Manage stress with mindfulness meditation

File:SittingMeditationWithPlasmaPhenomenon.jpg

If you thought meditation was just about shaven headed monks sitting cross legged with incense wafting about, you would be wrong. Sure, you can sit cross legged and burn incense if you wish, (I often do) but mindfulness meditation is more than this.

Mindfulness meditation was developed by Jon Kabut-Zinn in the late 1970’s. With its roots in the ancient art of meditation (as practised by shaven headed monks), he took it a step further, teaching people how to access their own internal resources for balance and healing through the cultivation of moment by moment awareness.

Being mindful is about being present in the moment, without judgement, in the here and now. You might think this is easy, but you would be wrong. To illustrate, try this. Sit with your eyes closed just focusing on the present moment. Just allow the thoughts to be there and just be aware of them. What do you notice? Well most probably you will find that your mind leaps continuously from thought to thought, from the comment somebody said earlier today, to what you need to buy at the shops. A constant mix of past and future thoughts, worries and concerns…it is no wonder most of us feel stressed.

Learning to let go of the past and not get caught up in the future can really help.

The key to mindfulness is to learn to simply watch the thoughts that drift in to your mind. Like clouds in the sky, acknowledge them without getting caught up or entering a dialogue with them, then let them pass away as you would clouds in the sky. Another way of looking at this is to imagine the thoughts were adverts on a radio between songs or on television between programmes. Just leave them to play without buying into them.

Mindfulness meditation does take regular practice to really master. But it is a whole lot easier than learning a musical instrument or learning how to dance.No chords to learn or partners needed. Just incense and the ability to sit cross legged, no seriously. Just a few minutes each day or when you have time and you will soon notice the benefits.

Mindfulness practice is really worthwhile and has many health benefits including: Lasting decreases in both physiological and psychological arousal. increased ability to relax, greater energy and enthusiasm for life, improved self esteem, improved relationships, more creative capacity to cope with stress and improved concentration.

Here is a good mindfulness technique to get you started. It is known as mindfulness breathing. Remember the aim of this exercise is to cultivate a state of calm, non-judgemental awareness. Simply allow thoughts and feelings to come and go, bringing your awareness back to the rise and fall of your tummy as breath comes in and out. Initially you may have to consciously bring your awareness back to the breath many times. This is fine, even those who very experienced at meditation might have days when they find letting go a struggle. Being aware of getting caught up in your thoughts and then letting them go, is absolutely fine and shows that you are doing it just right.

Letting go with mindful breathing.

Find yourself somewhere quiet to sit, where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing.

Focus your mind on your tummy and imagine that you have a balloon in your tummy. Become aware of the gentle in and out as you inhale and exhale. You might find that placing a hand on your tummy helps if you have difficulty feeling the movement.

Notice the sensations as your tummy inflates and deflates. Your tummy getting larger as the imaginary balloon inflates and smaller as it deflates.

Allow thoughts to come into your mind, that is fine, because that is perfectly normal. Simply notice them with a sort of mildly interested curiousness. Say to yourself, “they are not important” then simply let them drift away as other thoughts take their place.

Now just bring your attention back to your breathing.

Likewise, you may notice feelings, emotions, images or hear sounds near or far. Just notice them, then let them go. Notice how your body relaxes. Then bring your attention gently back to your breathing.

With all thoughts, feelings or whatever, don’t judge them, try not to get caught up with them. It’s OK for them to come and go. Just notice them and let them drift away.

Whenever you notice yourself and your attention getting caught up with them, just gently bring your attention back to your breathing. No matter how many times it happens, just bring your attention back to your breathing.

Try this for two minutes at first, then five minutes and then gradually increase the time as you become more proficient. This is the art of mindfulness meditation. If you do no more than master this technique you will notice huge benefits to your life.

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness meditation contact us at steveclifford.info or for more on mindfulness look at bemindful.co.uk or mindfulnet.org

A good book on mindfulness meditation is: “Full catastrophe living; How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation” by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

www.steveclifford.info

image reference: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASittingMeditationWithPlasmaPhenomenon.jpg

Advertisements

Breaking up is hard to do.

File:Just divorced.jpg

How many of us stay in relationships when we are not happy. Stubbornly hanging in there, when we should be letting go. Like an old jumper or pair of shoes, full of holes but still we go on wearing them. They are familiar, we hope as if by some divine intervention that everything will be alright, yet deep down we know it won’t.

It is not easy moving out of our comfort zone, letting go of situations or relationships, moving out into the great unknown. All significant relationships are tied up with threads of attachment, ties of affection and commitment. Breaking them will always feel scary, yet it is only when you can step away, take stock and honestly evaluate your situation that you will see what you really need.  A period of abstinence can enable a clearer picture to emerge.

All change involves loss, so they say, very often it also involves taking a risk. The risk that we will never have what we had before, the risk that we will wander aimlessly into the future devoid of happiness.. Do we really want to go round in an endless loop, with more of the same? Smacks of “ground-hog day” to me. Taking a risk though, trusting our ability to cope can bring about wonderful rewards. Yes, life can be very painful at times, particularly if change has been instigated by another. It is during these times that we wonder how we can possibly cope, but somehow we manage to do so.

From a CBT perspective, its not what happens to us in our life that determines happiness, its the way we react to what happens that does. It’s OUR CHOICE whether we move forward with life or whether we ruminate and chain ourselves to the past. Finding happiness is not always the easiest of tasks, it can be a painful road and represent a significant challenge. It can sometimes take all the courage we can muster, but we all need to take responsibility by choosing to focus on what we have got, rather than what we haven’t (1)

Ten tips to help you cope with change:

  1. Try to accept your situation. When you lose something that was important to you, it is understandable that you will feel a sense of sadness for this is a natural part of the healing process.
  2. Change your routine, do things differently. Disrupting the neural pathways helps break the habit (yes, relationships just like old jumpers become familiar and habitual) human beings like routine and quickly develop fixed patterns of behaviour. Stop listening to the music you associate with your ex, move the furniture and change your living environment. Eat your meals in a different place, change seats, even change the hands you hold your knife and fork in!
  3. Try to step back and look from the outside. Imagine what advice you would give to your best friend if they were in the same situation.
  4. Try to let go of fear. Over-estimation of danger, coupled with an under-estimation of our ability to cope, creates anxiety which keeps us feeling bad for longer. This creates a heavy burden, a vicious cycle of heartbreak.
  5. Begin by putting yourself first, this is not “being selfish,” it is what I call “self-caring.” Putting yourself in the centre of your world then building your world around it. Imagine a wagon wheel where you put someone or something in the centre, then you build your world around that centre hub. Everything is wonderful all the while everything remains in place. If however, one day that centre hub disappears, what happens then? Quite simply, everything collapses. Now if you put yourself in the centre it will be a much better proposition. Now, no matter what happens, if any of the spokes disappear, job, partner, friends, finances…your wagon wheel will not collapse.
  6. Take time to grieve. Don’t avoid grief, for it is a natural part of the healing process. You will heal quicker if you allow yourself to grieve whilst you move forward and turn your attention to other things.
  7. According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, there are four stages to grief. Firstly, we deny the event; secondly, we bargain to have the situation changed; Next, we become very mad, sad and scared; finally, when we have gone through these processes, we begin to reconcile and experience forgiveness and gratitude (2).
  8. Set yourself small goals, take up a new activity and find a new purpose (whatever it is!) this will serve as an anchor and enable you to build a bridge into a new life. Keep busy, remember exercise is the most effective non drug treatment for low mood.
  9. Let go of blaming. Blaming and guilt are both dangerous and harmful. Forget revenge. Whether we blame God, blame others or blame ourselves, we are avoiding the real issue. The need to take action, to do something about the problem not live in the past hanging on to grudges (1).
  10. Visualise the future as a road stretching ahead. Imagine walking ahead to an archway leading to another world. A world in which you will have recovered from your loss. Imagine what you will look like, what will you be wearing, where you are going. Imagine lush surroundings where the new happy you can reside. See yourself stepping into this new world.

Until next time. Steve Clifford,Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     www.steveclifford.info

References:                                                                                                                                               (1) Matthews, A (1988) Being Happy,Media Masters.                                                             (2) Childs-Gowell, E (1992) Good Grief Rituals,Station Hill Press.

Image reference: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJust_divorced.jpg