When I first heard about ‘mindfulness’ I was probably more than just sceptical. It was a term I heard being thrown around that people would swear had changed their life and half of me was intrigued, the other half thought it was just more nonsense.
The curious half wanted to try it, so downloaded the headspace app which focuses on meditation and mindfulness. If I remember correctly, the first ‘session’ was 10 minutes to introduce you to it. After 3 minutes of sitting on the floor in the back bedroom, cross legged with my back straight, I’d decided this wasn’t for me and moved onto other things.
Cut to a few months later, I’d decided to seek help via therapy as my mental health was beginning to spiral again. I’d guessed it would be CBT as that had worked really well for me in the past and perhaps would be something I’d just need to brush up on. That was until my therapist mentioned “ACT”, a new form of therapy that people are beginning to use to help with various mental health issues. The main part of it was mindfulness, and straight away I thought “oh here we go, this will be a strange way to spend £60”.
My scepticism was short lived though, as when the therapist explained ACT, the way mindfulness words and the various ways in which we can use it, it began to make sense – something I didn’t expect! We’d done some exercises over a couple of weeks and I was beginning to learn more about it so recently have been putting it into practice, using new tools to combat anxiety.
The first thing to know is that it isn’t all candles, incense, whale music and wind chimes. Mindfulness is about you taking notice of whats happening around you in the here and now. It’s a way to reset your brain and bring yourself back from the racing thoughts and a fast mind to the present, and allows you time to actually think.
My most recent task was to spend 10 minute per day practicing mindfulness, based on what we’d covered in our sessions, to learn exactly how to bring your thoughts back and show that ultimately you have control over what you’re thinking. I do this by sitting/laying comfortably (I prefer to lay, I’m quite lazy) in a quiet room, and just taking notice of my breathing. Not forcing it, not “in for 5, out for 5”, just noticing it happening, feeling it come into your body and move out again. This is the main focus for me for the ten minutes. What fascinates me is how your brain will wander off and think other things, but what is equally as amazing is your ability to stop the mind wander and bring it back to the focus on breathing. When I’m done thinking about breathing, I turn my attention to the bed/chair underneath me, notice my feet on the floor, notice the sounds that are happening around me, I focus my mind on the here and now, the present. I concentrate on what I’m feeling, anxiety or otherwise, I focus on the smells, tastes, noises, and without realising your negative thoughts go because there currently isn’t any room for them.
One other tool which I found useful, was visualising anxiety. Over the last 5 years I’ve worked hard at kicking anxiety in the balls. I would do whatever I could to fight it, fend it off, leave it at home, ignore it and push back – which worked to get me out of the house, but anxiety still came with me, be it welcome or otherwise, and fighting became a struggle. My new approach is to just bring it. Like an annoying little knob head that won’t leave you alone (we’ve all had the one who interrupts you in the pub or while out with your mates).
Yesterday I put this into practice, and had set myself up with some exposure throughout the day that would be challenging. Although I was anxious, I’d decided to take it with me and as we jumped in the car I pictured it with us, sat in the back making noises and bring irritating. I understand this all sounds a little bit strange, and believe me it felt it, but I’m open minded and will try what a professional is telling me.
That said, while travelling to, and being in the challenging situation, I noticed it was working – well. I didn’t feel anxious at all before, during or after. I didn’t feel anixous because I didn’t feel like I needed to. I wasn’t fighting anything, I welcomed it. I pictured it with us, stood with me during our appointment, sat with us in the car, opposite us at lunch. It was there, in whatever form my brain had decided to turn it into, and I wasn’t afraid of it – I just left it to do what it wanted and I began to feel free. Over the weekend, I haven’t really felt anxious. I’ve had negative thoughts which I’ve reset with my focus on breathing, and I’ve been aware of anxiety, but I’ve stopped running. I can’t run anymore, I’m tired of running. Instead, I’m saying “If you want to come with me, then come. That’s fine”. I don’t know if this will last, I don’t know if it’s because it’s new. I don’t know if it’s some hocus pocus madness.
What I do know is that before I went into this, I was really sceptical and prejudged mindfulness and the approach in a negative way, yet now I know more about it, I realise how important an open mind is. That ‘mindfulness mumbo jumbo’ may be the one thing I need in order to change my life.