Updated: May 19, 2019
I often hear friends, family and clients say "I just can't switch off my thoughts" or "I'm too busy to do nothing". If this sounds familiar, this blog is just for you.
The endless chatter of our minds...
It's something we all have going on up there in our heads, but we only ever really talk about it when the thoughts start weighing us down. What if you could turn the volume down on those negative thoughts enough to hear what we are really thinking and feeling?
Our “normal state of being” is said to be one that experiences our thoughts and feelings. Everyday our psyche is bombarded with a plethora of emotions: some good and some unfortunately not so good. We are constantly thinking and feeling as we go about our daily lives. We can be consciously aware of these feelings but sometimes other feelings are more difficult to pinpoint as they are felt unconsciously outside of our mental peripherial vision. Feelings can become emotionally consuming especially if they begin to build up and if they hit us from nowhere. Anything can trigger us; from news on the TV, a song you hear on the radio or to the stresses of work life and family commitments. In some cases, these internal stressors can become so overwhelming that you begin to look around around for answers as to why you are feeling a particular way.
Wouldn’t it be great to not get so carried away with every single emotion that mindlessly scrambled through our mind in the first place?
With mindfulness practice, it enables us to switch from the “experiencer” of these thoughts and feelings to the position of the “observer” instead. To put it another way, you now look from the outside in, viewing what is going on without being dragged into a whirlwind of feelings. Mindfulness can be a lifeline... only if you're willing to be patient with yourself...
So what actually is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is somtimes described as "coming to your senses" and can be simply broken down into two fundamental parts:
Observeration and Noticing skills: regulating your attention so you can focus on observing the experience of being in the present moment, and
Acceptance Skills: calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations (your senses) without judgement whilst being open and curious at the same time.
An example for developing your observation and noticing skills:
For us to become fully grounded and present in the current moment, we can tune our attention into our five senses:
Imagine you have come from another planet. You have never spent a day inside a human body and you have aquired this brand new flesh armour that has come equipped with the above 5 senses. You have a 'beginners mind' and everything you sense is the first time. Now sit comfortably, quietly and observe being fully present in the moment. What do you see and hear? What can you feel, taste and smell? Just notice. If your mind wanders into a dialogue of what youre having for tea that evening just refocus your mind onto the one constant thing we all have and that is your breath. In and out.
Now think about how much we miss when we are in 'automatic pilot' in our everyday human-mode. Are you surprised at how much we are not fully present in the moment? It is impossible to be physically 'still' every moment of our day, but teaching yourelf these observation skills can help us to notice what is really going on inside our body and minds. This in turn creates a 'stillness' within. In essence, we are teaching our minds to not focus on everything all at once, but specifically one thing more fully by switching off automatic pilot. This leads on to the next part of the mindfulness explanation....
An example for developing your acceptance skills:
Acceptance in mindfulness is described as 'being with' our experience without resisting or trying to 'do' anything about it. More importantly it is about not placing any judgement of what you are experiencing in terms of worthiness or quality. This can be the most difficult
part of mindfulness as we are always internally and silently judging everything we come into contact with as a #survivalmechanism. So to do the opposite of what we are wired to do as humans can be testing. With practice this can and will be a wonderfully beautiful skill to have in your #mentalhealthtoolkit so I urge you to keep with it.
“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
But, Mindfulness doesnt "work" for me...
If only i had £1 for every time i have heard this?! Many are surprised to hear that mindfulness can be practiced at any moment of the day, without any other tools (other than yourself of course!). Mindfulness isn't something you 'do' but rather something you gradually 'become' when you learn the skills that enables you to switch perspectives from the experiencer to the observer. So think less of the 'doing' and more of the 'becoming'....and remember thoughts are not facts!
The only condition I must add here is that you have to be calm enough in the first place when you begin to practice mindfulness. Being in the tornado of experiencing feelings will no doubt be sending the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) into automatic over-drive, processing negative thoughts and making wild judgements which is the opposite of what mindfulness aims to achieve. When overly stressed, the SNS is part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls our ‘fight or flight’ response, will be working automatically in overdrive from an evolutionary standpoint in reaction to a stimuli. However, once the body has calmed down enough to know that there is in fact no real danger or threat to ourselves, the stress hormone cortisol, begins to regulate itself back to baseline and this is when mindfulness is most helpful. With time and increased personal awareness that mindfulness practices will help you develop, learning how to be in the moment more effectively and quickly, will hopefully become second nature to you. This will be useful when and if you start to feel stressed...and with mindfulness, stressful episodes will hopefully becomes less frequent. Now what isn't to like about that?
Useful tips for mindfulness practice
Be curious and open to your experience
Whatever you do experience, just bring gentle awareness to it
Greet your experience with genuine acceptance
All feelings are temporary. The good, the bad and the ugly so remind yourself that these feelings will pass
Let go of any expectations and this will take you away from being present
Remind yourself of why you want to learn these skills and persevere even when you feel you are "too busy"- this is exactly when you need mindfulness in your life!
Remember to be kind to yourself while you are learning this new skill
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.”
– Sharon Salzberg"
Please note: Many reactions that our body and mind produce in reaction to anger, frustration and core beliefs we hold of ourselves, such as low self esteem or confidence for example, are either driven bythe survival instincts of the oldest part of our brain (reptilian brain), or the fear-based beliefs of our limbic brain. These reactions can sometimes stem from past unresolved emotional wounds. Understanding where these feelings or beliefs come from can be helpful in enabling us to do something about recognising these emotional reactions or patterns of behaviour. Seeking professional #counselling can help you understand this more in detail and can be a useful insight if you feel you need that little bit extra support in recognising your automatic responses. Mindfulness can help assist with relieving stress whilst going through the counselling journey and can become an overall simple positive lifestyle change, that anybody can do. If you do need more support please feel free to contact me to arrange a counselling session via my website www.quintessencecounselling.co.uk
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Kat would love to hear your thoughts about this blog or if there are any other topics you would like her to write about so please feel free to leave any feedback in the comments.
Thank you for reading my blog! :)