Stress

  • 10 Tips to Mindfully Survive a Nervous Breakdown

    written by Alexa Frey

    A nervous breakdown is defined as: “an acute, time-limited mental disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depression, anxiety, or dissociation 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, and trembling or shaking, insomnia, hallucinations, extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts, panic attacks, which 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.

    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. Even if only for one minute. Anchoring your attention on sounds can be very helpful, if the feelings or sensations in your body are too distressing. Mindful walking too, can 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. Also, 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. Last, 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. For more inspiration, find below a list of cultivation meditations.

    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 do stay in contact with friends and family - even if you decide to be on your own. Use whatsapp (in moderation), if phone calls are too much and do 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., then it might be time to cut down contact with him/her. As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you will also experience that some friends might just decide not to care, not to be there for you. That can be very painful, but also a great way to learn which of your friends are true friends and which ones aren’t.

    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.

    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 by you and you’re missing out big time (Facebook newsfeed will be the worst!). 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 all in this together.

    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 extremely 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 videos. Yoga with Adriene has a few easy and relaxing ones.

    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 technological use to a minimum. 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 great (look for “Catcher in the Rye” on YouTube). 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. Also, try to use Facebook and Instagram as little as possible. The endless scrolling won’t make you feel better, and trust me, if you see all the oh-so-happy lifes of your friends, while you can’t get out of bed, will not help. If you do watch a movie, choose one that doesn’t make you too anxious or sad. Instead choose something calming and/or happy!

    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 all your 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.

    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. But especially 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. Now.

    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 Xanax to help you get you out of the worst anxiety, anti-depressants can get you out of the depression and a therapist can help you through 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!

    Self-Care

    I wish to end this article with something really legit 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 teenage 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:

    Gratitude Meditation

    Love Meditation

    Animal Affection

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Cultivating Happiness Workshop

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • Three Mindfulness Tips for When Life Gets Hectic

    beeWouldn’t it be lovely if life was just a gentle unfolding of events? If work and family stuff and exams and big changes were all neatly spaced out and we never had to think of more than one thing at once? Although we may find ourselves regularly wishing for such a life, the truth is that life gets hectic! And sometimes there’s so much to get done or to think about that we might feel like our brains will explode. Wishing for life to be different tends to make our to-do lists seem even heavier, so what’s the alternative? How can mindfulness help when we seemingly don’t have any spare time for it?

    Make Use of the Breath

    There are lots of great quotes out there about how we must ‘make time’ for the important stuff, and while the sentiment is true and sometimes useful, at other times it can just make us feel guilty or irritated. If we’re rushed off our feet it can be really hard to find time for things like a seated meditation, even though we know it will help. During busy periods it may be more beneficial to simply make better use of something we’re already doing, and that is breathing.

    When we’re busy trying to meet deadlines, moving home, revising for an exam, looking after the children, etc., we’re breathing throughout all of these activities. So whilst we’re breathing anyway, we might as well make the most of it! Whenever you notice that you’re feeling tense, or that you’re not paying attention to what’s happening because you’re thinking ahead to everything else you need to get done, try just deepening the breath for a short while. It won’t slow you down or get in the way of what you’re doing; in fact by becoming a little more present and mindful you’ll probably make less mistakes, and feel less stressed out too.

    Write It Down

    Trying to keep mental to-do lists can be highly stressful. We worry whether we’ve forgotten anything, or become anxious about potentially forgetting something unless we tell ourselves about it again and again. This constant stream of forward planning can make it hard to sleep at night, or makes us grouchy with our loved ones.

    Instead of storing everything in your mind, try writing some lists. Writing everything down gives the mind an opportunity to let go and relax for a while. As well as being practical, this is also a great way to take care of your well-being.

    Small Acts of Self-Compassion

    The stress of being busy can take its toll, and we may find that we’re feeling angry, irritable, tearful or depressed as a result. It’s during these moments of distress or discomfort that we could really do with a little self-compassion. And a little goes a long way! Regular, small acts of self-compassion can drastically transform your day.

    Research shows that treating ourselves compassionately triggers the production of oxytocin – a hormone which helps us feel loved and safe. In her book, ‘Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind’, Dr. Kristin Neff explains how when we give ourselves a comforting hug, oxytocin is released in the same way as when someone else hugs us. So we don’t have to wait until someone else reaches out a caring hand; giving ourselves the same kind treatment has the same effect.

    So next time you notice that you’re feeling distressed or uncomfortable, try wrapping your arms around yourself for a compassionate hug, or try gently stroking your own arm or face, whilst gently acknowledging how hard things are for you right now. Talk to yourself, either out loud or inwardly, in the same way you would to a friend who was feeling overwhelmed or pressured by having so much to do. See how it changes your experience.

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    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS

    Introduction to Mindfulness

     

  • How to Have a Mindful Look at your Dark Side

    dark sideA 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.

  • 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

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for Work

  • Finding Your Inner Balance in an Unpredictable World

    centreIn this uncertain world, we try our best to find routine and predictability, hoping that these things will make life easier. However, life isn’t so great at cooperating with our plans! Life is messy, so what can we do?

    Using mindfulness to find some inner balance can help us cope with the ups and downs life throws at us. Finding our centre can help us navigate this ever-changing world with more ease.

    The first step is to recognise the beliefs and ideas we have about how our experience ought to be. For example, when something painful happens and we react with thoughts of ‘this isn’t fair’ or ‘this isn’t right’, we can use these as prompts to check in with our beliefs. What we may find is that our beliefs stem from simply wanting to avoid pain or discomfort.

    The next step is to understand that this is completely natural. No one wants to suffer. In this way, we are the same as every living being, and we can use this understanding to give ourselves, and others, some compassion. Seeing these reactions as universal, and not due to some personal failing, we can then loosen a little around these beliefs. We can’t shake them off entirely of course, but they may become a bit less heavy.

    Once we recognise and understand what’s going on in our minds, we can then take some practical steps to find our centre. By ‘centre’ we mean that deeper part of you; the part that is more spacious and therefore more accommodating to what is currently happening. You could try thinking of it as stepping out of the beliefs and ideas that make life painful (i.e. this is wrong, this is bad, this shouldn’t be), and into a wider space, the space that exists between those thoughts. Here in this space there is room for what actually ‘is’, and it is always there for us to take refuge in.

    How we connect with that centre may vary depending on what works best for us personally. We may find that simply focussing on the breath is enough to get us there. Or we may need to take some time away from everyone else to meditate for a while. Perhaps we might find our centre through mindful movement practices, or by going for a walk outside and getting some fresh air. Maybe it’s by placing our hand on our heart. Whatever it is, it will be something that reconnects you with this moment right here. This is where you’ll find your balance again.

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    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

  • Finding Refuge in the Breath

    bambi
    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 sometimes 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 different ways. We may have a glass of wine, or a cigarette, or some cake, or switch on the TV and zone out. We might constantly check social media for distractions, or go on shopping sprees, yet this only increases the busy-ness of our minds. Rarely do these things give us that 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 sometimes too), simply taking a deep breath can bring great relief. 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.

    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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    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

  • Practical Tips for Practising Mindfulness

    NYThere are so many benefits to be gained from regular mindfulness practice. Research has shown that mindfulness meditation can improve learning processes, memory and emotional regulation (just to name a few things!) by prompting changes in different regions of the brain. However, in the same way that it can be difficult to get into new exercise or healthy eating habits, it can be hard to turn mindfulness into a daily practice, even if we know how much we will benefit from doing so. Once we’ve gotten into the swing of things, maintaining a regular mindfulness practice becomes much easier. But what steps can we take when we’re first starting out that will help us incorporate mindfulness into our daily routines?

    Using Your Phone as a Mindfulness Prompt

    The simplest and easiest way that we can become more regularly mindful is to set an alarm on our phone or watch. By setting alarms to go off at certain times of the day, our present mindful self can remind our future self (who might have become a bit mindless by that point) to take a pause and breathe.

    How long we choose to pause for is completely down to us, but even if we’re working at our desks when the alarm sounds, we can take a moment to adjust our posture and let go of any tension we’re holding in our bodies, so that we can continue with our work in a more present mindset.

    It’s best to choose a gentle alarm tone, rather than something that will jolt or aggravate you when it goes off. Experiment with setting alarms at different times of the day, maybe focusing on times that you know you could particularly use a mindfulness prompt, for example on your commute to work, at lunchtime, or as you’re winding down in the evening.

    Making Time to Sit

    Even though we know that meditation is good for us, we can probably come up with lots of reasons not to do it. When faced with the choice between watching our favourite TV show and sitting for 20 minutes in silence, the TV show is probably going to seem more entertaining! Once we’ve gotten into a regular meditation practice, the benefits we feel from it will motivate us to make time for it. Yet until that happens, we might need to give ourselves a little push to make the effort. Setting a regular time for meditation can help us do this.

    Pick a time of the day that you’re most likely to be able to stick to. For example, if you’re always rushed in the mornings, it might be better to choose a time in the evening when things aren’t so hectic. It might be useful to start off with a short amount of time, like five or ten minutes. You can then increase your meditation time once you start to get comfortable with it. Try your best to sit down to meditate every day at your chosen time, even if you don’t feel like it sometimes. Just remember, it will get easier the more you do it.

    And if you do miss a day? Or two, or five? It’s okay! Go easy on yourself. Just try to keep that intention going, and start over again if you need to.

    Find a Meditation Buddy

    Sometimes sharing a routine with a friend can make it easier to stick to. It’s so tempting to make excuses and reasons not to do something when it’s just us, but we generally don’t like to let our friends down. We tend to make more of an effort to stay on track with our plans when we know that someone else is also benefiting from it. Plus the social side of it might make it more enjoyable if we don’t like sitting alone.

    Alternatively, if you want some guidance and a structured routine, it might be beneficial to join a regular meditation group. Here at The Mindfulness Project we host a weekly evening meditation for people who have completed an 8-week Mindfulness Course. Check out our calendar for more information on what’s coming up at our space!

  • Comparing Ourselves with Others

    wheelIt 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. However, although it’s natural for us to compare, this doesn’t mean that it always benefits us. Fear and anxiety are also 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 must maintain in order to keep feeling okay.

    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, a kind, loving person, etc. However, rather than softening the sting of social comparison and helping us to accept ourselves just as we are, 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 mustn’t get caught up in anger or selfishness like most other people do, and so on.

    Dr. Kristin Neff, a leader in the field of self-compassion research, explains:

    “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.”

    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 Who We Are 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 and limitations, emotions and thoughts. Remembering this can help us become more grounded in the presence who we are, not in relation to family, friends, colleagues or celebrities, but as a (in some ways)  separate being who is equally valid as everyone else on the planet.

    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, 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 this, we can hopefully 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, and also viewing our failings with self-compassion, rather than belittling ourselves because other people seem to be doing much better.

    A quick and effective way of accessing more self-compassion in this moment is to place our hands on our hearts. 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. Remember to breathe, and notice any unkind or judgemental thoughts which might be arising. Acknowledge their presence, yet if you can, try not to hold onto them. Just be with those thoughts, as a habitual chattering of the mind, rather than placing any sense of truth onto them. If it’s useful, you could try reminding yourself that you are always doing the best that you can in any moment. 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.

    Would you like to learn more about how to cultivate self-compassion and how it can support you through challenges and difficult times? Check out our Self-Compassion Workshop on July 12th!

    References:

    http://self-compassion.org/why-self-compassion-is-healthier-than-self-esteem/

  • Taking the Rush Out of Life with Mindfulness

    londonDo you ever feel like the Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? Always looking at the clock, feeling that there’s no time? That eternal sense of ‘I must rush on to the next thing’. Work and family commitments, household chores, even scheduled leisure time activities, can all give us the feeling that there’s a never-ending list of things to get done. Rather than living from a place of presence, we find ourselves caught up in our mental to-do list, always missing the present moment experience, always thinking ahead to what’s next in line.

    This way of being can cause a lot of stress and tension in our lives. It can also leave us feeling detached from what really matters to us; that we are not living fully, only existing to achieve this task, and then the next, and the next. But the practice of mindfulness can provide respite from this sense of needing to rush. By reconnecting with ourselves and the moment, we can give ourselves the gift of greater peace of mind.

    Resistance to Slowing Down

    When we’re feeling rushed, the thought of taking a moment to pause may at first seem impossible. It might even add extra tension: “Not only have I got this, this and this do to, but now I’ve also got to take a few moments to breathe? Yeah right!” It’s natural to feel some resistance to it, after all isn’t it just piling on another task for us to complete?

    If we see mindfulness as something to achieve then of course this will just add to our sense of not having enough time. However, those moments of feeling overwhelmed are the perfect moments to take a breather. Imagine a traffic jam; all the lanes are closed, and the cars are just piling up behind the blockade. The mounting fumes from running engines, the noise from car radios, the stress of being late, of being stuck, it all just keeps growing and growing. Then someone opens one of the lanes and the cars start passing through. Then another lane is opened, and before long the traffic is running smoothly again. This is what we do when we take a moment to slow down. Rather than making the problem worse, it helps everything run more efficiently. Our rushing thoughts are the cars in the traffic jam, clogging up our experience, and our mindful moments are the opening of the lanes to let them through.

    Noticing the Signals

    When we’re caught in our to-do list, it’s like we’re living in a trance, missing everything around us and disconnected from our feelings and needs. But thoughts like “there’s not enough time” provide signals that tell us we’re not present. That’s not to say that such thoughts mean we’re doing anything wrong. In fact, they’re a totally natural response to the stressful lives we lead. Yet if we become attuned to noticing these types of thoughts, plus feelings of tension or tightness in the body, we can start to use these as cues to slow down, breathe, and reconnect with the moment.

    What’s Important Right Now?

    “The most important thing is remembering the most important thing.”Suzuki Roshi

    If we’re feeling stressed and rushed, it’s likely that we’ve lost sight of what’s really important to us. It’s useful to take some time to reflect on what is truly important to our hearts. Is it really having a spotless home, working into the evening, or constantly pleasing others? Or is it things like spending quality time with our loved ones, cultivating compassion for ourselves and others, and building a life around our true values? We might tell ourselves that once we have done all the things we need to do, then we will become attentive to what really matters. Yet how likely is it that our to-do list will shrink without some intention on our part to make it so? If we knew that today was our last day, would we still feel we had time to rush? Or would we realise that our time is precious and that it matters to us to pay attention to the here and now? Not out of some sense of ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ – which is where our rushed feelings come from – but because it personally matters to us.

    We have responsibilities. Practicing mindfulness won’t magic them away. However, we can hold the intention to pause and appreciate the moment, even if our appreciation is only for little things like a smile from a stranger, or the sun shining. We tend to think of life as a long journey spreading out in front of us, but actually life is a succession of these small moments. If we notice them and feel grateful for them, we may still have our to-do list, but the ‘doing’ of life can become less an automatic chore and more an active, conscious, and hopefully enjoyable engagement with our own hearts and the world around us.

  • Our Need for Acceptance and the Pain of Rejection

    communicationIn Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ‘social belonging’ is placed right after physiological needs – such as water and air, and safety needs – like protection from the elements. Most of us probably experience this to be true; that the need to be loved and wanted is high on our list of needs.

    When we feel rejected – whether it’s in love, from our family or friends, or in work or creative pursuits – this rejection can feel incredibly painful. Rejection can send us into depression or anxiety, and can make us question our value as a person.

    Rejection is Bound to Hurt

    Modern neuroscience backs up Maslow’s psychological theory of our strong need for social belonging. Studies have shown that social pain activates the same regions of the brain as physical pain does. A team of researchers, led by Dr. David T. Hsu, at the University of Michigan Medical School, found that our brains release the same chemicals to dampen pain signals when we experience social rejection as when we experience physical pain. So it makes sense that we would want to avoid rejection, just as we would want to avoid physical injury. In the same way that we will avoid putting our hand in the fire once we’ve learn how much it hurts, some of us will avoid starting new relationships, chasing career goals, or trying new things; we’ve felt the sting of rejection before, so we don’t want to put ourselves through that again.

    It seems that we are hard-wired to find rejection painful. But does that mean we are helpless when faced with it? Although mindfulness can’t stop us feeling the pain of rejection completely, it can help to take the edge off.

    Remember to Breathe

    When we feel pain, whether it’s emotional or physical, we tend to tense up. Even our breathing tenses up; it might become shallow and irregular. We’re not accustomed to relaxing into pain and allowing it to be. It hurts, and so we want to fight against it! Yet this only makes our experience even more painful.

    The simplest and most powerful thing that we can do when we’re in emotional turmoil is to remember to breathe. Taking deep, measured breaths can help take us out of our mental chatter (which is probably moving at the speed of a runaway train after a rejection) and back into our bodies. Each breath is like an anchor to the present moment. And if we get caught up in our minds again? We simply notice this, and use the next breath as another anchor.

    Once we’re more calm and grounded, we can look at some of the thoughts and beliefs we have about rejection, and how they might be adding to our suffering.

    Breaking Free of Rumination and Self-Criticism

    If we’ve been rejected, we may end up ruminating on what we could have done differently; how we could have done more to make people want us. Thoughts like “What’s wrong with me?” might be echoing around in our minds. If we’re not mindful, we may start coming up with harsh answers to these questions. Before we know it, we’re caught in a downward spiral of self-blame and self-criticism.

    Yet by noticing our beliefs about what rejection means to us, and reflecting on the reality of the rejection, we can take a step back and view it with a little more objectivity. For example, if we get turned down for a job we really wanted, rather than believing in the emotion-packed thought of “I didn’t get the job because I’m useless”, we can re-direct our attention to what’s actually real, which is that we either didn’t have the right kind of skills for the job at this time, or that we did have all of the necessary skills, but for some reason or another, a different candidate stood out and was chosen. The decision to choose another person over us probably has less to do with us than we may believe, and is 100% nothing to do with our overall value as a human being.

    Learning from Rejection

    Viewing rejection with more objectivity will not only take some of the emotional sting out of it, but it can also help us use that rejection in a more productive and positive way. Taking it less personally gives us the opportunity to take lessons from it. So in the example of being turned down for a job, rather than sinking into depression about it and giving up on our hopes and dreams, we can take note of what we need to improve on for the next time.

    Of course, being rejected in love or from family is different, and is harder to turn into a positive. Yet even in our most heart-wrenching rejections there is space for growth, as long as we treat ourselves with compassion and patience, and keep the self-blaming in check. And if we’re unable to feel kindness towards ourselves, we can at least keep breathing consciously until we’re able to find some self-compassion for our predicament.

    Simply acknowledging that rejection will hurt, whatever we do, can in itself be a relief. Much of our suffering comes from wishing that our experience was different to how it currently is. But mindfulness helps us to see and accept this moment, however we happen to find it, even if our moment is filled with feelings of unworthiness. The trick is to remember that unworthiness is a transitory feeling, never an absolute truth about us.

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