Stress

  • Our Need for Acceptance and the Pain of Rejection

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    In 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.

     

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    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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  • Simple Mini-Meditations for the Workday

    Home workspace of a modern woman. Images on the screen are the property of Lumina Images and can be licensed at Stocksy.com.

    A recent survey conducted by Bupa showed that 28% of British workers don’t take a minute for themselves during the workday. And two thirds of employees are unable to take a proper lunch break, even for 20 minutes. So it’s little wonder that so many of us feel that we just don’t have the time to fit meditation into our day.

    However, taking even just a few moments to slow down and calm our minds throughout the day can have a positive effect. After all, just one minute of mindfulness is better than none! So why not try these super simple mini-meditations to start off with.

    A Few Deep Breaths Before Jumping Out of Bed

    The alarm buzzes, jolting us from our sleep, and suddenly we’re facing another work day. If we like our job, then this isn’t such a bad thing. Yet if we dread going into work, these first few moments in the morning can be pretty tough. Taking a moment to calm our minds during this time could make a huge difference to how we feel for the rest of the day.

    Before we jump out of bed and get busy with our morning routine, why not take just a few deep breaths first? As we breathe in deeply, we can notice how the oxygen fills our lungs and energises the body. As we breathe out, we can try to let go of any tension we’re holding in our neck, shoulders or back.

    Of course, consciously breathing for 10 or 20 minutes is proven to benefit us in many ways, but if we feel stretched for time, just three deep breaths can be enough to take us out of our default mood of dread or depression and into a more relaxed state of mind.

    Have a Mindful Tea Break

    Leaving our desks and spending a few minutes in the kitchen to make a hot drink can provide a nice break. If we add mindfulness, however, this time can feel even more enriching.

    Try turning the process of making tea or coffee into a mindfulness meditation by slowing down every action, even if it’s only slightly. When we reach for our mug, instead of grabbing it from the cupboard, treat it as if it’s something precious. Notice how it feels in your hand – is it cool, or warm from the dishwasher or sink?

    Notice how the tea bag feels when you pick it up and place it in the mug, or how the coffee granules look as you dip a teaspoon into them. Watch how the boiling water pours into the mug, and how the coffee dissolves, or how the tea bag starts to turn the water a rich brown colour.

    Noticing each individual step of the process can help us appreciate the present moment more. Instead of seeing this time as meaningless, as just a necessary thing to do in order to create a drink, we can use this time to remember that every moment can feel special, even the seemingly mundane ones, if we just take time to slow down and notice.

    Take a Mindful Eating Moment in Your Lunch Break

    Bupa’s survey showed that about a third of workers eat their lunch at their desks, and a quarter admitted to answering emails or using their work phones during lunch. This trend is having a detrimental effect, both to work productivity and to our physical and emotional health. Over half of the people surveyed said that skipping lunch puts them in a bad mood. However, while the length of our lunch breaks may be out of our control, we do have control over how we spend the time we do have.

    We probably don’t have time to eat all of our lunch mindfully. Yet why not try eating at least the first two or three bites in a more mindful way?

    Before we start eating, we can take just a moment to look at our food, feel it in our hands, and appreciate the fact that we have something to eat. As we move our food up to our mouths, we can notice how it smells before taking a bite. When the food is in our mouths, we can focus our attention on how it tastes, and how the texture of it feels on our tongue, gums and teeth.

    Doing this, even just two or three times, can help our lunch feel more satisfying, and may also help us feel a little more in control of our time and our experience in the moment, rather than feeling that we are in a never-ending rush.

    Mindful Listening in Meetings

    In meetings, we’ll often find that our minds completely wander onto other topics, such as what we’ll cook for dinner, or ruminating about problems we’ll face when we return home in the evening. Yet this provides us with an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness! After all, mindfulness isn’t about clearing our minds of thoughts; it’s about noticing what’s going on in our minds.

    We don’t always need to be in a peaceful setting with our eyes closed in order to meditate. In essence, meditation is all about noticing when our mind is wandering away from what we want to focus on, whether that’s our breath, the food we’re eating, or a meeting. So when we realise that we are no longer listening, we can practice bringing our attention back to whoever is speaking. This way, we can easily bring meditation into our workday, whilst at the same time being more productive and present in our work roles.

     

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  • The Mindful Way Through An Interview Or Presentation

    When we are facing an interview or a presentation, often what happens is that our minds start to ruminate about what might go wrong. You might have the thought: “I could blush, maybe even stutter, and what if I give terrible answers?!” Often these thoughts lead to yet more anxious thoughts and all those thoughts then lead to the bodily symptoms of anxiety, i.e. sweaty hands, increased heartbeat, faster breathing. Those bodily sensations then might trigger even more thoughts, which lead to more anxious feelings, which lead to more anxious thoughts …! So no wonder our anxiety builds and we end up blushing, stuttering and giving terrible answers!

    In mindfulness we don't try to change those thoughts or try to get rid of the anxious feelings. Instead we train our minds, so that when those thoughts occur we can come back to the present moment – to the here and now. The fact is there's no point in creating an apocalyptic presentation or interview scenario in our heads before the actual event. Why? Because all this ruminative thinking will only make us more anxious!

    But how do we train our minds? By practising mindfulness on a daily basis. By doing so, we strengthen our ability to catch our minds when they drift off into ruminative thinking and gently escort them back to the present. Over time, we become so skilled at this, that it only takes a few seconds to notice when we've drifted – we have become the master of our mind.

     

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    Mindfulness also teaches us to turn towards uncomfortable bodily feelings (i.e. anxiety). After all, anxiety is a natural feeling – especially when we face an interview or a presentation! But humans have the tendency to want to push things away that feel uncomfortable. However, it does not help to do this. As mentioned, anxiety is a natural part of human life. Thus if all we want for 'it' is to go away, then we will actually not really get to know it. The interesting thing is that once we start observing our symptoms of anxiety, we will notice that our anxiety is simply that – anxiety: increased heartbeat, sweaty hands, etc. What makes anxiety so bad is all the ruminating thoughts around it, which lead to the vicious cycle of more and more anxious thoughts and feelings.

    Let's imagine you have a presentation or interview tomorrow. Someone who practices mindfulness will notice thoughts popping up, such as “I could blush, maybe even stutter and what if I give terrible answers?!” They might also observe bodily feelings of anxiety arising. However, they will soon catch their anxious thoughts and bring their attention back to the present moment, where there actually is no real threat. They will also turn curiously towards and observe their bodily feelings of anxiety, i.e. Exactly how fast is my heartbeat? Where in my body can I feel it? Only in the region of my heart or does it even spread out into my fingers? If we approach our anxiety in a mindful way, it will loosen its grip over us with time and practice.

    Now imagine that if you don't spend all your time on what could go wrong and on trying to make your feelings of anxiety go away, you'll have loads of time to actually prepare yourself for the upcoming event! But don't forget: even the most experienced mindfulness practitioner will at times get anxious thoughts arising during an interview or a presentation. But he/she has the mindfulness skills to come back to the here and now – the presentation he's/she's holding or the interview he/she is giving – and that will make the likelihood of stammering, blushing and giving terrible answers a lot smaller!

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses, workshops and corporate sessions.

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