Depression

  • 4 Ways Mindfulness Eases Anxiety & Depression

     

    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 prevent recurrance.

    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 acceptance of painful thoughts and feelings in the present moment and holding space to simply ‘be’ with them, we may find they loosen their grip on our lives dramatically. This space can bring a sense of clarity and allow us to accept things as they are.

    As a side note, this space can also allow us to explore what we are willing and able to accept, and where we might act with self-compassion to better support our needs. 

     

    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. This 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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    * Statistics from mental health charity, Mind.

  • Finding Refuge in the Breath

    Gentle Breeze by the Ocean
    The mind is a constant whir of activity. Without any effort, our minds can jump from past regrets to concerns about the future to mentally noting that doctor’s appointment we have next week.

     

    If our minds are particularly busy, this stream of thinking can become too much for us to take. The non-stop nature of it can be overwhelming.

    Naturally, we want to retreat. And we might do so in a number of ways. We may have a glass of wine, eat cake, or switch on the TV. We might constantly check social media or the news for distractions, or even go on a shopping spree.

    At times, this might be just what we need, but often this only increases the busy-ness of our minds. Rarely do these things give us the sense of respite we so badly need.

    Thankfully there is a better refuge available to us, one which we can access at any time, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. It doesn’t exist outside of ourselves, so we’ll never be without it.

    When we find ourselves in the midst of stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, or even intense excitement (this can be overwhelming too), simply taking a deep breath can bring great relief.

     

    Gentle Waves on Shore

     

    When our minds have become tumultuous with thought – each passing thought like a wave that rocks our little boat in a stormy sea, and the rocking never seems to end – we can take a deep breath and…. ahhhh, the waves settle; sometimes just a little, but sometimes a lot!

    The more we practice, the easier it gets to remember to take those important moments of refuge.

    Perhaps try it now. Take a deep breath…. and let it out slowly. How has it changed the quality of this moment?

     

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  • Comparing Ourselves with Others

    Selection of Fruit

     

    It makes sense that we compare ourselves with others; social belonging is important to us, so we look around at our peers and make judgements on how well we’re fitting in. Whilst it's natural for us to compare, this doesn’t mean it benefiting us.

     

    Fear and anxiety are natural functions of the brain, designed to help us survive. Yet when these traits, including social comparison, become overstimulated they can cripple us, rather than keep us safe.

    If we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves lacking in some way, this will leave us feeling not good enough and unable to express and enjoy our individuality.

    Reversely, if we’re comparing ourselves to others and feeling that we are better, this can put us into a self-righteous or judgemental mindset; one we might then feel we need to maintain.

    So how can we find peace with who we are, as we find ourselves, rather than basing our sense of self-worth on how we shape up in comparison with other people?

     

    Self-Esteem Relies on Comparison

     

    We may think that the antidote to being affected by social comparison is to have high self-esteem; to cultivate the belief that we are clever, good at our job, attractive, kind and loving, etc. However, rather than softening the sting of social comparison and helping us to accept ourselves, our desire for self-esteem actually drives us to compare in order to feel good.

    For us to feel attractive, self-esteem requires us to judge ourselves as above average in looks. If we’re to feel clever, we must achieve higher grades than our classmates. If we’re to feel like a kind person, we must try not get caught up in anger or selfishness like other people do, and so on.

     

    “The pursuit of high self-esteem has become a virtual religion, but research indicates this has serious downsides. Our culture has become so competitive we need to feel special and above average to just feel okay about ourselves (being called “average” is an insult).

    Most people, therefore, feel compelled to create what psychologists call a 'self-enhancement bias' – puffing ourselves up and putting others down so that we can feel superior in comparison.

    However, this constant need to feel better than our fellow human beings leads to a sense of isolation and separation.” 

    DR. KRISTIN NEFF

     

    Not only this, but when we compare ourselves to others and feel that we are less attractive or less successful, this really puts a dent in our self-worth.

    We might ask ourselves questions like, “How can I consider myself successful when my friend is earning more money than I am? That must mean I’m not successful.”

    Yet it is possible to untangle ourselves from thinking about our worth in terms of how we compare with others.

     

    Accepting Ourselves with Self-Compassion

     

    Whilst it’s true that we all share many things in common, including the pain and isolation of social comparison, it’s also true that we are unique in many ways. No one else has had quite the same life. No one else has exactly the same mind.

    We’re all dealing with a unique mix of personal history, brain wiring, physical abilities, personal limitations, emotions and thoughts. Remembering this can help us to become more grounded in the presence of who we are, not in relation to family, friends, colleagues or celebrities, but as an individual who is equally as valid as anyone else. 

     

     

    By adopting a more self-compassionate attitude towards ourselves, we can start to frame our lives differently. Instead of feeling that our achievements only count if they’re better than other people’s, we can start to realise that they count simply because we’ve achieved them.

    Say for example that we struggle daily with depression; if we come from a place of self-compassion, rather than self-esteem, we can see that our achievement of getting out of bed in the morning counts.

    These achievements are not because we’ve won some imaginary competition with others, but because it was hard for us to do, and yet we did it! And on days when we don’t manage anything, we can give ourselves a break and not add to our suffering by ranking ourselves as less than others.

    It can be useful to reflect on how we feel about ourselves, acknowledging our successes with an awareness of what it took for us to achieve them. We can view our failings with self-compassion, rather than belittling ourselves because other people seem to be doing much better.

     

    Self-Soothing Exercise

     

    1) A quick and effective way of accessing more self-compassion in this moment is to place our hands on our hearts.

    2) If it feels right, gently stroke that area, with the same kindness you might use to stroke a friend’s arm if they are feeling upset or a pet.

    3) Remember to breathe, noticing any unkind or judgemental thoughts that might arise and gently releasing them. 

    4) Acknowledge the presence of thoughts, yet if you can, try not to hold onto them.

    5) Just be with those thoughts, as a habitual chattering of the mind, rather than placing any sense of truth onto them.

    6) If it’s useful, you could try reminding yourself that you are always doing the best that you can in any moment, perhaps offering yourself some gentle words of encouragement. 

     

    Experiment with practicing this self-soothing technique whenever you notice that you’re judging your worth as a person in comparison to the worth you perceive in others.

     

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  • Beating The Winter Blues, Mindfully

     

    As we fall into a new rhythm that brings darker days and colder weather, our mood can take a hit.

     

    For some it’s a sense of feeling low-spirited, but for others it manifests as a debilitating type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D), which causes symptoms of anxiety, hopelessness, irritability and fatigue.

    Research has shown that one in fifteen people in the UK suffers from S.A.D, otherwise known as the 'winter blues'.

    Scientific studies point to a lack of the sunshine drug - vitamin D - as the culprit, which means levels of serotonin and melatonin drop and the body’s circadian rhythms are disrupted.

     

    So how can mindfulness make a difference?

     

    The first way mindfulness can be used to counteract the effects of S.A.D, is by helping us to build resilience - the ability to adapt to change and overcome the unpleasant things in our lives without being overwhelmed by them.

    Whether we’re challenged by low mood or cold weather, we can stay present and turn towards any unpleasant feelings with a curiosity and non-judgmental awareness.

    This can help to soften the hard emotional states that arise with S.A.D and strengthen our ability to bounce back in similar situations.

     

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    Likewise, mindfulness can help us to understand and embrace the impermanence of life. When we stay mindfully engaged in the moment, with whatever is arising in our thoughts, feelings and experiences - we gain an awareness that change is the nature of all things.

    Understanding the truth of impermanence can benefit us in moments of low mood, as it helps us to realise that these feelings will eventually pass.

     

     

    The next tool we have in our mindfulness practice is the power of perspective. As the adage goes: ‘change how you see, and see how you change’.

    For example, instead of directing our focus on what is lacking over the winter – warmth, sunshine, nature in bloom – we can choose to shift our awareness to see its gifts.

    A time of endings opens the door for self-reflection, and the slower pace brings with it an opportunity to rest and recalibrate. A conscious change in perspective, if we practice it often enough, can become embedded in our brain thanks to neurological plasticity.

    We can extend this sense of wellbeing even further by creating a daily or weekly gratitude list. From warm drinks and woolly socks, to the simple joy of having a bed to sleep in at night – there are countless things to be grateful for over the winter months.

    We can use gratitude as a buffer against negative attitudes and mind-sets by bringing our awareness to the good things in life and taking the time to savour them.

    Finally, since mindfulness goes hand-in-hand with self-compassion, adopting a regular self-care practice over the winter months can also help to remedy a low mood.

     

    Ask yourself what can you do to make yourself feel good?

     

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  • Wanting To Be Different

    Zebra

     

    Our internal world isn’t always how we want it to be. Emotions sometimes sweep through our minds and bodies - and we often have no control over them. Sometimes we don’t even know what triggered them.

     

    If we experience such emotional tsunamis on a frequent basis, and those experiences negatively impact on our everyday lives and relationships - we might start to hate not only those experiences, but also ourselves and this being human.

     

    “Why do I have to be like that? Why can’t I be in control?”

    “Why do I have to experience this emotional roller coaster?”

    “I want to be different, someone else!”

     

    Such thoughts usually don’t help. Especially because we tend to repeat them over and over again in our heads, and those repetitive energy loaded thoughts will create even more emotions in our bodies. More suffering. More pain. It’s endless.

    At the core of this rumination is the wish to be different. To be in control of our emotions, to feel less.

    But what if the first step to recovery wasn’t attempting to be different. But the attempt to accept who we are? To get real with who we are. To get real with the fact that maybe I need more sleep than other people? That I am an introvert who needs to spend a lot of time in nature in order to be happy.

     

    What if the solution to the problem is actually rather practical?

     

    To accept who I am and to make the necessary arrangements in my life. Practical problem solving. Taking care of the fragile being that I am - rather than wishing every day I was different, someone else.

     

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  • A Dose of Meditation: Mindfulness for Mental Health

     

    ‘Mental health’ is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’(1).

    Today, we know that this is not the case for millions of people worldwide. In fact, one in four people experience a mental health problem each year. According to mental health charity Mind, the way in which people cope with mental health problems is also getting worse – with the number of people who self-harm or have suicidal thoughts on the increase.

    While mindfulness is no magical cure-all elixir, there is emerging evidence to show that it could support a state of mental wellbeing. In instances of mild to moderate depression and anxiety, for example, mindfulness-based interventions hold great promise to ease symptoms.

    With regular practice and the support and guidance of a teacher during an eight-week mindfulness course (MBSR or MBCT), studies have shown that the benefits include stress reduction, emotion and attention regulation and reduced rumination. It also has as much power to prevent depressive relapse as antidepressants, shown by to a large-scale study published by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

    Essentially, mindfulness works because it gives us better access to resources that may help us deal positively with our experience of anxiety and/or depression. Firstly, we are introduced to the skill of awareness – which is the ability to notice our thoughts and feelings as they arise. Awareness creates space and allows us to observe our mental processes more objectively so we identify with them less.

    Secondly, we cultivate an open and accepting attitude, which allows us to welcome whatever arises, rather than trying to suppress it, avoid it or become overwhelmed by it. In this way, there is less internal conflict – which can make things a little lighter. Beyond the power of attention training, practicing mindfulness in a community may also play an important role in easing symptoms. Anxiety and depression can heighten feelings of isolation and self-judgement -- which may further feed our suffering.

    Learning mindfulness and sharing our experiences in a group setting such as an MBCT, helps us realise there is a common humanity to these conditions and that we are not so alone.

    There are instances, however, in which mindfulness should be approached with caution where mental health is concerned. As we turn towards ourselves to face our thoughts and feelings, mindfulness can often heighten our experience and perhaps even intensify symptoms for a short period. In this way, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain motivation. For those with a history of certain mental health conditions, such as psychosis, borderline personality disorder, bipolar or PTSD, mindfulness needs to be approached with care and often a tailored one-on-one approach with the specialist knowledge of a mental health professional is advised.

    While mental health awareness has improved dramatically over the past decade, we still have a way to go to change the conversation we have around it – to break social stigmas, encourage education and strengthen our response.

    Mindfulness may not be a short-term fix, but with continued practice it could provide a long-term solution for mild to moderate disorders, by giving us the power to respond to unpleasant emotions and distressing situations more reflectively rather than reflexively. We know from emerging neuroscientific research that mindfulness also facilitates plasticity, and herein lies the hope -- that each time we respond differently, we create new, more positive connections and pathways in the brain.

     

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    References (1) WHO: Mental health: a state of well-being

  • 10 Tips to Mindfully Survive a Nervous Breakdown

    Written by Alexa Frey

    -- If you’re thinking about suicide or need someone to talk to, help is available. Please call the Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK), The National Suicide Prevention Lifelife (US) on 1-800-273-8255, or find a suicide helpline in your country via IASP or Suicide.org --

     

    A nervous breakdown is defined as: “an acute, time-limited mental disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depression, anxiety, or disassociation in a previously functional individual, to the extent that they are no longer able to function on a day-to-day basis until the disorder is resolved”.

    A nervous breakdown can have many causes such as having too much pressure at work, overwhelming family duties, a divorce or death, being diagnosed with a terrible illness, a traumatic experience such as abuse etc.

    According to Helpline, the most common symptoms of such a breakdown are depressive symptoms, such as loss of hope and thoughts of suicide or self-harm, anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness, upset stomach, trembling, insomnia, hallucinations, extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts or panic attacks. 

    This can include chest pain, detachment from reality and self, extreme fear, and difficulty breathing paranoia, such as believing someone is watching you or stalking you flashbacks of a traumatic event, which can suggest undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    A nervous breakdown can last from a few hours to a few weeks. If your breakdown has been going on for a while, and you need some relief, the following ten tips are for you. They will help you not only survive this difficult time, but they might even help you grow from this difficult experience.

     

    1. Practice Meditation

     

    Try to meditate at least once a day. That’s if you can meditate. If you’re too deep in a hole, meditation might be impossible. Your heart might be beating too heavily in your chest, or you might be experiencing uncontrollable tremors which make sitting - and keeping your head upright - hard. If you can’t meditate, then don’t. But maybe, once a day, do try to give it a shot. 

    Anchoring your attention on sounds can be helpful, if the feelings or sensations in your body are too distressing. Mindful walking can also be very helpful, if sitting upright feels too torturous. If all this fails, you can always turn off the lights in your bedroom, and simply stare into the darkness - sitting or lying down. The sensory deprivation will hopefully help calm your mind and body.

    When you do meditate, try to incorporate cultivation practices. Meditate on what you are grateful for in you life. When we’re in a hole, it’s good to remember the good stuff that’s still there in our life. Maybe that’s the beautiful tree outside of your bedroom window. Or you are grateful that you have best friends that support you. Also, try to give yourself compassion for what you are going through - give yourself all the love you need.

    Lastly, do practice anticipatory joy by bringing up things you look forward to in the future. Maybe summer’s coming up and you’re looking forward to sunbathing. 

     

    2. Ask Friends for Help

     

    One of the hardest things when having a nervous breakdown is that you feel lonely. Not because you don’t have any friends, but because we are so weak that it can be very draining to be around people.

    Make sure that you stay in contact with friends and family - even if you decide to be on your own. If phone calls are too much use WhatsApp (in moderation), or ask your friends to come over - but let them know that they can’t stay too long.

    As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you will also notice which of your friends are friends that nurture you and which deplete you. You might have a friend that only texts you to let off steam. During conversations with this difficult friend use your mindfulness skills to notice how he or she makes you feel in your body. If this friend makes you feel tense, annoyed, sad, etc., it might be time to cut down contact with them.

    As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you may also find that some friends decide not to be there for you. This can be painful, but it's also a great way to learn which of your friends are true friends.

     

    3. Practice Self-Compassion

     

    You want to get better. Every day. Obviously, nervous breakdowns aren’t fun. Also, there are many different reasons why people have nervous breakdowns - as mentioned above. Some nervous breakdowns like the one due to a work burnout, will most of the time, pass. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

    However, other nervous breakdowns, might not pass as easily. Especially if the origin of the nervous breakdown stems from a chronic mental health disorder such as major depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

    Not only do such mental health disorders deplete and burn us out, they also often make it extremely hard to stay positive - a quality which in our society seems to be a must. However, how can one stay so easily positive if the very illness that one has been diagnosed with doesn’t allow a person to be positive or rational?

    Whether we are in a breakdown due to a work burnout, a chronic mental illness, a death of a close one or another chronic illness, we can choose to treat ourselves with self-compassion. To be patient with ourselves, to allow ourselves to be angry, anxious or depressed and to give ourselves all the love that we have.

     

    4. Common Humanity

     

    When we’re going through a breakdown, we might feel very lonely. Alone in our room, we might feel like we are the only one that’s going through a hard time. Especially when we look through our window onto the street, and everybody else is going about their day you might feel like life is passing you by and that you’re missing out.

    In those moments, remember that you are not alone. There are many other people out there, right now, who go through a difficult time. Even though it seems like you’re alone, you are not.

    Search the internet for stories of other people who have went through hard times in their life. Read their words and find out what deep wisdom they have learned by surviving such a difficult time. Ask friends and family for their stories.

    Remember: you are not alone. We are in this together.

     

    5. Listen to Your Body

     

    When we are in the midst of a nervous breakdown, it is important to listen to our body. We may feel very sad or even depressed and that can make us feel sleepy (especially if we’ve been prescribed tranquilisers). Many people experiencing a nervous breakdown can also feel exhausted. It’s important to give our bodies the rest they need.

    However, do listen to your body for signs of oversleeping. Too much sleep can cause dizziness and brain fog, which we want to avoid at all costs.

    Also, make sure that you go outside once a day if possible, for a walk in nature. However, do make sure that you choose a path that’s not too steep or too long and always be aware of how far it is to get back to your home. You don’t want to end up exhausted in the woods.

    If going for a walk seems like too much, try some YouTube exercise or gentle yoga videos. Yoga with Adriene has a few easy and relaxing options.

     

    6. Reduce Technology

     

    Having a nervous breakdown, we often feel like everything is too much. Sounds are too loud and laptop screens might feel too bright. This is why it can be helpful to keep minimise technology.

    Order a hard copy book and immerse yourself into a story, which will make you feel good inside. The pages - just black and white - will help calm your mind. Audiobooks can also be useful. Close your eyes and listen. Just listen.

    You will notice that when your mind drifts off, you will quickly come back to listening - after all, you don’t want miss the plot. This will give you a break from the endless ruminating and worrying.

    Try to use social media as little as possible. The endless scrolling won’t make you feel better, and trust me, if you see all the oh-so-happy version of your friends lives, while you can’t get out of bed, will not help. If you watch a movie, choose one that doesn’t make you anxious or sad. Instead choose something calming or happy!

     

    7. Communicate Your Needs

     

    Going through a nervous breakdown, we don’t have the energy that we usually have. It might be hard for us to pay those bills, clean our home, and complete other important tasks. In times like these, we need help from our friends and family.

    However, not all of us are good at asking for help, and not all the friends that we have are selfless enough to offer help. During a breakdown we already feel fragile enough, so having to feel disappointed because a friend lets us down, should be avoided at all costs.

    Thus, go through a list of friends in your mind and pick the ones you think will be willing to support you. Let those angels one by one know about your situation and kindly ask for their help. Also, if they say or do things that might hurt or annoy you, do let them know in a gentle way. Not everybody knows exactly how to deal with someone in such a difficult situation, but most are willing to listen and learn.

     

    8. Dropping into the Present Moment

     

    During a nervous breakdown, we spend a lot of time worrying about the future. Will I ever get better? What if things get worse? Or we ruminate about the past. Why did I not take better care of my health? I should have eaten healthier. Why didn’t I go see the doctor earlier and ignored the all the signs?

    It is natural to think about the future and the past. During a nervous breakdown this tendency can deplete and exhaust us even more. Apart from that, if you pay close attention there are actually some positive, or at least a few emotionally neutral moments, even during a breakdown.

    Try to become as present as you can in those moments by connecting with your senses. Say you’re having a bath, notice the warm water touching every part of your body. Notice the scent of the bath oil. Turn off the light and simply listen to the sounds that emerge out of the silence. Become present and know, that in this moment, everything is OK. In this tiny moment, nothing is wrong. It’s just you in a warm bath tub. That’s it. Everything’s OK right now. 

     

    9. Seek Medical Help

     

    In the midst of a breakdown, all we want is to just stay in bed (and sleep). We want to hide from the world. We might feel physically really weak, we might experience awful social anxiety which prevents us from leaving our house, or we might just feel too depressed to leave the bed. We might hope, that if we just give things a bit of time, that we’ll feel better soon. While for some of us that might be true, most of us will need professional help.

    Your doctor might prescribe you medication to help you get you out of the worst anxiety or depression and a therapist may be able to help you with speaking therapy (try to find one who incorporates mindfulness). Know, that you do not need to get through this in your own. There’s plenty of help!

     

    10. Self-Care

     

    I wish to end this article with something really positive about going through a breakdown. Now is the time, to indulge in self-care. Try to let go of guilt, and just give yourself everything you need. If you can afford it, order a massage therapist to your home as often as you can. Buy yourself fresh flowers once a week to put next to your bed. Go on YouTube and listen to your favourite songs and sing along if you have the strength for it. Watch all the movies (in moderation) that you’ve always wanted to watch but never had time to. Have as many warm baths as you can. Meditate and use cultivation practices to feel good inside. Grab a pen right now, of all the good stuff that you can still do and go for it!

     

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    Animal Affection 

    Gratitude

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs a range of courses and workshops. Please note, these are not suitable if you are currently experiencing a mental health breakdown.  

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  • Opening Our Hearts to Grief

    grief

    In our mindfulness practice we may welcome the idea of opening up to experiences of happiness, and may even see the benefits of doing so with sadness or anger. Yet fully opening to the pain of grief may seem more difficult, and understandably so; grief is perhaps the most painful feeling we are ever likely to experience. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a friendship or relationship, that absence of something or someone precious to us can leave a gaping hole in our lives.

    When we find ourselves in the midst of grief, we might notice that our minds go into overdrive. We think of all the things we never got to say or do, or of all the things we could try in order to get back what we’ve lost. Our minds are not very good at accepting unresolved endings, and our internal scrambling for solutions can result in yet more pain.

    Practicing mindfulness is like opening a door to reality, and when that reality is painful we may want to do anything but be mindful. We might instead prefer to distract ourselves through things like comfort eating, smoking or partying, or we might get lost in memories, or fantasies of what we wish could be.

    This is all normal. And it’s something we will all go through, even if we’ve already been through it before. Opening our hearts to grief is not easy. There is no smooth or peaceful way through grief; it will hurt. However, by letting it in and facing it with honesty and self-compassion, we may have the chance to move through it more quickly than we might otherwise, and we’ll also be more able to reach out for the support we need. When we ignore it, or try delaying it, we tend to turn to more destructive ways of coping.

    Opening to grief might at first feel like raising the flood gates; at first we’ll be completely overwhelmed. Yet in time, a natural flow will come. The grief will still be there, but it won’t hit us as though a dam were bursting. Take each moment as it comes, whatever that moment may look or feel like. The grief will arise, but if we stay aware, open and honest in the face of it, we will make it through to the other side without drowning.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.**

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    **Please note, mindfulness courses are not suitable if you have recently experienced grief or loss, unless specifically noted. Please get in touch if you are unsure and we can advise accordingly. 

  • How to Have a Mindful Look at your Dark Side

    dark side

    A key element of living a mindful life is being able to observe feelings (how they arise and fall away) and learning to be objective enough to allow that process to happen naturally. However, when it comes to extreme emotional experiences, such as hatred or intense anger, should we still be so accommodating? Can we really cultivate compassion if we make space for these destructive emotions?

    Mindfulness encourages us to become less judgemental, and so we are faced with a dilemma. If we don’t negatively judge feelings of hate, might it not just start to fester within us and start affecting our behaviour?

    It’s important to find some balance between knowing and living from our core values (i.e. being a compassionate person) and acknowledging that despite our best efforts we are not immune from experiencing the darker side of our humanity. People, events and tragedies are bound to sometimes trigger dark emotions within us; emotions that we would likely not want to admit to others for fear of judgement or misunderstanding. And this is where we might start to see the importance of allowing space for such experiences.

    Judgement leads to a denial of our internal world, and of the experiences of other people. This way of being is not in line with living a compassionate life. As dark as these feeling may be, it’s useful to look at them with the same openness and curiosity as other feelings.  Doing so creates a strange paradox; by looking at our very darkest emotions, we get to know them better, we get to see that they are fleeting experiences that we don’t need to hold onto or act upon, and also that we are not alone in experiencing them.  Therefore we are more able to become genuinely compassionate to the full spectrum of human experience, rather than simply the nice or comfortable parts.

    Being unafraid of our dark side, and honest about its existence, can help us live with greater presence and authenticity. And by shining the light of kind awareness on our darkness we reduce the risk of developing the types of cruel beliefs and ideologies that can grow from that darkness if left unchecked and ignored.

     

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  • How to Mindfully Tackle a Big Project

    mountain

    Perhaps you’re planning to start your own business, refurbish a house, train in a new career, etc., and you’re wondering to yourself ‘how on earth am I going to do this?’

    The scale of the project may seem overwhelming. There’s just so much to do, and because our minds want to keep jumping ahead to what the end result will look like, we can find ourselves experiencing a range of unpleasant feelings, such as anxiety, despair or intense self-doubt. Our fixation on the end goal can make the process of getting there really quite miserable.

    Yet mindfulness can offer some relief. The problem isn’t that we have a lot to do on our project; after all, our entire lives tend to be full of things that need to be done. Rather, our stress and doubt come from our disconnection from the present moment.

    Our desire to race to the end of the project means that we’re not fully engaged with what we’re doing right now, and therefore we have little chance of actually enjoying it or finding fulfilment in it.

    A good way to approach a big project is to first make a plan, although it’s helpful to give ourselves permission to veer from it if we need to. This way we have a guide to follow, yet our project stays fresh and organic at the same time. Being mindful means we are regularly checking in with what’s happening and re-adjusting to meet new challenges and experiences.

    Then, once we have a list of tasks, we can take each one and give it our full attention, rather than feeling we have to somehow do everything all at once.

    So for example, if we’re studying in order to start a career, we can relax a little and enjoy the process of learning; if we’re starting a business we can view each step as a new challenge to meet with curiosity, rather than seeing them as blocks in the road to our goal; or if we’re tackling a big creative project we can use mindfulness to put our heart into each small detail.

    By breaking our big tasks into smaller ones we can give each one the attention and presence they need, and perhaps even find some joy in doing them!

    "Things take the time they take. Don't worry." – Mary Oliver

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops. Or contact us to ask about Corporate Mindfulness.

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