HANDLING CHANGE AND UNCERTAINTY - (Printed in N21 2016)
Change is inevitable and can be unsettling whether it concerns our country, or more personally our health, finances or relationships. When life is flowing smoothly we can become attached to that feeling of being in control and resist having a different experience. In our resistance we can find ourselves worrying as we look into the future and wonder what might happen, often imagining worst case scenarios and giving ourselves sleepless nights.
Many people spend a great deal of time maintaining a healthy body, but what about the mind? We allow it to carry us away on a train of thought which can often make our situation feel much worse and so fill us with fear. When faced with a new challenge feelings of fear are quite normal, but when we start to create alarming stories in our mind then it is unhelpful. There is an acronym for FEAR which is False Evidence Appearing Real and it is amazing how much energy we can waste on concerns which never come to anything.
So how can we understand the mind and handle uncertainty? I have found the answer in MINDFULNESS as have thousands of other people. It is now used in hospitals to help people handle pain and depression, business's offer training to employees to reduce stress and it is being taught in schools. It is not a quick fix, but can become a useful tool to support you for the rest of your life. Mindfulness teaches the importance of being kind to yourself rather than criticising and many people find this a worthwhile alternative.
Victor Frankl who spent years in a concentration camp wrote "between the stimulus and the response is a space and in this space lies our power and freedom."
One way of finding that "space" is through meditation which provides precious time for you to be with yourself away from the demands of life. In this space it is possible to find peace and perspective giving you the strength to face whatever life throws at you. Mindfulness teaches you to live in the NOW and find meaning in the present moment no matter how small and insignificant the experience might be. If you want to manage your life through change and uncertainty and open yourself up to opportunities then learning to practice mindfulness is one of the most powerful things you can do.
As one client wrote: "My partner and work colleagues have noticed how differently I deal with stress and anxiety. My life is easier and more balanced and I enjoy it more."
THE CHATTERBOX (Printed in N21 - 2017)
Life can be wonderful when we feel happy and fulfilled. At times like these our thoughts are supportive - even creative. However, life can be difficult and this is when our thoughts can be negative and critical and we judge ourselves unkindly. Inside our heads we have a "chatterbox" and it talks to us most of the time. It tells us what to do and what not to do, it plans and it can come up with wonderful ideas - but it can also be unkind. It's important to identify when our chatterbox is helping us and when it is not.
How do we do this? First of all we need to notice our thoughts. Imagine you are going out with your friends for a meal. You feel confident. When you meet them they tell you how good you are looking. You find conversation easy and you feel relaxed and happy. You feel good and it shows. You notice your thoughts are uplifting.
However, now imagine a different scenario when you are feeling in a low mood. You meet your friends and no one comments on your appearance. Conversation is difficult and you feel tense. Now your chatterbox starts telling you that "you don't have friends". Your mood becomes lower and thoughts about yourself become increasingly critical. You talk to yourself in a way you would never talk to a friend, or even your dog! Remember your thoughts are thoughts and not reality. You might want to visualise a monkey on your shoulder chattering to you so just tell is "to shut up and go away" because it is not helping you. And then BREATHE.
Your breath is your friend and it is with you every second of every day. So trust it. Have you ever listened to a cat purring - it can be very calming. So just stop and listen to your own breath in your body - around your throat, or in your rib cage or lower down in your abdomen. There is no right way to breathe. Just notice where your breath is in your body and be with your breath. Of course your attention will be pulled away by more thoughts so just notice that and perhaps label them as "judging", or "unkind", or "worrying" and turn your attention back once more to your breath. Just being with your breath for 3 minutes can make a difference as it creates space in your hectic life.
Managing your thinking and using your thoughts constructively, rather than destructively is part of an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course which I teach. My next 2 courses start in October 2017.
If you have any queries or wish to make an appointment, please contact me: