Pain & Illness

  • Chronic Pain & Illness - How Mindfulness Might Help

    Written by Tina Stallard

    The Breathworks Mindfulness for Health course helps people living with long-term pain or illness to improve and even transform their quality of life. During the eight-week course you learn how to pay more attention to the present moment, rather than living in the past or the future. Mindfulness helps us to open to our experience with compassion and care – an approach that can have many benefits: improved physical and mental health, increased resilience, better concentration, more fulfilling relationships and greater enjoyment of life.

    Mindfulness has been shown to be effective for people with a wide range of conditions, including chronic back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis and cancer. Long-term illness and pain can often lead to sleeping difficulties, anxiety or depression. Clinical trials show mindfulness practice can be as effective as prescription painkillers and it also boosts the body’s natural soothing and healing systems. Neuroscience demonstrates that it can cause physical changes in the brain’s structure, allowing us to feel less anxious and more contented.  Its benefits are now widely accepted in modern psychology and health care.

    Over the eight weeks, the course teaches simple breathing techniques, gentle movement and guided meditation to help deal with chronic pain, stress, illness and other difficulties.  I’ve been teaching this course for many years, and I have been privileged to witness how powerful these simple practices can be.

    I see people arrive on the course, some who have exhausted all other avenues, often feeling desperate, frightened and powerless. I see how during the course, people begin to open to their pain and difficulty, rather than using energy to fight them, how the simple act of committing to regular practice gives a chance to develop new responses, how the gentle movements encourage us to relate to our bodies in a different way.

    Gradually, in subtle and deep ways, the bleak landscape of pain and suffering shifts, and rays of light start to shine through the cloud.  At the end, people tell me the experience was “life-changing” and “empowering”.  One person said it gave her a “more joyful quality of life, …regardless of how much pain I am in”.

     

    Find out more on a mindfulness course, masterclass or workshop.

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  • What is Mindful Birthing?

     

    Pregnancy and childbirth can be some of the most special, significant and singular experiences in a woman’s life. But for so many, they also bring a lot of fear, pain and uncertainty.

     

    Happily, research from the University of Oxford has shown that mindful birthing may hold the power to transform and ease the experience of pregnancy, labour and delivery, as well as the relationship with the new baby after birth.

    At this point you might be wondering if mindful birthing has a connection to hypnobirthing. Although there is some common ground between the two practices – both place emphasis on breathing exercises, for example – they are essentially quite different.

    Hypnobirthing focuses on self-hypnosis – using affirmations, visualisations and relaxation techniques that help to prepare for a positive labour and birth. Mindful birthing, however, follows the principles of mindfulness to support both pregnancy and birth.

     

    Working with Pain & Fear

     

    Mindful birthing teaches how to skilfully work with pain, fear and uncertainty, and to shift perspectives by optimising the mind/body connection. Pioneered by Nancy Bardacke, an experienced midwife and mindfulness teacher, it is also known as the MBCP (Mindfulness-based Childbirth and Parenting) course -- an adaptation of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

    Mindfulness is uniquely positioned to help with the birthing process because in its modern form it was initially devised to help with pain management. Jon Kabat-Zinn was the first to study the connection between mindfulness meditation and pain when he set up his MBSR program in 1979 to treat chronic pain patients at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His landmark study years later showed that patients who were trained in the program and took a mindful approach to their physical pain, experienced significant reductions in intensity.

    In this way, mindfulness strategies can give mothers-to-be the tools to change the way they manage pain during labour and delivery. Fear and resistance can sustain and inflame physical pain, so by learning to relate differently to the discomfort that may surround intense physical sensations – to welcome it and work with it – women can reduce the likelihood of being overwhelmed and losing control.

     

    Find out more on a mindfulness course, masterclass or workshop.

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    Acceptance, Letting Go & Trust

     

    Beyond pain management, expectant mothers will benefit from the core principles of mindfulness – acceptance, letting go and trusting – which can help them to prepare for the unexpected during labour and delivery: a change to birth plans, sudden interventions or unforeseen outcomes.

    Cultivating the skill of awareness during pregnancy – which is the ability to notice thoughts and feelings as they arise – also allows expectant mothers to observe any fearful stories that the mind may be creating about birth from a more objective standpoint, and therefore identify with them less, which can help to reduce overall stress and anxiety.

    Recent research by BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth also shows that mindfulness may offer important maternal mental health benefits following childbirth. In 2017, pregnant women who undertook in an intensive course based on the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) education reported benefits including improved psychological adjustment and reduced postpartum depression symptoms.

    Well beyond pregnancy and childbirth, mindfulness skills keep giving, because they are skills for life. With regular practice, they have the power to transform future experiences of parenting, as well as all other areas of life. 

     

    Find out more on a mindfulness course, masterclass or workshop.

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  • Allowing Ourselves Time to Recover

    Allowing Ourselves Time To Recover

     

    Listening to Our Experience

    How often do we recognise (on some level) that we are feeling unwell, yet push ourselves to carry on regardless? Whether it’s with work or social commitments, many of us have the feeling that we simply can’t stop, even when we’re feeling physically or emotionally drained.

    When we’re feeling low, it can be hard to imagine that we’ll ever feel better, and so it may seem that taking time out to recover won’t do much good. Yet, in time, we will feel better again, and taking a break from our hectic schedules may be just what we need in order to find health and clarity once more.

    We’re constantly receiving signals from our bodies and minds about our current state of being. If we’re feeling good, we may experience a lightness in the body, or a clear mind, more optimism, greater resilience, etc. When we’re not feeling good, for example if we’re becoming physically unwell, we might start to feel tired, or parts of our bodies might begin to ache; we may feel irritable or tearful, seemingly for no reason. Yet there is always some reason behind how we react to life.

    These negative experiences are all indications that we are struggling. In the absence of mindfulness, we might ignore these signals. Eventually these signals will worsen until we can’t ignore them anymore, by which time we find that we are forced to rest because we simply can’t function any longer. Yet if we become mindful, we can learn how to give ourselves the care we need, before we reach breaking point.

    Tuning In

    Mindfulness is the practice of noticing the present moment with compassion and non-judgement. This isn’t just applicable to outside situations, but to our inner experience too.

    Practicing mindfulness helps us become more in tune with our bodies, and helps us realise that we have the right to stop and take time to heal. Rather than being a sign that we’re weak or incapable, allowing ourselves time to recover, either physically or emotionally, is a sign that we respect and care for ourselves.

    We’re so used to thinking of what other people need from us, many of us find it uncomfortable to put our own needs first. We’re so aware of our responsibilities, it may feel impossible to say, “Hey, I’m going to take a few days just to look after me.” Yet self-care isn’t selfish.

    Allowing ourselves time and space to recuperate is our way of honouring our existence. Besides, if we’re rested, healthy and calm, we’re sure to be of more benefit to those around us.

     

    Find out more on a mindfulness course, masterclass or workshop.

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    Honouring Our Bodies and Minds

    It’s important to take time to really listen to how we’re feeling. A great way of doing this is with a Body Scan Meditation. During a Body Scan, we go through the process of focussing attention on each part of the body, noticing any feelings, sensations or even emotions which might arise. It’s a way of taking notice of ourselves, just like how we might sit down with a friend and listen to them speak about how they’re feeling.

    If we’re used to rushing around and leading a busy life, this concept may seem a little daunting. If we take this time to get in touch with our bodies and minds, what might we find? It’s true that we might discover aches and pains, tightness or tension, or painful emotions that we’ve pushed down. Yet tuning into these sensations, paying attention to them, and then approaching them with care and kindness, is a way to honour ourselves.

    Life becomes easier when we regularly check in with ourselves, acknowledge our feelings and address our needs as they arise. If you’d like to try a Body Scan Meditation, see the link below.

    Rather than ignoring ourselves, and storing up pain, illness or discomfort, we can make a more conscious decision to treat ourselves with as much care as we might treat others in our situation. If we’re sick, we can put ourselves to bed and give ourselves the rest we would insist that our loved one’s take. If we’ve overworked ourselves, we can take a few days off to re-balance, in the same way that we would take time off if we were physically sick.

    If we’ve become exhausted through stress or anxiety, we can care for ourselves by taking time to relax. And after taking this time to rest, after giving ourselves permission to feel bad, we will probably find that we soon feel much better, and can once again face each day without the fatigue or dread we had been storing up for so long.

     

    Join a mindfulness courses or workshops with The Mindfulness Project.

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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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  • How Mindfulness Can Help Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)

    PMS

     

    The symptoms of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) can range from mild irritability, bloating and cramps, to acute depression, anxiety, even suicidal feelings. It can make it hard for us to focus at work, and can sometimes cause conflict at home with our loved ones.

     

    We may find ourselves snapping at people, or feeling tearful for no discernible reason. In short, it can make us feel vulnerable, out of control of our emotions, and that we are not really ourselves.

    Due to the complex nature of PMS, mindfulness unfortunately can’t offer a complete ‘cure’. However, it can offer some much-needed comfort and support to help us get through those difficult times, and can be used in conjunction with other remedies and treatments.

     

    Awareness of Your Cycle

     

    Some women find it useful to track their symptoms by keeping a diary. After two or three months, you may start to notice a pattern in your symptoms.

    Having this knowledge of our fluctuating moods means that they won’t take us by surprise so much. It also enables us to deal with them with greater awareness.

    If we discover that our mood worsens in relation to our cycle, we can mindfully watch out for the negative thoughts or beliefs that come with it. Knowing that our emotional symptoms have a physical cause (i.e. ovulation) might help us go a bit easier on ourselves, and rather than beat ourselves up about it, we can do more to be caring towards ourselves.

     

    Communicating Mindfully with Loved Ones

     

    If we become angry or irritable each month, this will affect how we communicate and interact with our partners, friends, family and even work colleagues.

    Mindfulness can help lessen the negative impact that our changing moods or physical discomfort may have on other people, because it can improve our communication. When we are mindful of how we’re feeling, we can express those feelings in a more neutral, considered way.

    Say for example that we tend to find our partner very irritating during PMS – every little thing they do seems to put us on edge. We may become snappy and a bit mean. If we’re not mindful, we could really hurt our partners feelings, or cause arguments.

    Yet, by regularly checking in with ourselves, and asking, ‘How am I feeling right now?’ we can express our feelings more mindfully.

    For example, if we notice that we’re in a bad mood, we could give our partner a heads up: ‘I’ve woken up in a really low mood. I’m doing my best, but I might be a little grouchy today, I’m sorry’.

    Or if we realise that we’ve snapped at them, we can at least acknowledge it and apologise, explaining that we didn’t mean to hurt their feelings, we’re just struggling right now.

    Simply being open, honest and mindful of what’s happening for us can make those difficult emotions easier to cope with. Trying to hide them or deny them will not only make them harder for us to deal with, but we also won’t be as sensitive to other people’s feelings.

     

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    Can’t Sleep?

     

    Our menstrual cycles can play havoc with our sleeping patterns. If we’re finding it hard to get to sleep, mindfulness can help in a few different ways.

    Thinking long term, it may be worth beginning a regular mindfulness meditation practice. Studies have shown that people who meditate daily experience improved sleep. This may be because meditation helps us step out of stress responses (which prevent us from sleeping) and into a more relaxed state.

    Meditation also helps the brain deal with those internal chattering thoughts – the type that can keep us awake at night! Research shows that meditation decreases activity in the ‘me centre’ of the brain – the part that’s responsible for mind wandering and self-referential thoughts (otherwise known as ‘monkey mind’).

    For more immediate comfort (for example, if you’re reading this in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep) some mindful breathing can help calm a racing or stressed-out mind. Each inhalation and exhalation offers a helpful anchor for our attention, rather than going around and around with whatever is going on in our minds.

     

    Mindful Comfort Eating

     

    Many woman experience food cravings in the lead up to, and during, their periods. The foods we usually want to eat at this time are high in sugar, salt, fat or carbohydrates – like chocolate, crisps, or bread. This isn’t really a problem, unless we overdo it.

    What can sometimes happen is that we’ll go overboard on the junk food then feel unwell, or guilty. Feeling guilty or ashamed then makes us feel even worse, and then we’re caught in a vicious cycle.

    Practicing mindful eating can help us enjoy our comfort foods, without overindulging and making ourselves feel even more bloated or depressed as a result. In learning to identify the seven types of hunger, we can first understand the hunger we are experiencing.

    We can then slow down the whole eating process by taking the time to enjoy how our food smells and looks before we begin to eat. Then, as we take the first bite, we can really savour how good it tastes. This way, not only will we get more pleasure from the food, but by slowing down we also become less likely to eat more than we really want to.

     

    Self-Care

     

    Self-care is always a nice thing to do, but when we’re feeling vulnerable, tired or unwell it’s especially important. Otherwise, what we’re likely to do is ignore, ignore, ignore… until things get so bad that we suddenly can’t cope anymore.

    By cultivating an attitude of self-care we can identify our when we need to restore ourselves. In doing so we can give ourselves the attention and care we need to deal with our symptoms as they arise.

    During PMS, our acts of self-care could take many different forms. It could be that we take some time out to rest, arrange to meet a good friend, treat ourselves to a comforting bubble bath or our favourite film, or if our symptoms are particularly difficult we might decide that we need to visit our doctor to talk about medication or hormone supplement options.

    It's also important that we continue to cultivate self-care when our period begins. This might mean cosying up with a hot water bottle, booking a relaxing massage or taking some gentle exercise to ease any pain we might experience. We may even wish to consider the period products we choose to use.

    Ruby, founder of WUKA Period Pants, says;

     

    "It's so important to put yourself first, and listen to your body. It's why we created so many different styles of WUKA period pants: everybody's different and responds differently during their cycle. For example, finding the right fit, flow, style and comfort in a pair of period pants goes a long way. Bleeding freely with no restrictions, mentally and physically, makes a huge difference."

     

    Whatever form it takes, we can consciously act kindly towards ourselves, listening to our needs and taking action accordingly. If we deny or suppress our needs, we become tense and stressed. However, if we show ourselves compassion, this creates a lighter and more spacious mindset for us to deal with our symptoms.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs a regular Mindfulness for the Female Cycle workshop. View our calendar for upcoming dates. 

     

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  • Not Wanting To Be Here, Now

    -- 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 --

     

    Many of us, at some stage of our lives, have experienced a feeling of not wanting to be here anymore. This may have been triggered by a traumatic event which caused painful feelings and thoughts we’ve wanted to escape from, or we may not be able to link it to any one reason in particular – it’s just a general sense of discomfort or pain that we’d rather not experience.

    Bringing focus and acceptance to these thoughts and feelings may at first feel counter-intuitive. Accepting the fact that we don’t want to be here, or that someone we care about has expressed such a feeling, may feel dangerous and challenging. There are certain corners of our minds which seem too dark and scary to look at.

    However, studies have shown that mindfulness can be used to not only help people after suicide attempts or suicidal urges, but can also offer significant preventive effects too.

    It’s More Common than You Think

    Despite increasing awareness and understanding of mental health issues, suicide is still a taboo subject, and many of us don’t like to talk about it. We don’t want to bring other people down or worry them, we don’t want to look like a ‘failure’, and we don’t want to look ‘crazy’.

    The truth is that suicidality affects people from all walks of life, and is increasing in frequency. It not only occurs in people with psychiatric diagnoses, but also in people with no diagnosable conditions at all. So there is really nothing ‘abnormal’ about suicide. Finding life difficult to bear is actually a common ground which many of us share.

    Experiential Avoidance

    A number of studies have directly linked the desire to avoid negative or unwanted thoughts, feelings, or sensations with suicidality. Our unwillingness to accept and allow emotions such as anger, sadness or guilt can result in us feeling we need an escape from them.

    A study by Baumeister (1990) found that the majority of suicide notes expressed the person’s need to escape from emotional pain as the reason for ending their life. When we don’t know of any other way to ease that pain, suicide can start to look like the only effective solution.

    Mindfulness is the antidote to experiential avoidance, because far from exacerbating difficult feelings, it helps to ease their weight. In the same way a distressed child needs a loving hug, our painful emotions need loving acceptance.

    Compassionate mindfulness enables us to step out of dangerous avoidance. By journeying through our pain, with clarity and acknowledgment, we stop needing to run away from it. Facing it becomes the escape we crave; only this way we are able to continue our lives.

    This principle of acceptance is just as important in the aftermath of a suicide or suicide attempt. When a loved one takes their own life, or tries to, we find ourselves dealing with a range of difficult emotions.

    Anger, guilt and regret are common reactions, including when it’s ourselves who have made an attempt. We may feel enormous guilt at causing pain to our family and friends, or we may feel guilt for feeling angry at someone for putting us through that pain. It’s a difficult time for everyone involved, and we are likely to feel many conflicting emotions.

    Mindfulness helps us stay connected to us each other during these painful times, provides a much-needed anchor to the reality of the present moment, and will make the healing process easier and more rapid.

    It doesn’t necessarily mean we share our every thought with others – that may not be appropriate – but taking the time to breathe, to compassionately acknowledge our own emotions without feeling attached to them, or creating stories about what they mean about us, will allow those feelings to arise and fade naturally within us.

     

    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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