We all have life stresses. School. Work. Children. Spouses. Bosses. Money. In-laws. Bills. Repairs. The list goes on and on. Overtime, the accumulation of these unchecked stresses can lead to a sense of inner emptiness. We may find ourselves disappointed with ourselves, with other people, or with the world in general. If we are not careful and these feelings continue to escalate, we may find ourselves with emotional problems severe enough to qualify us for the syndrome clinical depression. When things become this overwhelming for us, we may find ways of distracting ourselves for a bit (sleeping too much, eating too much, binge watching TV shows, drinking, partying, sexual escapades, affairs). However, after a while, those nagging questions start to eat away at our consciousness: "Why can't I get it together?" "What's wrong with me?" What if this stays this way forever?" This takes a heavy toll as these self-critical thoughts demand our all of our attention. Believe it or not, sometimes, despite what your discouraging thoughts are telling you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you at all.
As alluded to last week, with the holidays coming upon you, do not be surprised if your inner self-critic arises from the ashes with a vengeance. It is common for some to have increased worries, anxieties, and self-recriminations around this time-after all the holidays aren't always festive for everybody. During the holiday season, you may find that things start to speed up in your life. You may feel like you don't have a moment to just take a breather. Others of us are just floating on auto-pilot busy doing, doing, doing without really taking in and enjoying our surroundings. This time of year may also cause feelings of overwhelm, overstimulation, and too much pressure to be everything to everybody. Your lower jaw in clenched, muscle tight, burning in your shoulders, and pain in your lower back; a complete bundle of nerves and tension. This of course only serves to increase your disconcert; you can't even get being happy right during the happiest time of the year. If this sounds like you, just stop! You can do this. You just need a new set of skills to assist you with working together with your circumstances and your mind. Mindfulness can help give you back control of your attention by allowing you to learn to experience each moment fully in the present. With mindfulness, you learn to experience yourself and the world without those troubling, demanding, critical inner thoughts. We're going to explore one simple technique that you can try daily; it was taken from Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Curriculum developed by Jon Kabat Zinn (sorry can't take the credit for this genius exercise).
Stop: Whatever you're doing, just pause for a moment. Slow your pace by standing in place and taking two or three nice, calming, deep belly breaths. When you do this, you are making a conscious and purposeful decision to slow things down. You are deciding to be in control, rather than let external stresses and pressures to trigger you.
Tune-in: In this moment, tune-in to your body with full presence. Feel yourself grounded and connected to the earth, just like a favorite tree. Slowly scan the body starting from the tips of the toes and moving up to the top of the head. As you move upwards, be aware of where you may be holding onto tension or negative emotions. Breathe into the tension and let it go.
Observe: Change the channel by closely observing your external environment. Focus on the surroundings, taking note of at least three unique or pleasant things—colors, shapes, objects, sounds, or textures that you like. If you are in a familiar environment, look for even the smallest detail you may not have noticed before—like the pattern on the wallpaper, or consistency and smoothness of the paint on the wall, or the patterns of the wood grains on the wood floor. Just immerse and ground yourself in your surroundings like this for a minute or two; try to find something new.
Possibility: Pause to reflect on the openness, spaciousness, and possibilities that lie before you. You have just gone off auto-pilot and are now free to choose a new and beneficial direction. If you had been feeling reactive or angry, for example, you can look with fresh eyes at the variety of different choices and options before you. Who says that right now you couldn’t sing, smile, call a supportive friend, take a nice walk, or get a scoop of your favorite ice cream? You might even just feel pleased that you have completed this exercise. Stretch your mind and see how far it can go!
By using this method, you can become more aware of when your body is becoming tense. I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. What did you notice the most while using this technique? Did you think of some other creative ways you can utilize this practice? Do you think you can make the STOP method a daily practice? As we close this article, please know that I appreciate your readership as always. Please remember, that wherever you are on this wellness journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading!
"Listen. Are you breathing just little and calling it a life? ~Mary Oliver
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