We've all heard the saying "Don't meet trouble half-way", but how do we put it into action?
This week, set a timer on your phone to go off at random times during the day.
When you hear the timer, check in with your thoughts. Are you thinking of what might go wrong? Or worrying about how you're going to deal with a problem?
If the answer is yes, ask yourself "Is there anything I can do about this right now?" If not, then let the thought go, it's just stressing you in the present.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” – Leo F. Buscaglia
This week the Weekly Minute is again inspired by a client. (Whenever I use an idea inspired by a conversation with a client, I always ask their permission before publishing it)
In session we were chatting about overthinking and worry, and how best to let go of troublesome thoughts.
As we all know, thinking about things to a certain extent can be helpful-- we need to plan what to have for dinner, how to get from A to B, what we need to pack for a trip. However, some of us tend to over think, we make a plan and then proceed to consider all sorts of scenarios where things could go wrong. The reason we need to let this type of overthinking go is that the body doesn't know the difference between a thought and reality.
So for example, say I have an appointment in a new place I've never been to before. The logical thing to do is get on google maps and check the route and how long it will take to get there, and plan my departure time from that, done. But then my mind may start wondering what will happen if there are roadworks? Or an accident? Or if I am in an accident?? Or if the car won't start!! All these thoughts cause the body to tighten up and experience a stress response as if they are actually happening. This is why it's so important to not engage with these thoughts when they come. I can plan to leave 15 mins early in case of an unexpected event, and then leave it there. The next time a worry thought comes in, I can let it go, knowing I have planned as much as I can.
My client came up with a fantastic visual to help her work with this: She pictured herself enclosed in a safe protective bubble, and when a worry thought comes in, she gently places it outside the bubble, where it can't cause stress. She may need to do this over and over, but each time she does, she is breaking the habit of worry and overthinking.
Give it a try this week, or see if you can come up with your own. :)
Lots of us are having a bit of trouble sleeping well right now. Here's a tried and trusted technique to help you drift off more easily...
When you get into bed lie down and take a few deep breaths, and tell yourself the day is over, and it's ok to be calm now.
Next, move through the muscle groups of the body, and simply tense them, then relax them, focusing on the sensations of tension and relaxation as you go.
Start with the feet, tense the muscles of the feet and toes, hold a few seconds, then relax, paying full attention to the sensations of tension and relaxation. If you find your mind wandering off, simply bring it back to the area of the body you're working with.
Then work upwards slowly through the calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, back, shoulders, arms, hands, finishing by scrunching up the muscles of the face, and releasing (remembering the small muscles around the eyes and the forehead).
You should find yourself relaxed and ready to snooze if you make it to the end without falling asleep!
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” ― Homer, The Odyssey
So many of us are feeling extra pressure and strain as a result of the pandemic. It has affected all our lives, and yet, many of us are giving ourselves a hard time for not being able to proceed as normal, keeping up with all we have to do, staying happy and calm.
The reality is that life is different now, many of our comforting structures have gone with working from home, our social lives have diminished, and uncertainty is a part of daily life.
With this change in how we live our lives, it's wise to adapt accordingly.
I am encouraging clients (and myself) to take some of the pressure of, and lighten the expectations we place on ourselves.
When you're making your to-do list this week, be aware of your energy levels. If you are feeling tired or stressed, can you take a few to-do items off your list? Is there anything that isn't absolutely necessary?
Give yourself permission to take it easy if you need to, what's the worst that can happen?
“The first step towards true enlightenment is to lighten up on yourself.” ― Bashar
Sometimes our minds are like a broken record, we mull over the same thoughts, memories, or problems without reaching any clarity or resolution. We can even feel more confused after wandering through the maze of our own minds endlessly.
When this happens, it can help to ask for help, and we can do this internally.
If you find yourself this week struggling with an anxious thought, a dilemma, a dark mood, pause and take a breath.
Connect to the present moment by tuning in to your senses.
Think of a person you trust or admire, they can be someone in your life like a parent or teacher (living or dead), it may be a public figure, or a spiritual leader.
Then ask yourself: "What would (insert name of your chosen wise person) do right now?/say to me right now?"
Listen for the answer - it may come right away, it may come later, be patient.
“Thoreau writes, “Is there a greater miracle than to see through another’s eyes, even for an instant?” ― Tara Brach
Take one minute three times each day to put your worries, thoughts, troubles on a shelf, and just be in this moment.
Breathe deeply and allow the muscles in the shoulders, face, and stomach to relax. Don't worry, anything important will be there when you come back, but for now, rest in the moment.
The more we can allow ourselves to follow this prescription, the more peace we create in our lives.
“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” — Abraham Maslow
"Go as far as you can see,
Then see how far you can go."
- My Dad's Friend
I have this quote on the wall in my office to remind myself and my clients that while goals are very useful things, sometimes they can become overwhelming, or a stick to beat ourselves with. A goal can loom over us and discourage us by it's very size, or it may seem so far off that we are disheartened by the length of the journey ahead.
It's important to remember that we reach any destination step by step, day by day, breath by breath.
If you're looking to make a change in your life, or if there's a goal you want to reach, have a picture of where you want to eventually end up for sure, but then break it down into bitesize pieces that you can celebrate as you go.
For example, if you want to drop a stone, you might want to break that down into 2 pounds a week and acknowledge that win each week. The encouragement and sense of achievement you feel will keep you motivated to proceed.
If you're working on letting go of depression or anxiety, then acknowledge the 5 or 10 minutes of calm or light-heartedness you felt today, they really do count. Keep working, with compassion and care, and those 5 or 10 minutes will be come 15 or 20, 25, or 30, and some day, a reversal will happen, and there'll be more joy and calm than dark and worry.
Have faith and be steady on your course, as long as you are moving in the right direction, you will get there.
"I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." - Helen Keller
It's in our nature to attempt to foresee difficulties in life so we can prepare ourselves for them. This skill has helped us stay alive back in the days when we lived in a hunter-gatherer society, when danger was always around the corner. It has helped us develop safer and more comfortable ways to live in, and get around our world. This skill helps us live our own lives with more ease and fewer nasty surprises.
However, some of us overdo this. We look into the future and see only darkness and hardship, we may tell ourselves that we are only trying to be prepared, or not leave ourselves open to disappointment, but what we are really doing is allowing the future that may not happen ruin the present. This can leave us stressed, tired, and depressed.
This week, see if you can catch yourself worrying about the future, or thinking of the bad that may happen.
Remember that you are not a fortune teller, and you cannot know the future.
See if you can notice three good things in your life right now, in this moment. (No matter how big or small)
Remember that each time we actively look for the good in life, we are training our brain to be more naturally aware of the positive. You never know, you might find that life is better than you think.
"I am an old man and have known many troubles, but most never happened." - Mark Twain
Back in the days of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it was necessary to constantly scan for danger, as we were never far from the threat of being dinner for some larger and faster beast than ourselves. This tendency to be on the lookout for what bad thing may happen to us is still alive and well in the most primitive part of our brain today. So if you ever wondered why you remember the one bad thing your boss said about you, and you see to have forgotten the ten good things he or she said, our 'negativity bias' that kept us alive for thousands of years is the answer.
So how do we learn to allow the positive in as well?
We can train our brains to be more aware of the good things by bringing our conscious awareness to those good things.
Each night this week, write down at least 3 things that were good about your day. These things can be big or small, anything from a sweet birdsong you heard on the way to work, to a great performance review, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you consciously look for the good, not allowing the negativity bias to run the show and paint your days grey, when there's so much colour out there if you look for it. :)
"What we focus on, we empower and enlarge. Good multiplies when focused upon. Negativity multiplies when focused upon. The choice is ours: Which do we want more of?" - Julia Cameron
The beauty of coming home to the breath is that you never have far to go. The breath is always with you, and once you learn to work with it, it can be a source of refuge from the ups and downs of life.
A long deep breath signals the nervous system to calm down, that everything is ok. We all know that if we're anxious or upset, having someone tell us to calm down is likely to be of no benefit. Emotions can feel overwhelming, and the chatter of the mind deafening, leaving us feeling powerless and at their mercy. But a few minutes of long deep breathing targets the body directly, bypassing the chatter in your mind, and shifting focus away from emotional overwhelm.
The trick is to stay with the breath, and when the mind pulls you away again and again, come back again and again. Watch out for thoughts such as 'this isn't working', or 'this is too intense', and return to the breath, it will guide you to safety if you can remain patient and persistent.
As with any practice, making it a routine part of your life is key. See if you can commit to taking a few minutes out to belly breathe each day this week, and connect with the sense of safety and peace within.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
The Weekly Minute is a blog I write each week with the aim of providing proven 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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