I was signed off sick for a few weeks at the end of last year. Work related stress. The NHS Trust I work for is a Mental Health Trust, and they run courses and classes through their Recovery College. I took advantage of signing up to a Mindfulness course of 6 weeks. We meet in a beautiful building opposite a park – that’s sets the scene for the 2 ½ hours, calm and serenity.
I have to say that on my first session, I felt a little bit of a fraud. The rest of the group had their own story to tell, but I knew they had been on medication, had troubled histories and issues that were still current and plaguing them. I had had a crisis which had taken me away from work for a short period of time – I didn’t feel my problems warranted such support. How wrong could I have been?
Each week we were given the opportunity to try different mindfulness techniques. From simple 3 minute breathing exercises to more intense 30 minute full body scans. Each time for me it became easier to appreciate the opportunity to relax and go to a different place in my head!
And just because I’ve done this 6 weeks of Mindfulness I’m not professing to be an expert. But this is what I’ve taken away from this very useful course.
Be kind to yourself
It is ok not to be ok, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re not. You wouldn’t be mean to a friend who needed help – why be mean to yourself! We put so much energy into helping others – often we forget that we need to invest time in ourselves in the first place to be able to offer that help to others.
Habits can be quickly formed, but with training can be un-learned. We were told that the technical term is ‘Neural pathways’. Something goes wrong, you get into the spiral of self-doubt and anxiety and ruminating over it. By using this knowledge and skills – we could lean to accept this may happen again and avoid this spiralling pathway by taking back control. For me I think this is task I need to get better at. It should probably start by not saying ‘sorry’ each time something isn’t quite right!
We all have an ‘inner critic’.
It’s how we respond to it that sets the scene going forward. We don’t have to listen to them, you wouldn’t listen to a bad TV programme would you? You would use your skills to turn it off and watch something else. Perhaps over time, you realise this inner critical voice may in fact be someone who has criticises you in the past. Allow yourself the knowledge that everyone makes mistakes and can be wrong. But give yourself the opportunity to accept this and learn from it. I know who my inner critic is – someone in my past – who made me afraid and criticised me for lots of little things. He is still there, and is probably the one who I’m always saying sorry to.
Be in the moment – it’s not a bad place to be.
They said children are great at this, they don’t think of yesterday or last week or last year, or tomorrow or next week. They don’t worry over what’s gone before and if they could have done things differently. We are never going to change what happened in our past, but we all have the opportunity to learn from those events, and either do them differently next time, or try and avoid them. The meditation techniques they teach you give you the skills to bring yourself back to the present time. They encourage you to think about your breathing, your body, different sounds and sensation. It’s difficult to think of too many other things while you’re doing this – but my mind has a tendency to wander – and believe me it did – but I brought it back and tried again. My mind is normally all over the place, I’m thinking of lots of things – and you are given the permission to do this – but these are the skills and techniques to stop you from engaging in those thoughts and taking you off down that spiralling path.
Breathing is really important!
Deep regular breathing from your belly allows you to get into a natural rhythm. It helps you to concentrate and centre yourself. If you’re concentrating on this way of breathing it is calming and fills you with oxygen. Combine this with the rhythmic voice of the tutor, or a mindfulness CD it gives you the opportunity to relax, and find some peace from the constant chatter going on!
We have all forgotten how to live in the moment. Well – we like to think we do. We engage with people over social media, on the phone, in the shops and in the work place. But do we ever give ourselves the opportunity to look at our surroundings, the beautiful scenery and nature? Not often, we are too busy rushing from one place to another. We buy ourselves sweet smelling shower gels and toiletries, but are often too busy with our own thoughts to appreciate them. We were encouraged to take some time to carry out daily tasks mindfully. Showering, cleaning out teeth, cleaning, cooking and baking. Concentrating on the task, using all our senses. Every little helps, doesn’t it?
I need to change those bad habits I have and using this process it will be so much easier and 2nd nature.
At the end of the course, I mentioned to one of the others on the group that I had felt a little bit out of place at the start. She said something that I will take with me, that everyone’s problems are their own, and should be equally valued as such. Everyone deserves to be offered as much help and support as anyone else.
I learned something equally as important over these 6 weeks too. Things I do, jumping from one thing to another, following those thoughts in my head can be so annoying to others! I often have 3 conversations going around and need to say them all. But for those who are not party to my minds way of working- it can be pretty confusing! So now I park the two seemingly lest important things, and just concentrate on the most important. And I have to say it helps.