The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Private Expression

No. 160: Call On Your Compassionate Self

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

… create a compassionate self to call on in times of stress and distress. We often have a strong self-critic or even a self-bully that pipes up to tell us all the worst things about ourselves and what we are going through. If we reflect on our self-talk in times of distress we might notice we use blaming, judgmental and sometimes downright mean words with ourselves that leave us feeling ten times worse. Having a compassionate self allows us to use soothing, understanding, non-judgmental, kind and supportive words with ourselves instead of or in response to the self-critic or the self-bully.

Start out by creating a character map of your compassionate self.

  1. First, think about what compassion means to you. Think about what you might need from your compassionate self and what compassion involves for you. Is your compassionate self forgiving, respectful, kind, aware of what is important to you, caring, accepting, warm, humorous or all of those things and more?  What does your compassionate self think about making mistakes, flaws, limitations, weaknesses, failures, and negative life events? Write your reflections down somewhere so you can keep them for later and add to them as you develop these ideas further.
  2. The next step is building a visual image for your compassionate self. What does your compassionate self look like? They could look like someone who has treated you with compassion in the past, a creature you have found comforting or it could look like you when you are being compassionate, understanding and kind to someone you care about. Think about what facial expressions and gestures your compassionate self might make to show their empathy, understanding and warmth and what it feels like to be near that. How does your compassionate self look at you? What do they do when they see you suffer?
  3. Next you need to create a voice for your compassionate self. What does your compassionate self sound like? Think about what tone of voice it uses, what it sounds like, how loud its voice is and how fast it speaks. Finally, create some words for your compassionate self. What does your compassionate self say to you? Think about what words and phrases your compassionate self uses to soothe, show kindness and be understanding. It’s easiest to do all this on a piece of paper, in writing or drawing, to make it concrete and give you something to come back to later.

Now you are ready to practice, take one to two minutes a day to sit mindfully with your thoughts and practice responding to them with this compassionate self you are learning to build inside you. What would this kind, accepting part of you say back to these thoughts and feelings you are holding right now? What would they offer you? How would they do it?

Once you are familiar with visualising your compassionate self and responding to your thoughts with a compassionate voice, add “Call on Your Compassionate Self” to your Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. You will be able to call on the compassionate part of yourself to support yourself through stressful times with soothing, kind, respectful and understanding words, ideas and images, instead of being pushed along by your mind’s negative self-talk on autopilot.

No. 158: Plant Seeds and Nurture Them

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

… practice being aware of your valued actions by visualising or symbolically planting seeds for each of your valued intentions.

It is New Years Eve and that is good time to set goals for the coming months, but goals tend to be short-lived and easily side-tracked by shifting priorities. On the other hand, our values represent how we want to be in the world, regardless of the state of our goals. Values are always in progress, whereas goals can be achieved, failed or finished with. A goal might be to ‘Quit Smoking’. A value might be ‘Caring for my Physical Health.’ See the shift? A goal is a place on a map, but a value is a direction on the compass we use to guide us. Different values tend to take on differing levels of importance as we move through life. Much of the suffering we go through is the result of being distant from our values, or prioritising one set of values over things we also hold dear to our hearts.

So this week, try doing a ‘Seed Planting Ceremony’ for the New Year, or the day or week ahead. First, take a moment to sit in stillness and bring your mind to what you want to nurture in your life. How do you want to treat yourself, the planet and others in the coming months? What is most important to you right now? When your mind throws up thoughts of what you don’t want, name it to yourself and bring your awareness to the values you would like to be guided by in such situations. What do you want to stand for as a person? What brings vitality and meaning to life for you? Write everything down as you go, then read back through and pick out the things that are priorities for you at the moment.

Next, make ‘paper seeds’ for each of values you want to ‘plant’ and nurture in your life by writing each one down or drawing them on a separate piece of paper. Give a name to each of the ‘seeds’ you are planting so you can easily bring it to mind when you need help to find a valued path forward. Choose a small object or picture for each of the important ‘seeds’ too if you would like. Next reflect on what you are doing, have done, or would do when living fully in line with this value that is so important to you? What small actions will grow it? Write these down too and then place the paper and the object in a special jar or container.

Try to create at least one different ‘seed’ for each of the areas of your life that are important to your health and wellbeing. As you learn more about what you value in your heart of hearts, you can return and create more paper ‘seeds’ to grow.

Take some time once a day to turn your mind to the ‘seeds’ you ‘planted’. Pick a few out of the jar, reflect on the ways you have moved towards it that day, acknowledge the things that have pulled you away with compassion, and visualise yourself nurturing this in yourself tomorrow.

As you move through each day, see if you can practice bringing your attention to these valued directions, by naming them to yourself as a reminder and seeing how they can guide your next steps.

Once you are comfortable with setting your intentions by naming and visualising the values you want to nurture, add ‘Plant Seeds and Nurture Them’ to your Personal Coping Kete. Then in times of stress and distress, you’ll be able to returning to your values as helpers and visualise how you want to move forward, given what you have got.When you notice myself feeling lost or confused or distressed or uncertain, pause, find a valued direction, and choose one workable step towards it.

No. 157: Say Thank You for the Stories

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

…practice noticing and naming the ‘stories’ your thinking mind tells you and thanking your brain for trying to keep you safe, because that’s really is what our negative automatic thoughts are trying to do underneath it all. We usually all have a few chains of thought that repeatedly pop up when we encounter stress and distress and pull us away from the things we really want to be doing to focus on all the possible risks to our physical and social survival (as well as a bunch of the improbable ones too, thank you, creative imaginations). Basically our minds are natural problem-solving machines and they are geared to spot problems and solve them wherever we go. It would be a bit much to do this from scratch every second, so our minds create a set of stories or scripts to follow in situations that seem similar and they shoot off a bunch of physical responses and unpleasant emotions that are designed to make us act so quickly we often aren’t even aware what is pushing us forward.

Unfortunately this storyteller part of our mind is often using out of date or incomplete information, so following along with it isn’t always helpful. And trying to simply shut off or ignore that part of our minds usually just makes those stories intrude into our thoughts more and more. Often we get so caught up and stuck in the stories our minds are throwing up at us, we get pulled into doing things that actually make life much worse. So fighting our minds doesn’t help, ignoring or shutting it down doesn’t help, and acting upon everything we think isn’t helpful either. One way to detach from those stories, is to practice naming each one and then literally thanking your brain for doing its job. We don’t need to believe, accept or agree with the story or reject and disagree with it either.  Instead of resisting it and struggling against it, this week practice naming it and saying ‘thank you brain, I get you are trying to help!’

To prepare, take some time to write down some of the things that your mind often throws up when you’re distressed. Then name the most repetitive thoughts or the ones that trigger the toughest emotions, literally give each story a title that is easy for you to recall. You don’t need to be especially creative about it either – there is often some kind of “I can’t cope” story, “bad self” story, “not good enough” story or “dangerous world” story in the mix.  These are tough thought-chains to deal with when we are caught up believing them or struggling against them, especially when they have been ‘true’ for us in the past. Underneath every tough emotion is a message about something our mind thinks is important, something you value or need. See if you can spot what that is, what is each story trying to alert you to? The ‘i can’t cope story’ could really be a message to stay away from something or a message to prepare for a challenge ahead. The “not good enough” story is often alerting us to our aspirations, the standards we are holding ourselves to, or the way we are being treated by others. Guilt, shame, sadness, anxiety, anger – they are all their to help us navigate our connections and hold on to what we need. Naming the story and saying ‘thank you brain’ lets our mind know we are aware and reframes the thoughts as ideas and words instead of realities we need to act on – this often lets our mind know it can stop telling the story so loudly and allows us to find a workable path forward, a way of testing it out.

Once you have named some of the stories you notice your brain often repeats, practice naming them as you notice them throughout your day. This week, pause whenever you move between tasks or situations to practice observing what stories your brain is telling in the moment and saying “Thank you brain, for telling me the xyz story. I hear you. There are important things at stake for me here.”  Then move forward with your valued direction or do another coping strategy to make things workable.

To start with, practice naming stories and thanking your brain for telling them in ordinary, transition moments, rather in times of intense distress when it is most difficult to detach from our thoughts this way. When the stories hook you, see what happens if you name this to yourself too. As above see if you can observe what the function of the story and the emotions that go with it might be.  It can also help to name what your intentions and valued directions are too.  These can be like alternative stories we are learning to tell ourselves. For example, “Thank you brain for the “I can’t cope” story, I know you are trying to make me anxious, to keep me safe from failure. My intention is to discover how to handle this risk because independence and new experiences are important to me.” Sometimes the risk really isn’t worth it though, so sometimes we do need to pay attention to the story and test it out cautiously only if it really is safe to do so. The aim is to be able to respond flexibly based on what works in the situation.

Once you are comfortable naming your mind’s stories and thanking your brain for telling them, Add the strategy to your Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. Naming and acknowledging the chains of thought will help you to untangle from the automatic stories your mind repeats, and focus on the other story about what is important to you.

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Note: Saying ‘thank you brain’ is a common technique from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT – pronounced ‘act’). You can find some worksheets to help you identify your common stories and understand how they pull you away from your valued directions at www.thehappinesstrap.com/free_resources  

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No. 155: Make Space for What is Here

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

…practice allowing and making space for tough emotions when they appear. Rather than tightening up around them and getting stuck struggling against them or having to make them stop, test out what happens when you allow the thoughts and feelings to be there. Being human involves a wide spectrum of emotions; we are allowed to feel them all and we are supposed to feel them all. One way of allowing our feelings to be there without becoming engulfed in them is to observe them inside us and make room for them to be there. This is often called an acceptance or expansion strategy.

To begin with, pick a couple of neutral anchor-tasks that you do every day and can use to practice with, like making your morning cuppa, walking to the bus, eating a meal, or waiting for emails to load, something that allows your mind to wander.

  1. Whenever you find yourself doing your anchor-tasks, take a moment to observe the moods, sensations, and urges that arise within you and put words to what you are feeling in this moment. As you observe, take a step back and be aware of yourself noticing. There are these feelings inside you, and then there is you, noticing them. If you can notice them within you, they cannot get bigger than you.
  2. Notice the feeling again, where does it sit in your body? Where are the edges?  Gently remind yourself “I have space for what is here” and imagine yourself expanding around it, making room. Take a deep breathe in to help you do this. Feel your belly and your chest expand as you breathe in and let go as you breathe out.
  3. Take a second deep breath in and shift into an open, relaxed posture, and remind yourself gently “I have space for this” as you allow your breath to let go and your muscles to go loose.
  4. Then take a third deep breath. Imagine sending this breath to the place these feelings sit in your body, see space opening up around them, whatever that means to you. There is the feeling, and there you are noticing it. Remind yourself again that you have room for this. Then after a moment, bring your attention back to your surroundings and the task at hand (or what you really need/want to be doing), carrying this sense of space with you and returning it to when you need to.

You can practice this on any experiences at all, positive feelings can drive us into unhelpful responses sometimes too. There are no good or bad, right or wrong feelings. Once you are familiar with using this strategy at a planned time, it will get easier to do it throughout the day when you notice yourself dealing with stress and distress. Sometimes, part of making space for stress and distress, means soothing it. It might help to respond to distressing thoughts and feelings with supportive self-talk as you breathe, observe and open up around them. Expanding to make space also means accepting what you need and getting those needs met. You might need some self-care or distraction or support to help you, making room for our own distress, doesn’t mean you have to carry it on your own, give up on trying to feel better, sit in it, agree with it, like it, or want it. It just means that we start out by allowing it to be.

When you are comfortable doing this, add ‘expanding to make space’ to your Personal Coping Kete as a way to survive the times when you are struggling.  You’ll be able to take a moment of observe your thoughts and moods in the moment by putting words to them. Breathing deeply, remind yourself “I have space for what is here” and imagine yourself expanding around it.
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Acknowledgement: “Expansion” is an acceptance strategy found in Russ Harris’s ACT self-help book ‘The Happiness Trap‘.

This post is one person’s way of learning and practicing expansion – it isn’t necessarily the right way. When it comes to coping there is almost never a right way. We’ve each got to experiment to make it our own.   

 

No. 153: Label Thoughts As Thoughts

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

… I will practice noticing my thoughts and seeing them for what they are – thoughts. This week, whenever I notice myself look at a clock, I will take a brief moment to be still, take a breath and register what is in my mind. As I notice a thought running through my head, I will tell myself “I am having the thought that…“.  For example, if I look at the clock, breathe and think “I am going to be late”, I will say to myself “I am having the thought that I am going to be late”.

If I notice a second thought attached to the first, I will describe that to myself too. Thoughts often come in chains of ‘this’ and then ‘that’ and then… etc. Sometimes we have second thoughts about our first thoughts. I will let these surface if they are there too. If I notice myself judging or labeling my thoughts as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in some way, I will describe that to myself too, “I am having the thought that…”. I will try to use neutral words.

When my mind goes blank or I feel distressed, I will label my thoughts about that and come back to my breathing. After I have taken about five good breaths in and out, I will return my attention outward again by describing what is around me right now, “Right now I see…Right now I hear… “. Then I will turn back to whatever I was about to do before. As thoughts pop up to distract me from my task, I will label them as thoughts and return my focus to what is around me and what I am doing now. Sometimes I might only spend a couple of seconds noticing one thought and labeling it as a thought, it doesn’t matter what thoughts I notice and label, but this week I will practice stepping back and labeling my thoughts as thoughts.

Usually our thoughts are constantly running through our minds without us noticing them and we just go along reacting to them on auto-pilot.  By doing this exercise, I will get used to taking a step back to observe my thoughts and recognise them as ideas happening in my mind. Labeling my thoughts as thoughts will highlight the distinction between what is coming in through my senses and what is the meaning attached to it by my mind. Often these two things we will be an obvious match. However, just as often things are a bit more ambiguous and unclear. Often there are multiple potential meanings and labeling thoughts can help me keep sight of that. This can help the body know it is safe to calm down any stress responses it has been automatically firing off.

It is harder to step back and label our thoughts as thoughts when our emotions are high. This is why practicing for just a moment at regular intervals when emotions aren’t high is helpful while we get the hang of it. I might find that looking at a clock isn’t the most useful reminder to practice for me. If that’s the case, I can pick another thing I do everyday to use as a reminder to practice.

When I am comfortable with stopping to label my thoughts as thoughts during everyday moments, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping in times of stress and distress. When I notice my emotions getting high or my mind starting to race, I will take a moment to breathe into my belly and let my thoughts register one by one. As I notice a thought, I will describe it to myself “I am having the thought that…” . Once I have sat for a moment and let each of my thoughts register and be recognised as  a thought, I will turn my mind to the sensation of breathing and what is surrounding me right now. “Right now I see… Right now I hear…”. I will turn my attention to what I need to do next by telling myself, “Right now I could…” . This might be a self-soothing or distraction exercise or some form of expression, support or engagement.  Labeling my distressing thoughts as thoughts might help to soothe their sting if they are overwhelming, slow them down if they are racing or make them clear if they are clouded.

No. 151: Mindful Moment

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

… I will pause once a day to practice being mindful of the present moment and myself inside it. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment on purpose, without judgment and with full awareness of both the internal and the external parts of our experience. I can do this by purposefully observing the present moment, describing it to myself and then participating in the experience.  In order to fully observe, describe and participate in the moment I need to focus on one thing at a time, take a non-judgmental stance and be effective. Being effective means choosing the direction that is most helpful or doing what needs to be done without being trapped in our emotions but without ignoring them either. This week I will practice taking the time to observe what is around me and what is inside me. I might need to set an alarm or decide on another reminder ahead of time to help me remember to practice. While I’m new at mindfulness, I’ll practice at a time when my emotions aren’t running super high.

Once a day I’ll practice taking a mindful moment. Breathing calmly and moving into a comfortable position, I will focus my mind on the here and now…Noticing what is happening around me right now, I will observe my surroundings and describe them  to myself without judgement. When I notice myself making judgments, I will observe them that way, carefully re-word them and return my mind to the present moment as I continue with my breathing. I can ground myself in the present moment by paying attention to my five senses and participating in them with awareness. What do I see around me right now… what do I hear… what do I smell… what do I taste… what do I touch? I will allow my thoughts and feelings to register and come back to my senses. I will name thoughts as thoughts, feelings as feelings, separating the past from the present, acknowledging the things that are unwanted instead of pushing them away. I will observe and describe any thoughts and worries about the past or future that arise, without evaluating them or chasing them. I will then turn my attention back to observing and describing the physical environment around me and how I experience it. Once I have observed the whole of my surroundings and what is going on inside me, I will turn my attention to the next task I have at hand, carrying my wider awareness with me.

When I am comfortable paying attention to the present moment at an ordinary time, I will add ‘Mindful Moment’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I notice my emotions starting to run high, I will be able to pause, ground myself in the present and tolerate my distressing thoughts and feelings without pushing them away. I will be able to observe and describe my experiences for what they are and continue to be fully aware of my surroundings and my senses.

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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. 150: Make a Memory Jar

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

… I will practice holding onto positive memories by making and using a Memory Jar. To make a Memory Jar, all I need to do is get a jar with a lid that I can fill with reminders of my positive memories throughout the year. Each day, I will write down at least one positive thing I want to remember later. I’ll write down the small things like amazing views or scenery I have seen or fabulous food I have eaten or moments of laughter with friends as well as the big events and achievements that happen throughout the days and weeks of the year.  Some people add objects and pictures to their memory jars too – like ticket stubs from good movies and concerts, photos of friends, shells from beach trips, dried flowers etc etc. My Memory Jar can become a real lucky dip of treasured moments that I will be able to use as fuel for feeling good in days to come.

To start with, I’ll need to get my Memory Jar ready.  Click here to see some Memory Jars made by other people. Some people decorate their memory jars – I could get really creative with this. I might find myself having pessimistic or cynical thoughts about the activity, especially if I am in a low mood when I sit down to do it. Finding it hard to remember positive things doesn’t mean that there have been no positive things. It just means I haven’t noticed any positive things. Sometimes it can help to write down something I think I would find positive on a different day if I was in a better mood. By practicing the art of writing something down every day, I will practice holding onto positive memories in the face of difficulty and hardship.

After I have made my Memory Jar, I will schedule in some time each day for the next week, to write a new memory on a slip of paper and add it to the jar.  If I have been feeling low, I will sit down with the Memory Jar during the time of the day when I usually feel the best. It is harder to notice positives when we are feeling negative, so if I find it tough to think of positive memories from the day, I won’t be hard on myself for it. I will have compassion for myself and let myself start small. I might find it easier to carry some little slips of paper with me, so I can write down positive moments as they happen. This might help me be able to notice these things so I can add them to my Memory Jar.

At the end of the week, I will look through my Memory Jar and practice remembering each of the good moments in my week. I will then plan in how to continue adding to my jar as I move through the year. At the end of each week, I’ll review a few of my good moments and again plan how to continue adding to my jar. It might help to keep it somewhere I will see it often. Reviewing my memories each week will help me to get comfortable holding my positive memories in my mind without cancelling them out with the bad stuff that has happened. This will help me to be more comfortable remembering good memories when I am feeling bad.

As I gather more and more  slips of paper with good memories on them, and get comfortable noticing and recording positive memories, I will add ‘Use My Memory Jar’ to my Personal Coping Kete for moments of stress and distress. If I am finding things hard, I will take out my Memory Jar and use the little slips of paper to shift my thoughts to good times and moments of gratitude. I might even find some ideas for positive things I can do in the present to shift my mood to a more enjoyable place. In times of stress and distress, as well as remembering good memories, I will add one new good memory to my Memory Jar. Even when everything is terrible, I will be able to find one good thing to add to my Memory Jar. Doing this during tough times might help me to balance out some of my unwanted thoughts and feelings and shift the intensity of my moods a bit. Turning my mind towards positive events when I feel distressed might help me learn to let go of unhelpful thoughts and hold onto more helpful ones. Each time I notice I am dwelling on something unhelpful, I will use my Memory Jar to help me talk myself through in a way that gives me a more balanced viewpoint that takes the good on board with the bad.

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Happy New Year from Engage Aotearoa/CMHRT and Engage Resources Ltd.

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. 139: Replace “I Can’t” with “I Don’t”

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…
…I will practice using my word-choices to help me work towards my goals. Often, when we want to make changes, there is something we want to stop doing and other things we want to do more of. This week, I will practice choosing words that focus on my control and power to decide.

Research has shown that often when we  start telling ourselves ‘I can’t do xyz thing’ we tend to want to do that very thing even more. Only one out of ten people who tried to cut back on chocolate by telling themselves “I can’t eat chocolate” actually managed to stop eating chocolate. On the other hand, the same study showed that eight out of ten people who told themselves “I don’t eat chocolate” managed to reach their goal. Telling ourselves that we can’t do things tends to leave us feeling restricted and wanting to rebel against ourselves, telling ourselves that we don’t do things tends to leave us feeling like we control what we choose to do. 

So this week, I am going to practice noticing myself thinking “I can’t do that now” or “I am not allowed…” and I am going to mindfully replace the word ‘can’t’ with ‘don’t’… “I don’t do that now”. As I move through the week, I’ll try to notice how this affects me, when the strategy is useful and what I do with the strategy to make it work for me. There might be times when I really can’t do something, like fly down to the bus stop, but I might be surprised at just how often the things I think are limits are really choices and preferences that I have.

Once I am comfortable with replacing my can’ts with don’ts on a day-to-day kind of basis, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of engaging with my goals to stop things that are no longer helpful to me. I will be able to pick up on any unnecessarily limiting thoughts I am having about my goals as things “I can’t do” and use my self-talk to transform the can’ts into don’ts. If there is something I want to change, like to stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs, I will be able to take control of my language to help soothe the pressure from the situation and make myself feel more in charge of what I am doing. I might make a list of the things I feel like I can’t do anymore, and then re-write each item using the words I don’t, and keep the list with me for times when I’m feeling tempted.

No. 131: Mindfulness of My Breath

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

...I will practice being mindful of my breath as a way of changing my state of mind in the moment.

This week, I will try to pause at least once a day to spend a few minutes simply noticing my breathing, as I observe my thoughts and come back to being aware of my breaths.  Observing my thoughts means that as I notice my mind has wandered I describe what I am thinking to myself in my head. For example I might say to myself “Oh I am thinking xyz about work right now…”  and then I will turn my mind to noticing my breathing. Observing and describing my thoughts might help me express to myself what is really going on for me.

I won’t try to change my breathing at all, I will simply sit still for a few minutes while I breathe and notice myself breathing. As I see thoughts come into my head, I will notice what I am thinking and then I will bring my thoughts back to my breathing. I will notice the sensation of the breaths as they come in and out, I will notice the temperature of the air, the sound of my breathing, the way the breath feels on the way in and the way it feels on the way out. While I notice my breathing and observe my thoughts, I will practice having compassion for myself  and not criticising myself for the thoughts I have. Even if I notice myself criticising myself, I will simply bring my thoughts back to my breathing without further judgement. After a few minutes, I will open up my eyes and come back to my day.

It might seem pointless at first, but giving ourselves a chance to be mindful of our breathing has been shown to help a lot of people feel calmer about things, even though it doesn’t change the situation. Taking time to be mindful of our breath can help us  feed ourselves the air we need to have a clear head and give us the space we need for our thoughts to become clear to us.

Once I am used to spending some time being aware of my breathing while I observe my thoughts, I will add this exercise to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of dealing with stress and distress. When I notice myself becoming tense or upset, I will pause and spend some time focused on my breathing while I observe my thoughts without judgement and come back to my breath. No matter what happens, I am still here breathing. This can be an excellent way to give myself some space when things are tough. Sure, breathing doesn’t change anything I am facing, but it gives me some time and room to clear my head and become aware of where I am at in the moment, so I can move forward through my day with awareness and a bit more clarity.

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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.