In a world consumed with high stress situations and pressure to put our best face forward, life can become a bit overwhelming. In last week’s post, I discussed some of the many ways to reduce the impact of stress in your life. While you can have a million ways to deal with feelings of stress when they present, if you can train yourself to be aware of the signs of oncoming stress, you can actually minimize the impact. This practice is called mindfulness. When you are mindful, you are making yourself more aware of your mind, body and feelings with the hopes of creating a calmer life and mind.
Personally, I began practicing mindfulness about a year ago and took group classes on the practice. I have struggled with overthinking and becoming overwhelmed with life and wanted to see if this practice would benefit me. I was so surprised at how quickly I began looking at situations differently. Within a few weeks I could already tell I was feeling calmer and more methodical in my approach to solving problems and dealing with my feelings.
Mindfulness is important because when we are faced with those high stress moments or overwhelming feelings, we can find ourselves essentially floating away. Our brains will become overwhelmed, and you may start overthinking a situation and essentially it snowballs. You may find yourself in an immediate panic, anger, or thinking 12 steps ahead with the worst case scenario. You’ll often find yourself lashing out in other ways. Maybe you are picking fights over small things, generally having a lot of heated arguments over things that are quite trivial, seeing your day ruined by small inconveniences, having breakdowns over small judgements or comments from others, or finding yourself constantly putting yourself down. Mindfulness will anchor you into the immediate situation and help you focus on what’s happening right now, the reality of the magnitude of the situation, and not what could happen. It also forces you to deal with problems now and not ignore them so they build up into something worse.
Mindfulness and Emotions
A lot of the time those who struggle with being in the moment or find themselves “over-reacting” to a situation are not approaching the emotions they are having. They are not living in the moment. Oftentimes people ignore their feelings, pack them away and they reemerge in a rather negative way. There are 3 questions to ask yourself when you find you are having these negative responses:
What am I actually thinking about?
What am I currently feeling?
How are my emotions impacting my physical body? Is my heart racing? Etc.
The reality is that we can’t solve a problem that we aren’t addressing and compounding problems only leads to a worse result. When you begin to feel that anxiety, anger or other response feelings, ask yourself what moment triggered this to start, how did it make you feel, and how did my body respond to it? From there you can better understand and notice times when maybe things got “carried-away.”
Emotions and Finding Truth
Once you understand where your feelings are coming from you can ask yourself 2 important questions:
My brain is telling me something, but is it true?
Is my response helpful to solving the problem?
We are all guilty of jumping to conclusions and giving a lot of weight to a situation that probably doesn’t warrant it. If someone is speaking to us with less excitement than usual, we may find ourselves thinking, “did I do something wrong?” “What did I say?” “Are they mad at me?” The reality is that maybe they are tired or feeling under the weather. There’s so many reasons that a person's demeanor can change and that doesn’t mean it has anything to do with you. So ask yourself in this case, “did i do or say anything that could upset them?” If you can’t think of anything, then you probably had nothing to do with it, so let it go! If that person continues to have “off” days, you can always ask them what is wrong, but jumping to conclusions that you’re at fault for everyone’s feelings and actions, is just unrealistic and quite exhausting.
If the situation is in your control, it’s time to work towards the solution. Say you wake up late for work. You panic, you’re throwing things around, dropping stuff, or forgetting things you need to accomplish before you leave, all because you’re running late and rushing to leave. Is panicking about running around frantically going to get you to work faster? Or would taking a deep breath, calmly collecting your things and getting ready be a better solution? Most likely in both scenarios you’ll get out the house in the same amount of time. Is stressing out about waking up late going to solve the problem? No. You’ve already woken up late, you can’t “fix” that, but you can make sure to stay calm and collected so you can get to work as fast as you can and not arrive at work with this negative and stressed mindset that will carry over into your entire day and your workload.
Do Unto Yourself What You Would Do For Others!
Self-judgement can be a hard thing to avoid. When something doesn’t go to plan, we often blame ourselves for it and sometimes this blame can play on loop. We all know that blaming ourselves for things not working out wont fix the problem, but it becomes part of how we process information, and so it becomes a necessity to be “mindful” of when you start doing it.
A helpful tip is to remove yourself from a situation and think of it as an outsider. Think of the event that’s causing stress or negative emotion and imagine if it happened to your best friend or family member. What would you say to them? Would you tell your friend they should beat themselves up about it and feel down on themselves? NO! We don’t talk to people we care about that way, so why do we talk to ourselves that way?? This also applies to downtime. We constantly tell others to rest and recover, but when we go to rest and watch a tv show, our brains are there asking us why we are doing this when there’s laundry to fold.
And judgement breeds more judgement! When we start judging the things we do or that others do, we create a routine of it. Eventually you could end up judging yourself constantly for the most miniscule things, or trying to be something you aren’t. So pay attention to times when you find yourself negatively talking to yourself and remember to talk to yourself with the same love and understanding as those around you.
Does the “Do Better” Mindset work?
The “do better” mentality is essentially negatively reenforcing yourself to promote positive results. If you don’t pass a test, you would then tell yourself that you failed, you could have done better and basically knock yourself down for “failing.” It’s often believed that this will inspire you to do better next time to avoid more “failure.” Many studies have actually shown that while this method can lead to results in certain situations, it often is the worst option in the long run, leading to low self-esteem, higher stress response and a constant fear of failure. When people actually believe in themselves they are more adept at problem solving without feeling bad about themselves and this can produce better results while fostering a healthier mindset that helps with working towards long-term goals.
Mindfulness and Staying in the Moment
If you can find a way to ground yourself and stay in the moment as soon as your emotions start to get carried away, you can actually help lessen the impact. What we want to do is make sure that we don’t allow our brains to overthink the situation and case that classic snowballing effect where a small thing takes over and “ruins” the day. There are a ton of easy ways to ground yourself at those times, some of them include:
Journaling to slow down the mind and focus in on what is the actual issue and what it means to you.
Slow down thoughts: This includes doing activities like counting, naming things in a category, spelling, and solving a math problem. All of these engage the logical part of the brain, and stops you from focusing on the emotional part of the brain.
It Just Is
Sometimes something just is what it is, and it doesn’t need more value than just existing. While we have situations happening around us and feelings popping up, you don’t have to give weight to them. You can acknowledge the existence of the feeling, as we all have thoughts and feelings, but having those thoughts isn’t wrong and it doesn’t mean they need to be “solved.” Sometimes all we need to do is acknowledge their existence and move on. IT JUST IS.
We often get swept away by problem solving situations that don’t need a solution. The truth is that not every problem has a solution. The same can be said for our emotions. We don’t have to do something about every feeling we have either. Get through the moment and the immediate feelings and move on!
Being mindful in essence is just finding a way to stay in control and choose what you will do without letting yourself get swept up in the situation. Define that situation to yourself and know if you are behaving in a way that is helpful to reaching a resolution. Once you ride through that moment you can ask yourself “how do I feel now?” It’s also important to remember that we have to allow ourselves to move on and move forward.
It’s also important to note that there’s nothing wrong with seeking help from a doctor if you find yourself in a bad place. There are amazing group therapy sessions out there for others striving to be mindful, and there’s also great doctors out there too for individual meetings. I have also found a lot of great books on the subject that have been helpful to me, that I will list below. Please reach out to me directly if you have questions or want to chat more about the topic!
Until next week… and remember mental health is for all!
My Top Rated Books on Mindfulness
Practicing Mindfulness: https://www.amazon.com/Practicing-Mindfulness-Essential-Meditations-Everyday/dp/1641521716/ref=sr_1_7?crid=78JV0T9X9TJS&dchild=1&keywords=mindfulness&qid=1620390727&sprefix=mindful%2Caps%2C187&sr=8-7
Little Book Of Mindfulness: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1856753530/ref=ox_sc_act_title_7?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1