The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Coping

No. 159: Mindful Drawing

This week, to attain, maintain or regain your sense of wellbeing…

… practice being mindful by taking a few moments a day to sit and draw something you can see.

Drawing can teach us to notice properly rather than gaze absentmindedly (The Book of Life), it doesn’t have to be about artistic ability at all. The aim can be simply to notice properly the parts of things and how they fit together. This makes it a good way to strengthen our mindfulness muscles.

Your drawings could be simple scribbles in pencil or ballpoint pen. If you notice that you get too caught up with trying to draw a ‘good’ or accurate picture, do the exercise without looking at the paper at all – it really matters that little what you actually put down on the paper.

It’s never easy to start a new practice, so as usual you might need to schedule in some time to do this each day and organise yourself some basic materials to have on hand. Snatch a moment at lunchtime or plan a little trip to somewhere you might enjoy noticing in more detail.

Sitting down to draw, take a moment to settle into stillness and allow your breath to fall into its natural rhythm. Sometimes concentrating on drawing can lead us to hold our breath – this isn’t a breathing exercise, but it’s still important to breathe. Allow your eyes to wander until they settle on a scene or object to draw. For the next few moments, simply draw what you see in front of you on the page, however it comes out. As your mind wanders, notice the thoughts and bring yourself back to what you are drawing. As you notice your thinking mind judge the ‘goodness’ of what you are drawing, use the watching part of your mind to observe the thoughts and bring your attention back to what you see and continue to participate in the task of drawing it, no matter what shows up for you in the present. Start with just a few minutes and add another minute each day.

As you move through the week, experiment with drawing in different locations and drawing different things and observe how focusing on these different things effects your thoughts and feelings.  What is beautiful and soothing to you? What is energising and awe-inspiring for you to see? What sights and scenes weigh you down? How does your body respond to different things?

Practicing mindful drawing could help you get grounded in the present moment during times of stress and distress. It can be a useful way to learn mindfulness when it is hard to do breathing or visualisation-based exercises, or if mindfulness is an unfamiliar practice. Really, mindfulness just means paying attention to the present moment, this involves using the part of our mind that is aware of our experiences (our ‘watching mind’) instead of being totally caught up in the part of our mind that is doing the thinking (our ‘thinking mind’). Other names for our watching mind are our ‘Observing Self’ (in ACT) or ‘Wise Mind’ (in DBT). In DBT our ‘thinking mind’ is broken down into our ‘feeling mind’ and our ‘rational mind’, because we really do have lots of different kinds of thoughts running through our brains at any point in time.

Once you are comfortable doing mindful drawing in ordinary moments, add Mindful Drawing to your Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. Mindful drawing could take you out of your thoughts for a moment, allow your body a chance to calm down, and give you something neutral or positive to focus on for a while, which could give you a tiny injection of positive vibes when things are feeling chaotic or overwhelming. You could also use the exercise as an excuse to take yourself somewhere you might enjoy. Giving yourself pleasurable experiences is an important part of engaging with a life you feel is worth living.

No. 154: Supportive Self-Talk

This week, to attain, maintain or regain your sense of wellbeing…

…practice catching your inner critic when it’s up to its tricks and responding to your self-talk with kindness. This is about learning to label your unhelpful self-talk for what it is and deliberately talk to yourself in a way that builds you up instead of cutting yourself down.  Self-talk is automatic but we can bring it into our awareness and use it to support ourselves through moments of stress and distress. That last bit is key here.

It is important to choose self-talk that feels supportive to you and that you can believe to be true. Sometimes we take ‘supportive’ to mean that we are supposed to try to cheer ourselves up with lots of positive phrases that oppose what we have been thinking and that can often make people feel worse, especially if they really do not believe the positive statement at all. It doesn’t usually work when we try to do this with others, and it doesn’t usually work when we try to do this to ourselves either. Supportive means to hold up, so try to experiment with finding a way of talking back to harsh self-talk that can hold you up in the struggles you find yourself in.

This can be really hard to do, so practice in the ordinary moments first, maybe with your morning cuppa or something like that. Just sit and observe what you notice in your mind as it arises for a few minutes a day. If it’s empty, observe and describe that. If it’s focused on the cuppa, observe and describe that. Practicing noticing the detail. Eventually your mind will start to wander and chatter like minds are designed to do. When you notice, observe and describe that too. Keep a look out for how your mind talks to you. When you notice critical, judgemental or harsh self-talk, describe what you observe, put words to it, name it for what it is. Then take a deep breath and deliberately respond with self-talk that is supportive towards yourself, in a way that has your back, as if to hold yourself up in this moment, not to deny your reality, but to hold you steady there.

Our minds are kind of messy in real life and so observing them can be too. It might go something a bit like this inside in your mind as you do this: “I am sitting here with my cup of coffee I notice my mind is blank. [cue distracting chatter] I can never do these things. How does this even work as a thing. I’m not even thinking anything important. I want to have chicken for dinner. Dammit I’m not paying attention… [good noticing, and you’re back. Describe where you went just then and try your supportive self-talk again]….I notice I am judging the way I am confused about doing this. I notice I am kind of hungry… [take a deep breath and meet this with some supportive self-talk]… This is a kind of hard thing to learn really. At least I am trying. Did I have breakfast? Dammit again! [Good noticing again, and you’re back. Describe where you went just then and try your supportive self-talk again]...I notice hunger distracting me. I notice harsh words about that. No one can focus properly when they are hungry…

Stay with it for a couple of minutes if you can, and then continue on with your day. As you move through each day, pause when you notice your mood change and take a moment to observe what you are telling yourself about the situation and your experience of it, and see what happens if you meet it with some of the supportive self-talk you’ve been practicing each morning.

When you are comfortable noticing, labeling and responding to your self-talk with support, add ‘Supportive Self-Talk’ to your Personal Coping Kete for moments of stress and distress. When times are tough, you’ll be able to catch your harsh inner critic and feed yourself supportive self-talk that helps hold you up. Self-judgement adds another layer of distress to already difficult situations. Giving ‘voice’ to your inner supporter can make distress less intense and easier to cope with.

No. 149: Balloon Breaths

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice relaxing myself with my breath. Whenever I notice my breathing, I will clasp my hands together and place them on my belly, just below my rib cage (right on my diaphragm). I will imagine my stomach is a balloon. As I breathe in, I will blow my belly up like a balloon, pushing my hands out. I will let my breath fall out slowly through my lips in one long, smooth breath. I will take 5-10 breaths like this, blowing my belly up like a balloon with every breath in and letting the air out nice and slowly on each breath out.

As my mind distracts me from the task, I will bring my attention back to my breathing. It can help to notice the movement of the hands, the sensation of the breaths and to count out each deep breath in and out ‘In one….out one…in two…out two…’

Afterwards, I will notice what effect this breathing exercise has on me. I will notice how the heart slows down, how the body feels more still, the mind more calm.

When I am comfortable slowing my breathing down like this at an ordinary time, I will add ‘Balloon Breaths’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I feel agitated or upset, I will be able to take a brief moment to do 5-10 balloon breaths and calm down my physical stress responses that make it difficult to think clearly and respond in a helpful way. By taking a moment to breathe deeply and fully, I will be able to clear my head a bit before I act on my emotions.

Balloon breathing is another way of thinking about diaphragmatic breathing.  Diaphragmatic breathing is a well-known strategy for calming physical stress responses and is a great base for any number of relaxation exercises like visualisation and sensory modulation.

No. 148: Practice Compassion

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice being compassionate towards myself. When I notice critical thoughts or judgments about myself or things I have done or not done, I will practice responding in my mind with kind words, that share sensitivity for my suffering and respect for my humanity. I will practice choosing compassionate and accepting words to talk to myself about my mistakes, weaknesses, flaws and limitations.  Other people can criticise me if they wish, but I will give myself compassion.

As I move through my week, I will keep an eye out for self-talk that is harsh, critical and judgmental. For example, I will watch out for self-talk where I label myself stupid or useless when I make a mistake. When I notice I am labeling myself harshly for my mistakes and limitations, I will give myself compassion by pausing to remind myself it is human to struggle. I will appreciate my strengths by remembering them to myself and recalling that my flaws and limitations are simply part of a whole, not all that I am.  By responding to myself with compassion throughout the week, I will practice accepting my whole self, warts and all. I do not need to be perfect, nor would I want to be.

When I am used to talking to myself with compassion and acceptance on an ordinary day, I will add ‘talk to myself with compassion’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I find myself in distress, I will be mindful of how I am talking to myself and be careful to use compassionate words. In times of stress and distress, I will be better able to give myself messages of kindness, instead of giving myself messages of shame or judgement that make me feel worse.

No. 144: Be Aware of My Choices

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice noticing all the different ways I can control my outcomes by paying attention to the choices I make each day and purposefully choosing the option that moves me towards more of what I want.

This week, as I move through each day, I will practice being aware of each of the small choices I make. When I notice that I am making a choice, I will practice pausing to observe what options I am choosing between and what the possible outcomes of each of the options might be. I will then deliberately choose the option that will bring me closer to what I want for my future – whether that is how I want to feel later in the day or what I want to be doing next year.

I’ll start out doing this with the small choices I make, such as what I eat and drink, what I watch on TV, what I work on next, where I sit and everyday things like that.

Noticing how my small choices change the way I experience my daily life, might help me to be make more mindful decisions, that effect me in more positive ways. Slowing down and thinking about our choices is especially hard when we are distressed, which is why we so often do and say things we regret when we feel angry or upset. If I practice slowing down and being aware of my choices in everyday moments, it might be easier to slow myself down and think about my choices when I’m distressed. In this way, I will learn how to hold my own responses and act based on what I want and need, not just on what I feel.

This week, as I notice myself making a choice, I will pause, ask myself what the other options are, think about the possible consequences and what consequences I want, then choose the option that brings me closer the outcome I desire.

When I am comfortable pausing myself and observing my options before I make everyday kinds of choices, I will add ‘Be Aware of my Choices’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. By being aware of the choices I am making and choosing the option that brings me closer to what I want for my future, I will be able to guide myself through the tough moments in a way that has a positive effect on me, rather than getting caught up in my distress and making coping decisions that make things harder in the long-run.  The simple act of stopping to think through the options and make myself aware of what I want and need will help me practice giving myself a delay between feeling and acting, a mini time-out to have a little think. Doing this could be a form of mindful distraction, moving my mind away from how I feel in the moment to what I want in the future and what my choices are.

No. 143: Finding Excuses to Get Outside

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will find excuses to spend small amounts of time outside and work them into my day to give myself little moments of mindfulness in nature.  To start with, I will make a list of all the things I can do outside around my house or around my work or anywhere in between.

For example:
Weed the garden
Check the mail
Water the garden
Hang out washing
Bring in washing
Read the newspaper in the sun
Have lunch at the local park
Eat breakfast on the lawn
Drink my coffee under a tree
Walk to the dairy for milk
etc… etc…. etc…

Then, as I move through my week, I will practice giving myself time outside to do these things. I might schedule them in to my diary to help me remember to do them or I might be able to remember whenever the opportunity presents itself. When I find myself outside I will mindfully observe the environment around me and how it feels to be in it doing what I am doing. I will describe each part of my experience to myself and fully focus on participating in the experience of being outside. If I notice my thoughts distracting me from my moment outdoors, I will observe them for what they are and bring my mind back to the present moment. This will allow me to practice engaging with environments that are soothing and enjoyable as part of my everyday life. It might also help me get all the Vitamin D I need. Vitamin D comes from the sun.

Once I am used to enjoying outside as part of daily life, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way to self-soothe or distract myself during times of stress and distress. Taking myself outside and mindfully doing something else when I am distressed might give me the space I need to feel more calm before I respond to my distressing feelings, while still allowing them to be there.

No. 141: Observe My Physical Connection to the Moment

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellness…

…I will, practice grounding myself in the physical moment as a way of changing my experiences. This week, I will interrupt myself once a day, place both feet flat on the ground and take a few deep breaths into the bottom of my lungs (see belly breathing exercise here). As I breathe, I will focus my attention onto the sensation of my feet connecting with the ground. I will look around me and notice the other sensations I feel as my body connects with the environment around me – the air on my skin, the temperature of the light. After a few moments, breathing slowly and noticing my connection to the space around me, I will turn my attention back to my day.

I might set an alarm on my phone to help remind me to practice turning my attention away from one thing and onto my connection with the physical environment around me in this specific moment. In this way, I will get skilled at letting go of one moment and shifting my attention to something calm and grounding.

When I’m familiar with interrupting an ordinary moment to ground myself in the space around me, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. When I notice myself becoming upset or focused on unhelpful thoughts, I will be able to take some time out to calm my distress before returning to what needs my attention next. The breathing will help me to soothe my physical responses while being mindful of my physical space will distract me from unwanted or unhelpful thoughts.

_ _ _

Acknowledgement: Mindfulness can be traced back to buddhist philosophy. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zinn is known for popularising mindfulness in the medical community with the Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. Marsha Linehan is known for popularising mindfulness in the mental health community with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).  The basic practice of mindfulness features in many strategies shared in The Coping Kete. Once you learn the basic skills, you can use mindfulness in any moment you find yourself in, in countless different ways. There is an awful lot behind each of the skills involved. Follow the links above to learn more. 

No. 140: Observe the Facts of the Moment

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

 once a day, I will practice distracting myself from unhelpful thoughts by mindfully interrupting myself in the middle of an ordinary daily task  and spending a few seconds observing and describing the current moment to myself without using any emotional words. While I am observing and describing the current moment to myself I will practice belly breathing to help me relax. Once I have observed and described each element of my current moment to myself, I will go back to my task. 

I could use an alarm to help me remember to interrupt myself each day.  

I will pass my mind over the space I am in, the people present, what they are doing, what the air feels and smells like, the weather, the sounds around me, the scene out the window, the position of my body in the room, the sensations within my body – all of the physical facts of the moment.  If I notice my mind making judgements about anything I observe, I will watch the judgement pass by me like a train and turn my mind back to describing the moment around me. Everything but these observable facts is my perception. I can choose which perceptions to attach myself to and which perceptions to let pass me by. I will remember this as I move back into my task. 

Once I am comfortable with interrupting an ordinary experience to mindfully connect with the physical moment, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way to interrupt distressing thoughts and get some space from my emotions. When I notice I am getting distressed, I will give myself permission to let go of my worry for a little while and turn my attention to my breath and the physical facts of the moment around me. I will keep observing and describing the physical facts of the situation until I have calmed down and am able to think a bit more clearly about how to cope. As distressing thoughts come into my mind I will observe them as they pass by, without chasing after them and turn my mind back to noticing the physical facts of the situation and continue with my breathing until I am feeling calmer.

No. 136: One Thing I Can Do/ One Thing I Like

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice focusing my attention on the things I can do and the things I like to engage with so I can self-soothe when I am stressed and create  positive emotion when I am low.

To prepare, I will take a page in a notebook and divide it into two columns. The first column, I will title ‘One Thing I Can Do’ and the second column I will title ‘One Thing I Like’ (see example below).

To practice, I will take a moment at the end of each day to write down an example of ‘One Thing I Can Do’ and ‘One Thing I Like’ from my day. In the ‘One Thing I Can Do’ column, I will write down one thing that I did that day that I think I did well and what skill it involved. In the ‘One Thing I Like’ column, I will write down one thing from my day that I enjoyed or appreciated and what it was that I liked about it. If I’ve been having tough times for a while, it might be hard to do this because I will be out of practice at noticing these things and I might have stopped doing a lot of the things I am good at and like. If I find it hard, I will have compassion for myself and practice noticing the smallest of small signs of ‘Things I Can Do’ or ‘Things I Like’ – for example, getting out of bed, showering and single moments of laughter.

As I move through the week, I will think through my growing list and know that there are things I can do to get through and things I like that can change my mood. As my awareness grows I will start trying to mindfully do those things when I notice my mood is low or my thinking is negative.  This week, I will practice building the evidence that lets me remind myself “there is always one thing I can do and one thing that I can enjoy.”

Once I am comfortable noticing what I can do and what I like, and mindfully doing those things, I will add this to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with distress. When I find myself feeling stuck, hopeless or unsure of myself, I will be able to self-soothe by coming back to my old list to remind myself of all I can do to get through and change my mood and engage with a way of shifting my experience by doing just one of the things I can do and one thing that I like. This strategy could become self-soothing, engagement or mindful distraction depending on how I used it. 

My notebook columns would look something like this… 

No. 132: Breathing Affirmations

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will spend a moment every morning taking some calm, slow breaths while I repeat a couple of positive self-affirmations in my head.  For just two minutes, I will sit still, with my eyes closed, as I breathe deep into my belly and gently repeat my affirmations in my mind. As I notice my mind drifting away from my affirmations into doubtful, critical or negative chains of thought, I will bring myself back to my slow breathing and once more begin repeating my affirmation to myself. After a couple of minutes I will open my eyes and carry on with my day. Before I try this, I will need to prepare some statements that I might find validating, hopeful, strengthening or soothing in some way. 

A positive self-affirmation is just a statement about something positive that I think is true about myself or my place in the world.

What is a useful, comforting affirmation for one person, might not be any help to another person. So this exercise involves doing some exploration of what fits for me. Some people use inspiring quotes they have read somewhere, others use simple self-statements like “I am okay, whatever happens, I can survive it.” Others like to acknowledge their values and intentions. Others like to remember things like “I am connected to the wider universe and the ancestors that came before me.” Really, an affirmation can be anything at all.  Over the week, I will pay attention to the kinds of statements that I find useful and figure out what kinds of self-affirming statements work for me.  This week, each morning, I will have a chance to get used to hearing myself being kind and encouraging to myself.

Once I am comfortable with doing a breathing exercise while I think some self-encouraging statements, I will add the Breathing Affirmations to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. When I notice myself feeling upset or troubled in some way, I will take a moment to breathe and feed my mind some soothing, strengthening thoughts.