens.
Think of a situation from your past that has upset you or made you feel unhappy, sad or fearful. Allow yourself to spend some time thinking about this situation and notice how it feels in your body. It is this noticing what is going on in your body – how it feels – that is the key to mindfulness. Name the feeling if you can, or just acknowledge ‘this is how I feel now’. Then allow yourself to ‘be’ in this moment without any thoughts or judgements. Slowly the feeling in your body will begin to diminish or feel more bearable. Lastly bring your awareness away from the body and back into the moment.
The above exercise is like an ‘awakened meditation’. This helps you be in the moment which is what underpins meditation and mindfulness: being in the present moment, while still being aware of any judgements and thoughts.
Living in the present is one of the most important aspects of mindfulness.
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the Present.” Alice Morse Earle.
Awareness is a skill that has to be learned as we are so used to our ingrained thoughts and patterns. But it can be done! Once you have mastered the skill of bringing Awareness, Observation and Non-judgement to any challenging situation, everything falls into place.
So firstly we Notice how we feel. Then we Name the emotion. Then we Accept the emotion with no judgements. Investigating the emotion comes next: how intense is it? Look at your breathing and how is your body reacting physically? Finally Allow and Release the emotion with deep breaths.
“Happiness is a state of mind, not a set of circumstances.”
Why do we have to suffer? Part of happiness is an understanding of suffering. We are programmed to expect no suffering. We reject and avoid suffering and are bombarded by the media (broad and narrowcast) with unrealistic views of ‘life’. These subtle but powerful messages programme our belief system to expect and aspire to this false sense of what our life is supposed to be. Thereby most of us do not believe our lives should have suffering in it. This is what is means to be human. But suffering does exist, so the expectation of ‘no suffering’ is actually totally unrealistic.
So a realistic and philosophical approach to life in general should be embraced. Suffering does exist and is part of life through which we learn and grow. Everything is in a constant state of change and if suffering begins, you can be assured it will end.
Worrying is actually ‘negative imagining’. How powerful is the imagination?! Positive thinking has a direct effect on the body and emotions. So too does negative imagining or negative thoughts. The reason thought and imagination have such a profound effect on how we feel, is because thoughts (as do words) carry an energy of their own. So just as kind and flattering comments from another person can affect our mood positively, our own unkind and critical thoughts about ourselves, have an emotional impact.
“Your thoughts are tools that can support or wound you … use your thoughts, imaginings and words wisely.”
The imagination is a powerful tool that you can use to manifest a positive mindset and life. You can create positive thoughts and expectations, which in time make you feel happier and less anxious and lead you to a more positive future.
Here is a Mindfulness Meditation for you to try for yourself. ‘Mindful Meditation’ is the practice of being still, focusing on your breathing, while being in the moment, with an accepting mindset.
To prepare, make sure you will not be interrupted by phones, TV or appliances. Set yourself a gentle alarm to let you know when you want to finish your meditation. Be comfortably dressed sitting in an upright and aware position, in a dimly lit room. Be aware you will be making mental notes of how it felt before, during and after the meditation.
Settle in your position and close your eyes
Take 3 deep breaths, imagine breathing in relaxation and exhaling stress and tension
Be aware of any tension in your body then actively release that tension and feel your body relax and become heavier, paying attention to your jaw, shoulders, back and hips.
Breathe 3 more deep breaths, then breathe normally for about 5 minutes, paying attention to the rise and fall of your chest
Make a mental note of how you feel in your body now
Begin to focus on the NOW. If your mind wanders come back to the focus on your breath
Notice your mind wanting to take you out of the now. Don’t stop the thoughts. Just resist the urge to pursue or indulge the thoughts
Slowly you’ll notice spaces between the thoughts. Accept the spaces and thoughts
Becoming in the moment - aware in a non-judgemental way - with no thoughts
Now you are meditating. You can stay in this peaceful mode for as long as you like and just ‘be’
Slightly adjust your position to release discomfort if your body becomes uncomfortable
When your alarm sounds, slowly allow the thoughts to return to normal. You’ll notice how different it feels from when you had absence of thought
Before opening your eyes, focus again on your breathing and how different your body feels. Open your eyes.
“We are addicted to our thoughts. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.” Santosh Kalwar
Note: It is important to seek support from professional sources when suffering from any psychological distress. However a mindful practice can support any medical treatment being used.