Mindfulness has gained a reputation for being a cure for stress, anxiety and depression. But it’s not all about warm, fuzzy feelings.
Although it’s true that mindfulness can help with relaxation, it can actually be very challenging to be mindful during the difficult times in our lives.
As a mindfulness teacher for people with chronic health conditions, stress, and anxiety I have guided many brave people as they face their pain and difficult emotions. These have often been worsened by the COVID-19 crisis over the last year.
Practicing mindfulness is the exact opposite of distracting ourselves through alcohol, watching TV, or other diversions.
Being mindful means being present with all of our experience including our suffering. It is not about simply chilling out, ‘thinking positive’, or disassociating from our unpleasant feelings.
Instead, it invites us to sit with our pain and observe it.
But who really wants to fully experience our heartbreak, our shame and disappointments?
Could being present with these experiences even be considered as dwelling on them and making things worse?
The difference between mindfulness and focusing on negativity, is that we avoid beating ourselves up. We bring acceptance to our situation rather than judging it treat ourselves with kindness and compassion.
Six tips for dealing with difficult feelings mindfully:
1/ Take some time in a quiet place and see if you can identify where the emotion is felt in your body. Quieten your mind and focus on the present moment sensations rather than thoughts or problem-solving.
Often emotions are felt in the stomach or heart areas. Explore what it’s like to be aware of the sensations there with acceptance.
If you find it too hard or distressing to be with the negative feelings, don’t push yourself too hard. Go gently.
2/ Do not try to fight against your difficult feelings or push them away. What we resist persists. Open yourself to your whole experience.
3/ Accept your difficult feelings as part of being human. Extend compassion to yourself and your pain. Treat yourself with kindness like you would a friend who was going through a hard time.
4/ If you’re unable to stop your mind ruminating on the problem try journaling for a few minutes before sitting down to meditate. Free write without editing or over-thinking so you can everything down on the page.
5/ Being with people we love releases the cuddle hormone oxytocin in our bodies. However for many of us being with loved ones has been impossible during COVID-19 lockdowns. Luckily we can actually stimulate the release of oxytocin simply by remembering the experience of being with others. Close your eyes and imagine someone you care for (it could even be a pet). Mentally send that person your good will and blessings.
6/ Take time to focus on the pleasurable experiences in your life too. However hard things get, we can always be aware of some pleasure even if it’s something small like the breeze against your skin or the smell of your coffee in the morning
And remember that when things are feeling really hard it’s OK to reach out for help. Please don’t suffer alone.
If you are facing severe depression, anxiety or thoughts of self-harm, mindfulness may not be the best option for you at this time. Always seek professional assistance from a medical practitioner or a helpline such as the Samaritans.