How we experience the world, relate to others, and find meaning in life are dependent upon how we have come to regulate our emotions. (Siegel, 1999:273)
During these challenging times we experience heightened emotions as we are navigating great uncertainty. Daily stress, worry about our health and our loved ones as well as financial insecurity are some of the issues people are facing.
As we adapt to these tough circumstances we may experience some of the following symptoms in various degrees of intensity:
Rumination– Problems take over in the mind with not much room for anything else
Agitation– Difficulty concentrating and following through with ideas
Nervousness- Feeling on edge in the body and mind
Irritability- Things are not going to plan and how we want them to be
Fatigue- Sensation of heaviness and disrupted sleep
Anxiety- Struggling to attend to daily functioning, palpitations, dry mouth, shallow breath, temperature changes, dizziness
All this is normal given the enormity of the problem however we know that high levels of stress during a prolonged period of time can take a toll on our nervous systems, our moods, relationships and our decision making.
Do you feel controlled by your emotions and feel you have no choice about how to respond in the moment? Do you automatically react by ‘turning off’ the intensity of your emotions with a behaviour that is destructive?
Most of us know what it’s like when it comes to habitually reaching for comfort food either to keep going or to get some respite from a sense of overwhelm from stress. It’s as if part of us wants to go to asleep. Or blurt out the meanest most hurtful thing we can come up with because our partner is not being very understanding. For some people this automatic mode can have serious consequences in their life.
So how we cope with our emotions and respond to the demands at this time will help shape our futures. This requires a willingness to be active in creating new routines incorporating practices that help maintain a level of alertness but also support a space for calm, for being where we are with compassion for ourselves right now.
Mindfulness practice has been shown to foster the ability to develop the PAUSE BUTTON. Being mindful of your thoughts and feelings without putting any mental activity into ‘good’ or ‘bad’ boxes takes practice. In modern society functioning at digital speed, we are encouraged and very used to being engrossed in our thoughts or feelings about what happened earlier or what we have to do next. Being open and awake in the moment to what is present is an intentional practice that bestows a host of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits.
Ellen Langer, psychologist at Harvard University and author of Mindfulness wrote: ‘When people are not in the moment, they’re not there to know that they’re not there.’
SO HOW DO I PRACTICE MINDFULNESS?
- Start becoming aware of your body right now. DON’T THINK about what you are doing, follow your breath and your sensations. Notice when your mind wants to judge your experience and let that go. Come back to the breath…
- When you become present in your body, open up to your emotions and mental activity. What are you experiencing? This helps you build tolerance for discomfort as you watch your emotions for longer periods of time without reacting.
- Accept what is there. The mind’s natural tendency is to avoid pain so we resist thoughts and feelings that we don’t want. Acceptance does not mean that you like what is happening, it simply means you know it’s there, you cannot change it and it’s ok for now.
- Keep a not knowing mind, stay awake and curious especially during your routines. It is easy to slip into mindlessness when you are staying home and take the same route to work, to eat and to sleep. As boundaries are blurred try paying attention to how you approach these tasks.
- Mindfulness is not a goal to be achieved because achieving is about the future. It is about now as you are reading these words! Breathe and feel yourself present with compassion for all the joys and suffering we all experience now.
Author: Diane Metta, Psychotherapist at InsideOut