When you notice yourself getting caught up in your thoughts or emotions, pause for a minute, and take a couple of belly breaths, then:
You just moved out of story and emotion, and made contact with what is actually here right now. This practice is grounding and calming, and a nice reminder that right here, right now, everything is ok.
"Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence."
A simple way to calm down from a stressful event, or during an anxiety attack, is to use something you always have with you–your breath.
When we are stressed the Sympathetic Nervous System is activated, this is the body's ancient method of helping keep us safe; if we met a predator in the old hunter-gatherer days, we had 3 options: to fight them, flee from them, or freeze (play dead). We are no longer hunted by wild boar, but the body responds in the same way to any perceived threat, real or imaginary. The same systems are activated whether we are in a fender bender, or a friend blanks us on the street.
You can probably tell your Sympathetic Nervous System is activated if your heart rate has sped up, your breath has quickened, and possibly your limbs are tingling or shaking (they're ready to sprint to safety!).
In the old days, once the threat disappeared, the Parasympathetic Nervous System would kick in and restore balance. This system reduces the heart rate and blood pressure, returning the body to a relaxed state. Now however, our faster pace of life can have us in a low level of stress, making it more difficult for the Parasympathetic Nervous System to do it's thing. We can add to this by keeping the threat alive in our minds, replaying the scenario over and over in our heads. The body doesn't know the difference between a thought and reality, so it responds in the same way, activating the Sympathetic Nervous System active against the perceived threat.
A simple way to calm down is by making the exhale longer than the inhale. Doing this, you consciously activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, telling the body it's safe to relax, the threat is gone, all is well.
If you count the breath as you go, your mind is kept busy and doesn't have time to go over the event, keeping it alive in your thoughts.
The next time you find yourself feeling stressed, or after an upsetting event, thy this:
"If prolonged, however, the stress signals whizzing through the body wreak havoc. Besides maintaining a mental feeling of constant stress, the extra epinephrine and cortisol damage blood vessels, increase blood pressure and promote a buildup of fat. So, while the fight-or-flight response serves a purpose, you don't want it switched on all the time." - Live Science
If you stop and look it it, you might realise that many of our problems come not from events themselves, but our thoughts about those events. For example, if I apply for a job and don't get it, it's pretty crap in itself, but, my thoughts will then jump in and make it much worse. I might think: "I'm such a failure for not getting that job, nothing ever works out for me, life is shit!", instead of the more rational: "There were 200 people going for this job, so the chances weren't that good that I would get it, I know I don't have X skill that they were looking for."
Inside our own heads we tend to give ourselves the worst deal, and no-one can hear us do it, so we get away with it all day long. If a friend was listening in on our internal conversation, they would intervene with a less negatively biased, and more rational, and kinder version of what we tell ourselves, and we'd probably feel a lot better as a result!
If we want a more peaceful and happy life, we need to get better at challenging our own thoughts, and choosing more wisely what to believe. Here are a couple of questions you can use to help you do that:
"Thoughts simply aren’t facts, they are mental events that pop up in the mind and are dependent on our mood." - Elisha Goldstein
Hello again, it's been a while! Apologies for the radio silence over the past few months, I've been very busy learning about some of the things I try to encourage in my clients, Patience and Acceptance!
I had surgery a few months ago, and when I went off work I was sure I would be back in a few weeks. I was incredibly frustrated when the few weeks were up and I was still needing a nap after doing the smallest thing!
I continued this pattern of placing unrealistic expectations on my recovery, and then getting down on myself when I didn't meet them, and I'll be honest, I still do it.
However, now that I am aware what I'm up to I'm getting better at catching myself in the act, and stopping it before it spirals into anger and frustration with myself and my imagined failings.
When I notice what I am doing (it usually comes in the form of thinking there is something wrong with me for not being fully healed yet, or disliking my body for the extra few pounds I can't shake because I can't exercise properly), I stop, and remind myself that healing needs time, so I need patience. This is relatively easy for me, it's logical and I get it. The more difficult part is the acceptance.
How can I accept what is difficult in my life? I know I need to do this because studies have shown that resisting difficult feelings actually strengthens them. I can see this in myself too, when I resist how things are, then I am actually telling myself that there is something wrong with me, that I am not good enough. So here is what acceptance looks like for me:
Wherever you are at today, whatever you are struggling against, see if you can bring some acceptance to your situation, and most importantly, yourself. Don't fight what can't change, save your energy for things that can. :)
"For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining, is to let it rain." – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Self-trust is good thing. It can help us act more confidently and wisely in daily life, it can reduce anxiety and indecision, and it allows us to make better choices for ourselves based on our own needs, and not what others want of us. But, it depends on which part of yourself you trust.
We are all made up of many parts, and they tend to reflect what's going on inside and outside of us. If I'm in a hurry I can be impatient/dismissive Claire, if I'm feeling insecure I can be miserable/defensive Claire (she's not much fun). If I am in a good mood I am kind and generous Claire.
Trying to remain consistent in life, and the choices I make is pretty challenging with all these different selves at the steering wheel on different days!
Making a simple decision like going for a walk every day becomes a roulette depending which part of me is in charge of getting off the sofa and putting my coat on. Impatient Claire sees it as just another thing to squeeze into my day and does something 'more important', Miserable Claire thinks it is all pointless so doesn't bother, Kind/Generous Claire dances around the walk no bother (if only she was around every day...).
There is another part of me that I can trust consistently though. Sometimes, it speaks so quietly I have to strain to hear it, sometimes, I can be too caught up in being annoyed or sad or busy to listen for it, but as time passes, and painful lessons are learned, I have come to realise the importance of it.
It's the part of me that sits back and observes all my other selves squabble over what's best for me, and, when I choose to listen, offers me the most loving response.
Daily meditation is how to hear it. When I meditate every day, the volume of the other parts of me dims, and I get to hear my own steady inner wisdom.
This part of me is loving and kind, patient and forgiving. It wants the best for me, and waits calmly for me no matter how many times I ignore it, mess up, or repeat old mistakes. It knows me well, and will show me the way, whenever I choose to ask.
See if you can sit in awareness every day. Try not to strain or reach for your inner wisdom, just see if you can quieten enough to make room for it. Notice what comes. You might find some real self-trust.
“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”
When we decide to make change in our lives it can be tempting to think that it will happen overnight, and we will all of a sudden be new and better versions of ourselves. Life isn't a TV movie though, and the reality can be quite different.
Change comes through choosing to do something differently every day, over and over, until the choice becomes less of an active process, and more of a natural habit.
This isn't very glamorous, I'll admit. I remember one of my tutors sharing this idea when I was training, and I was so disappointed, I wanted it to be more instant, more profound, more dramatic! But much of life isn't dramatic, it's lots of normal little moments put together one after the other.
If we take a minute to look at this, we can see the huge potential for little changes offered to us in a day, if we can change our attitude to celebrate the little wins.
Whatever you are trying to change, celebrate each small decision that contributes to that change. Every time you choose an apple over a cookie, a walk over the sofa, a minute of mindfulness over the pull of worry or rumination, clap yourself on the back for taking another step forward. This is change in action.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” - Mary Anne Radmacher
One of the major contributors to anxiety is the habit of worrying about, or trying to predict the future. We might think we are being sensible, we might think if we can plan ahead enough we can prevent things from going wrong, and keep ourselves and our loved ones save from harm.
Of course, a little bit of forward thinking has it's uses--e.g., if you're going on holiday get travel insurance, regularly check your car tyres, oil, and water (or get your Dad to do it like I do...:)), eat healthy foods and take some exercise. Taking actions like these make sense, they help put your best foot forward.
However, many of us can stay stuck in a place of fortune telling, and this actually has the opposite of the desired effect. It's tiring, stressful to mind and body, and it can have us in such a state of fear that we become afraid to life life to the full. Th irony is that being stressed out, exhausted, and fearful will make the world seems like a more dangerous and dark place, so it's actually making your fears come true!
This week, take a mindful pause several times a day (I set a reminder on my watch so I don't forget), and check in with your thoughts.
If you find yourself fortune telling, STOP.
Ask yourself if there is anything practical or helpful you can do to help whatever you are thinking or worrying about.
If there is, do it, or make a note to do it later.
If there isn't, let it go. It's robbing you of the present moment, and this moment IS your life.
"How much pain have cost us the evils that have never happened." - Thomas Jefferson
It's the last Monday in January, and I am hearing lots of people talking about how tired they are feeling this time of year, and how difficult it is to find the motivation to get things done. It would be nice to be like bears and find a nice cave to hibernate quietly in until the flowers bloom, but, life goes on for us humans.
What can help us get through our daily tasks with greater ease is to begin them with a smile. When we smile, the facial muscles used in turning the corners of the mouth upward send signals to the brain, telling it that something positive is happening. We essentially trick ourselves into being more positive, and when we approach tasks with a positive attitude, they are more likely to go well. And seeing as we are not bears, we may as well put our best foot forward as we walk on toward spring! :)
"Start every day off with a smile and get it over with." - W. C. Fields :)
With 7.53 billion people on the planet, the odd disagreement is bound to happen from time to time. Add to that the daily pressures of work, family, bills, and it's easy to see how we can get into arguments with each other!
Being at war with someone (or something) can exert a severe toll on you mentally and physically, we can spend lots of time mulling over what was said, full of outrage at the wrongs that have been done to us, or insulted by the injustice of it all!
The truth of this is that the person who you are at war with is not suffering from all this thinking, you are. Thinking stressful and angry thoughts take their toll on the body, and on your peace of mind, and by keeping it up you are serving the person you are fighting with, not yourself!
So, a helpful question to ask yourself when conflict arises is: Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?
If we can take the long view, and remember that in a week this conflict will likely be forgotten, then is it really worth the mental anguish now? Isn't life too short to be stressed and unhappy?
Maybe we can put our own well-being ahead of the need to be right. It might be a challenge, but it's worth it!
"Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die." - Unknown
Instructions for "Right Now?":
Revisiting the past and trying to anticipate the future are helpful only to a small degree, for example, it can be a good idea to see where we can improve on past behaviors, or plan ahead to use up the leftover veg from last night's dinner. However, many of us (me included) stray into realms of unhelpful time travel such as mulling over the wrongs people did to us, mistakes we should have known better than to make, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, fretting over next week's work presentation, or that family wedding we are dreading next July.
Dwelling in the past or future only invites them into your present, making 1 day next July last the 7 months from now until then. Do yourself a favour and spend no longer on it than the time it takes to pick a killer outfit, or take that lesson from the past mistake (i.e. attend to it in a practical way), and then leave the day in the past or the future, where it belongs. Your life is right here, right now, and corny as it sounds, each new moment is a new opportunity.
-Apologies for the long break between posts, took me a while to get out of holiday mode!
"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly." - The Buddha
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