I have read a lot of self-help books over my career and invariably the books talk about positive affirmations which can potentially help your life to work better. I always say to my clients that there is an extra step we need to do before we get to the positive bit. We have to honour the pain, the anger, the anxiety and the over whelm first. Just ‘being positive’ is like sticking a plaster over an oozing wound and hoping that this, in itself, will heal the wound. In truth we have to clean the wound out first and allow it time to heal. To be in a state of denial where we are saying ‘all is well’ when we are raging, feeling anxious and depressed, is not honouring the hurt and the pain.
It can feel really scary to contemplate working with our negative feelings about the situations that are in our lives. And yet as we start to uncover and make sense of the hurt and the pain, we bring new understanding to our situation. And no, things do not change overnight and we cannot wave a wand and make it all go away. And yet when we bring compassion and a loving sense of kindness to the hurt that we have endured, we can breathe new life into the possibility that things can get better. And as we are more patient with the hurt, we give ourselves time to heal and grow from the challenges that we face.
So, when we aren’t trying to get rid of the pain, what do we do? We welcome it in. We breathe with it and we say ‘okay, you’re here, and I am here. I am okay in this moment, in spite of this situation. I can learn from this situation and I can grow from it…. and what can I do right now for myself that will help me to feel better?’ And wait and see if an answer comes forth. Sometimes it can be quite surprising what we can do for ourselves to help our situation. Perhaps it is as simple as making ourselves a cup of tea, or going for a walk. Sometimes the smallest endeavours can bring us one step closer to a better feeling place, and it can be do-able in small baby step.
Relaxation is a word that gets banded around a lot these days. We’re told that it can make us feel calm and less anxious about things. And a dictionary definition cites “the state of being free from tension and anxiety”. Wow I want that!
Many self-help books cite the miraculous benefits of relaxation. And in the past I have been put off by lofty claims that don’t seem to be delivered after the first try. What I think has been missing from the conversation about relaxation, is that the more you do it, the more self aware you become about the state of your mind and body. And this gives us new information about our own anxiety and depression, which helps us to deal with challenging situations before the tipping point ever happens.
I like to think of relaxation as welcome medicine for our minds and our bodies which works alongside any medications we take on a regular basis. And because it is something that we can do for ourselves, it can bring us positive feelings of empowerment as we are proactively helping ourselves to feel better. And the ‘doing’ of relaxation has a cumulative effect that appears over time, rather than an immediate relief. And anything that you enjoy, which is fun and helps you to feel happy is relaxation in my opinion.
So how do we do relaxation? A simple exercise, which is portable as its built into all of us, is the ability to observe our breathing.
If it’s safe to do so now, stop and observe your breathing. You might observe that your breathing is shallow, or fast, and that the monkey mind is constantly chattering. The monkey mind is always with us and it is completely normal to have it bombarding us with all sorts of thoughts. Just thank the mind for sharing and bring your focus back to the breath. You can do this relaxation breathing technique sitting in a traffic queue, on the bus, at your desk or waiting for the kids to come out of school . Just observe. If your breathing is rapid, shallow, fast whatever it is, that’s okay. It just gives you an indication of how you are feeling in this moment. Are you feeling happy, sad, overwhelmed, anxious? All emotions are welcome here.
Practice taking deep breaths reaching right down into your belly. You might want to add the word ‘calm’ or ‘peace’ which you slowly say in your mind as you breath out. Try this technique out for a few days and see if it helps you to feel more grounded and present in your life. And then you can begin to use it when you are feeling overwhelmed. Three easy steps :
It’s Mental Health Awareness week this week. I would like it to be Mental Health Awareness Day every day. It’s curious to me that we only seem to focus on mental health at certain times of the year, or when we are going through a crisis. To ‘have good mental health’ to my way of thinking, is having an awareness of how we are thinking and feeling in any given moment. We can then use this information to determine what our course of action needs to be. And it’s a focus that needs to happen every day, not just on certain days of the year. And if we have good mental and emotional awareness and build habits that nurture and sustain us, then we can help avoid the tipping points, or deal with the tipping points that life brings us. I talk about tipping points a lot in my work. The tipping point is the ‘last straw’, it’s the thing that completely undoes us and finds us in the mire and unable to cope. Sometimes it can feel like it has come out of the blue and yet when we stop and think, feel and listen to ourselves we can often understand that it wasn’t out of the blue at all. Tipping points can trigger all sorts of destructive behaviours, from rowing with our families, working too much, drinking or drug taking to excess and sadly, if left, can lead to feelings of hopelessness and wanting to end life. Over a series of posts this week, I intend to help you to focus on some good mental and emotional habits that you can incorporate into your day. These habits can help you to recover more quickly, or help you to climb out of the dark hole that you might have started vacationing in. And if all of this is too much right now, then it might be helpful to talk to a professional counsellor who can help you to work through your difficulties. So let’s get started.