We are moving into what can be a busy and stressful time of year, and it's important to remember your relaxation techniques.
A super simple breath technique to stimulate the body's natural relaxation response is 4/7 breathing.
The beauty of this breath is that it can be done any time, waiting in traffic, waiting in a queue, at your desk at work, anywhere.
"But when you make one part of the breath cycle, either the inhale or the exhale, longer than the other, and you do this for several minutes, the accumulated effect is that you will either slow the heart rate down or speed it up from where you started." - Baxter Bell MD
We can often feel like victims of time: maybe we've noticed how quickly it passes from one week to the next, or a feeling that we never have enough time in a day to get everything done, or maybe we've noticed our youth fading and how helpless we are to turn back the clock.
However, time can be a friend if we learn to see it as one.
Many people say they're too busy to do the things that feed them--they just don't have the time to meditate, they're too busy to do yoga, or take that walk. But, these are the very things that calm us, and take us out of stress mode. When we are calmer, we are more focused, efficient, and more resilient, leaving us in a better position to use our time well.
Also, time is a healer. The only certainty we have in life is that things change, and if we allow time to do it's thing, we see how our feelings change, no feeling, either good or bad, lasts forever, and this can be a great comfort if we let it.
Lastly, we can recognise that time is always on the march, and in light of that, how will you live your life? Each day counts, so what will you do today that is worthwhile? As Eric Thomas says: "Change your 24 hours and you will change your life"
"Life, if well lived, is long enough." - Seneca
This week's exercise requires you to be a bit of a detective in your own life.
Take a fresh page in your journal or on your phone and make 2 columns, head one "Nourish", and the other "Deplete".
At the end of each day, take your page and note in each column what Nourished you during the day, and what Depleted you.
When considering your day, give as much weight to your internal life as your external life. For example, you might have listed Work in your "Deplete" column, but don't stop there. Were there thoughts about your work that also depleted you? Maybe you were thinking about work while you were having dinner with your family? Note these too.
At the end of the week, look back and see what you can adjust so there's more nourishment in your life.
If you feel stuck in terms of making changes in your circumstance (after all, we all have to work!), remember that you have control inside your head. Set an intention to be fully present at dinner with your family, so you can receive the nourishment that spending time with your loved ones has to offer, instead of allowing thoughts of work to deplete you further.
If there's not much in your "Nourish" column, make a plan to add to it. You are the best equipped to take care of yourself, and you can't take care of others if you're empty.
“Where is your water? Know your garden.”
How we view the world is coloured largely by two things: how we feel on the inside, and our evolutionary bias toward scanning for danger.
Maybe you have noticed that if you're feeling a little blue, your daily interactions and activities will tend to feel flat and dull. Or if you're feeling anxious, they may seem to be tinged with an unnameable fear.
You might also have noticed how we hold on to the one negative comment but quickly forget the five positive ones. This is a genetic pre-disposition from our hunter-gatherer days, when we were constantly on the lookout for things that could eat us, and, our need to be accepted as part of the group as there is safety in numbers.
These are two good reasons to not trust the first interpretation your mind offers you, and to actively seek out other ways of seeing a situation.
An example might be when you send a message, and you see the two blue ticks that tell you it's been read, but your friend doesn't reply. You might instantly think: "Oh no! What did I do to offend her??" - but don't accept that. Come up with at least 2 other ways of interpreting the situation. Maybe your friend got distracted; maybe she was just about to go into a meeting; maybe her phone ran out of battery just then.
If you find it hard to come up with other ways of seeing something, ask a friend to help you, or pretend a friend has asked you for help. Give it a try, and see how it feels!
"In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades “implicit memory” – your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood – in an increasingly negative direction....But you don’t have to accept this bias! By tilting toward the good – “good” in the practical sense of that which brings more happiness to oneself and more helpfulness to others – you merely level the playing field." - Dr. Rick Hanson
The clocks changed this weekend, so we have darker evenings, and we saw the first real signs of winter after a mild autumn. This can be a challenging time of year for some, with less sunlight, and bad weather can make getting outdoors less fun. Some of us can experience more isolation and lower mood at this time of year, and we need to take a little extra care of ourselves in winter months.
Here are a few things that can help:
"What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness." - John Steinbeck
When's the last time you had a good laugh?
Sometimes, adult life can become very serious, with too much work, too many bills, all those things to get done, all the people to look after—and all that before we watch the news!
It's important to remember that life can also be fun, and one of the purposes of life can simply be to enjoy it.
This week, take a look at your schedule and see where you can insert some fun. It doesn't have to be a big commitment, even setting time aside to watch a show that makes you laugh (I go for Benidorm on Netflix, don't judge me), or playing a silly game with your kids, or having lunch with a light-hearted friend can do the trick.
Much like the Two Wolves we talked about last week, remember to feed the Fun Wolf, the Responsible Wolf gets enough to eat!
An old Chief and his grandson sat in the shade of an ancient tree, staring at the river below.
The elder looked troubled.
Softly the boy asked: “What is the matter Grandpa?“
The old man frowned and said: “It is as if there are two wolves fighting in my heart.“
"Tell me about the wolves?” said the boy.
“Well, one is a nasty, vengeful, aggressive wolf and the other wolf is gentle, forgiving and peaceful.“
The boy thought about this and then asked: “Which one is going to win?“
“Ahhh, my boy….“ replied his grandfather and his face lit up “That’s easy …… the one I feed.“
I look at this little story and apply it to where I put my attention. If I allow my thoughts to wander into the past, and bad things that may have happened, or wrongs people have done to me, I am feeding the wolf of hurt and anger.
If I am reading all those negative stories online about Brexit, climate change, who is richer and prettier than me, I am feeding the wolf of fear, helplessness, and inadequacy.
However, if I am out for a walk with a friend, taking in the beauty of the countryside and chatting, I am feeding the wolf of connection and joy.
If I choose to do a meditation, some yoga, or a gratitude practice then I am feeding the wolf of self-care and self-love.
We are what we do, and each day is another opportunity to feed the right wolf.
Check in with yourself regularly this week, and see which wolf is growing fatter.
"Whatever we put our attention on will grow stronger in our life." - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
This practice lets you take back control of your ‘monkey mind’. Often our minds are darting around from one place to another and it can be difficult to focus. You might have noticed yourself that your thoughts tend to wander off to the same places, perhaps to something bad that happened last week, or something you’re worried about in the future. Spending too much time in the past or the future not only steals from what is happening right now, it can also feed depression or anxiety.
A practice such as this one strengthens your attention muscle, so you can make better choices about where to put your attention.
Aim to do this several times a day for the next week. (It may help to set a reminder on your phone.) Each time you practice, know that you are doing a little more to break the habits of your automatic thinking, and take control of your life.
“Most people don’t realize that the mind constantly chatters. And yet, that chatter winds up being the force that drives us much of the day in terms of what we do, what we react to, and how we feel.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn
If you pay a little attention as you go through your week, you might notice yourself living in "What if" land. You'll know you're there because you will be having thoughts like:
I don't know a single person who doesn't have thoughts likes these, so don't feel bad if you have them! The funny thing is though, if you do have these thoughts, then you likely are making yourself feel bad. By wishing things to be different, you are doing two things:
If you can change this "What if" thinking into "What is" thinking, you bring acceptance to yourself and the situation. You are starting where you are, and not from a place of lacking (I/This is not good enough).
Examples of "What is" thinking are:
Set a reminder to check in with yourself as you go through each day, and if you find yourself "What iff-ing", change it to "What is", see how different you feel.
“You'll never get anywhere if you go about what-iffing like that.”
What happens in the privacy of our minds often remains unquestioned, we tend to believe every thought we have. Why is this a problem? Because our thoughts are so easily influenced by our moods.
Imagine this scenario: You didn't get a great sleep last night, then, in work, you're told you didn't get the pay rise you had requested. You walk down the street at lunchtime and see a friend on the other side of the street, you wave but she doesn't respond. Given your already crappy day what are you likely to think? "I must have upset her"; "She must not like me any more"; "She's so rude!"
Now imagine this scenario: You slept like a baby last night and bounce in to work feeling energetic. You meet with HR and they tell you you got the pay rise you requested and they thank you for the great job you're doing. On your way to lunch you see a friend across the street and you wave, she doesn't respond. In your good mood you might think: "Ah she mustn't have seen me"; or "Gosh that's not like her to pass me, I must check in with her to see if she's ok".
When we are in a negative mood, our thoughts can follow suit. Negative thoughts lead to a more negative mood, and the cycle continues. The opposite is true for the positive mood and thoughts.
Remember this as you go though your day, and see if you can hold your thoughts lightly, question them to see if they are really true, or if they are a reflection of your mood. Questioning your thoughts gives you back control over your day, and stop the cycle of negaitivity.
"In mindfulness, we give our thoughts less importance. We know that while our thoughts can be useful, they can also be deceptive and unhelpful. One of the benefits of practising mindfulness is that your thoughts begin to take their proper place in your life. They become the servant and not the master."
The Weekly Minute is a blog I write each week with the aim of providing legitimate tools to help promote positive mental health.
The collection of short, practical mindfulness and therapy tools for self-reflection and self-improvement, can equip people to take their mental well-being into their own hands, and improve their quality of life.
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