Grief/Loss

  • How To Make Friends With Change

    If there’s one thing that can be counted on in life, it’s change. Sages, scientists and philosophers have agreed on this simple fact since time immemorial:

    “Nothing endures but change,” declared Heraclitus back in Ancient Greece.

    "All conditioned things are impermanent" said Buddha.

    “Nothing gold can stay,” wrote Robert Frost.

    A profound acceptance of this truth – that all things are impermanent – can truly transform the way we live.

    Of course, it is in our human nature to try and defy change. Left-brain thinking, which is so dominant in our culture, seeks to sweep the world into tidy boxes -- filing and ordering life to give it more permanence, security and familiarity. But to do this also goes contrary to the truth – that the present is living, in flux, and therefore difficult to fix. In a paradoxical twist, the only thing we can count on is change – so it makes sense to try to make friends with it.

    We can try to see change with new eyes by appreciating what it brings to our lives. Have you ever stopped to consider what a world without change would be like?

    “Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” says Thich Naht Hahn

    Without change, we would be frozen in time and space. In this way, change opens a world abundant with potential and possibility -- a living moment for which we can be grateful.

    Many of us may feel that change arouses fear and anxiety. Perhaps this stems from an expectation that it will be for the worse, or from a desire to distance ourselves from unpleasant aspects of our experience. Whatever the reason, fear blocks our ability to meet change with acceptance and open-mindedness. In these moments, we can use mindfulness to become more aware of the dialogue that’s taking place within -- and by looking at fear with curiosity and non-judgement, we can begin to disconnect from it and find the power to step into courage.

    Of course, we all need to feel grounded when change takes place around us, but so often we seek this anchor in external things or people. Once we truly understand that the external world is transient and fleeting, it makes little sense to continue to seek security in it -- and that's when we can start to look for that anchor inside of ourselves using mindfulness and meditation. By practising over and over the act of remaining present with what arises, we can come in touch with a part of ourselves that is beyond the ebb and flow of life.

    In fact, the more we let ourselves experience change, the more we may realise that it is something we can survive and benefit from. Life doesn’t necessarily get ‘easier’, but using mindfulness, we can ride its waves with more resilience and equanimity – or in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, we “learn to surf.”

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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  • 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!

     

    9. 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. 

  • Exploring Fear with Compassion

    Compassion

    This blog post is based on a talk by Tara Brach, titled ‘Transforming Two Fears: FOF and FOMO’. Click here for the full audio.

    When we experience fear, sometimes the last thing we feel we want to do is meet it head on. Our habitual response may be to distract ourselves, or try to ignore it. However, by doing this, we miss out on the opportunities for freedom and growth that fear offers.

    If we can investigate our fear with compassion and openness, we can move through it and beyond, to a more spacious place – not a place where the fear ceases to exist, but where it can safely co-exist with other aspects of our humanity.

    In her talk ‘Transforming Two Fears: FOF and FOMO’, Tara Brach explains two common types of fear: fear of failure (FOF) and fear of missing out (FOMO), and what we can do to meet these fears with kind awareness, curiosity and acceptance.

    Fear of Failure

    This can encompass many different fears, not just the obvious ones that may come to mind. Fear of failing in our career, education or relationships is common, and something we all share. So is the fear of not being able to cope with certain situations, for example ‘How would I cope if I became unwell?’

    There are probably countless other situations that we may have imagined, and consequently worried about, namely about our ability to successfully meet those challenges. Fear of rejection, or of not being good enough also fit this category. Tara describes it as ‘fear of deficiency’; a feeling that we’re simply not prepared or equipped for what the future may bring.

    These fears keep us alert to everything that might go wrong, in either our immediate or distant futures. They come from the primal part of our brain, which simply wants to avoid harm. It’s tempting to believe that by analysing everything that could go wrong, we will be more prepared.

    And sometimes this may be true. But usually what happens is that we become disconnected from the present moment, which is where our resiliency and strength truly exists.

    Fear of Missing Out

    Fear of missing out is somewhat different. It’s that nagging fear that we’re missing out on pleasure or gratification of some kind, that our lives could or should be different somehow, that we could have more, that things could be better.

    This fear creates a feeling of dissatisfaction with our lives. Or it can create a fearful sense of urgency, that we ‘must’ take this particular action now, otherwise we might miss out on an opportunity forever.

    Advertisers regularly take advantage of this shared fear of ours, promoting limited time offers, and encouraging material competitiveness with our peers, for example. But we may also experience this fear in relation to things such as finding love, having children, or losing our youth.

    Investigating Fear Through Meditation

    Tara Brach offers two reflective meditations to help us meet these two distinct fears, with honesty, acceptance and kindness. After all, these are fears that we all experience. Although we often believe they are a personal failing on our part, they are in fact a shared experience across all of humanity, and even other species too!

    Reflecting on the Fear of Failure 

    The first step of widening your identity – not being caught in the cocoon of fear – is to just investigate. Just to notice it, witness it,” says Tara. “So you might bear witness, without judgement, and just ask yourself, ‘So where do I become afraid of falling short?’

    With a sense of openness and curiosity, we can explore the kinds of thoughts and memories that come to mind when we reflect on our fears of failure, rejection or not being enough. Can we think of one particular habitual fear that comes to us time and time again?

    Rather than trying to dance around it and avoid it, take some time to really meet it within yourself. Notice the reactions it triggers, the typical line of defence you take against it. And rather than seeing it as your personal fear, Tara suggests viewing it as ‘the’ fear – one of the archetypal fears that all humans experience. How does doing this with a sense of kindness affect that fear?

    Reflecting on the Fear of Missing Out

    Now with the same openness, we can feel into the distinctly different fear of missing out; the stress or anxiety we experience from feeling there is something pleasurable or gratifying to be had that we don’t yet have. What feels particularly important to us to have right now? The range of experiences this could include is vast, from not wanting to miss out on the latest piece of technology, to not wanting to miss out on achieving an enlightening insight. It could be that we’re frightened of never achieving the level of wealth or success that we crave, or of not finding ‘the one’.

    The less we feel that our needs are being met in that area of life, the more intense our fear of missing out on that thing will be. Our desire or fixation on what we don’t yet have can cut us off from the present moment. By exploring our FOMO, we may notice that shift, from a mindful state to a more narrowed, restricted view. But again, this is not a personal fear of our own creation, it is ‘the’ fear of missing out, arising in us as it arises in all of us.

    How does it feel in the mind, heart and body? Tara reminds us that, “You’re bearing witness to how this human self is when caught in this conditioning. So bring some kindness to it.

    Using Fear as a Portal

    “If we deepen our attention when we’re caught in the fear of failure, when we’re caught in that fear of rejection… the more we discover a kind of timeless belonging that takes us beyond that fear. And with FOMO, the more we get in touch with that fear of missing out and that wanting for gratification, the more we discover that what we wanted was always here. And we tap into an absolute infinite flow of creativity, of dynamism.”

    So by meeting these fears with attention and compassion, we can use them as portals to move beyond, into greater spaciousness. Our fears will still be there, and will still catch us. Yet by mindfully greeting them each time we notice them arise, we can become less and less contained by them. We can stop basing so much of our identity around constantly trying to subdue these fears by using outside sources, such as money or achievements, and instead tap into something deeper within.

     

    Find out more about our courses and workshops. 

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