Monthly Archives: April 2018

  • Can Mindfulness Ease PMS?

     

    As women, so many of us are challenged by our monthly cycles. The female body ebbs and flows, and each menstrual phase brings with it a unique set of physical and emotional attributes.

    These changes can create a permanent feeling of flux and give rise to a cascade of emotions – from times of anger and sadness, anxiety and irritability, to elation and optimism, even precipitating conditions such as PMT (Premenstrual Tension), PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) and PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder).

    So what can we do to support ourselves each month? Although we may not be able to completely control our hormonal cycles, the good news is we can change our relationship to them -- and that’s where mindfulness comes in.

    Mindfulness helps us to reconnect with the body

    We can begin by becoming more aware of our bodies and emotions in each moment and start to recognise familiar patterns in our cycle. Charting thoughts, feelings and symptoms in a diary or on an app over the course of a few months can give us a clearer understanding of our behaviour, and patterns may even come to light that we can then begin to pre-empt.

    In this way, our moods will no longer take us by surprise and we can take more measures to respond to them with acts of self-care and kindness.

    Mindfulness offers emotional rescue

    So often we respond to unpleasant emotions in the same way that we do to bodily pain -- with dread and resistance. But what if we could look at them with acceptance and curiosity instead? We might find that we see them in an entirely different light, and that they even ease somewhat.

    Mindfulness is one of the best tools we have to develop this new way of relating with our moods. There is a lovely poem by Rumi, called 'The Guest House' where we see emotions passing through as guests -- it’s a helpful analogy to remember when we’re in the throes of low mood, and a useful reminder of how to put our emotions and their impermanence into perspective.

    Mindfulness meditation lowers stress levels

    Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our hormones, and further aggravate PMS symptoms, especially dysmenorrhea (pain during menstruation). Happily, mindfulness can offer a helping hand here. Study after study has shown that meditation is a powerful antidote to stress, because it works to deactivate the amygdala -- the area of the brain that controls our stress response.

    By bringing even just 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation to our day, we can keep our cortisol levels in check, which may help to dissipate some of our PMS symptoms.

    A key to improving our relationship with our hormonal cycles is being aware of them in the first instance, and then learning to work with and not against them. If we can better anticipate the highs and lows we can do things like structure our schedule in a way that takes advantage of each varying state.

    For example, scheduling those challenging meetings for the days where we are most likely to feel assertive or using the more reclusive times of the month to focus on tasks involving less interaction with others.

    There may also be times when we feel like we can’t get anything done and in those moments mindfulness allow us to bring a quality of self-compassion and self-care to our experience that provides a measure of relief in itself.  

    With more awareness and respect for our cycles, the subtle shifts in mood will no longer come as a surprise. Instead we can better anticipate our needs and learn to hold each fleeting state of mind more lightly, as we go with the flow.

     

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  • 4 Ways Mindfulness Eases Anxiety & Depression

    According to the mental health charity Mind, anxiety and depression affect nearly one in four of us in the UK. So if that includes you too, you are not alone.

     

    Though their root causes are varied and complex, we do know that anxiety and depression are exacerbated by our fast-paced, plugged-in world, which leaves us little time to connect with ourselves.

    Mindfulness may not be an overnight fix, but it does offer us an arsenal of tools and techniques to ease the weight of anxiety and depression. And its effects are cumulative – which means that what we practice only grows stronger.

    Find out just a few of the ways it can help…

     

    1. Mindfulness Soothes the Nervous System

    On a simple level, mindfulness meditation soothes the nervous system and promotes a sense of calm which reduces anxiety. Being attentive to physical sensations and breathing mindfully activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces a state of peace and relaxation in the body.

    This is backed by recent scientific studies, which have revealed that levels of cortisol – the hormone that’s triggered in response to stress – are dramatically reduced in those who practice mindful awareness.

    2. Mindfulness Teaches Us to Accept Difficulty

    When the blues strike, it’s common to want to hide what we feel and detach from our emotions. Sweeping pain under the metaphorical rug stops us from connecting with it, which can simply make it worse. As the old adage goes: ‘what you resist, persists’.

    The idea of turning towards emotional pain may seem counterintuitive, but when we gently open the door and invite it in, our relationship with it can be transformed. By cultivating an acceptance of our painful thoughts and feelings in the present moment, and holding space to simply ‘be’ with them, we may find that they loosen their grip on our lives dramatically. This can bring a clarity that helps to heal old wounds and break unhealthy patterns.

     

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    3. Mindfulness Opens Us to Self-Compassion

    We all have an inner critic – it’s a voice that often comes from the past: a parent, teacher or boss. When we find ourselves stuck in a rut, feeling anxious or depressed, that judgmental voice can make things ten times harder. If we’re not careful, we can live by the stories it tells us about ourselves and let it shape the direction of our lives.

    Becoming aware of our inner critic is the first step towards disengaging with it, and mindfulness empowers us to do this. By training the brain to spot its negative internal commentaries, we can choose to respond to life’s difficulties with self-compassion instead of self-criticism. In this way, we chart new neural pathways that support and nurture us when we’re feeling low. Making self-care a part of our day can be a useful way to improve our overall well-being. 

    4. Mindfulness Helps Us to Break Negative Thinking

    Negative and ruminative loops of thinking are characteristic of depressive and anxious moods. They can throw us into a black hole of self-doubt that colours our response to everything. Happily, mindfulness can help us to break this cycle.

    With mindful awareness, we train the mind to recognise negative thought patterns and learn the skills to interrupt and respond to them in a way that makes us more resilient. Science has also shown that mindfulness works to disarm the mind’s ‘stress centre’ – the amygdala – which is the seat of our fearful and anxious emotions, and boosts activity in the more thoughtful area of the brain – the pre-frontal cortex. As a result, we are less overwhelmed by negative and ruminative thoughts, and more able to access practical thinking and positive emotions.

     

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