You’ll have to forgive the warm fondue texture of the cliché I’m about to hit you with: most of us are so busy thinking about the past or the future that we completely forget to unwrap the gift before our eyes. The gift: the present. Get it? I’ll get my coat…
In recent times I’ve attended a couple of work events centred on anxiety and stress. I’ve also been reading a lot of material on the subjects as well as typing up and printing off a host of techniques I’ve learned that are known to help where both stress and anxiety are concerned: this I did for somebody close to me who’s going through a very tough time.
What I’ve learned has been pretty helpful and useful. Some of the things I learned surprised me. Take these factoids for example:
- Your brain processes around 30,000 thoughts a day. Roughly 75% (22,500) of those thoughts are negative in nature;
- Adrenaline is not in endless supply. When it gets dumped by your brain the flow will last only between sixty and ninety minutes.
I think technical knowledge like that is quite important. The first point teaches us that we’re naturally designed to focus more on the negative than we are the positive. This is an in-built defence mechanism. It’s there to help us recognise threats and cope with them accordingly. Imagine if you thought of everything in a positive manner. “I can see that car coming, but I’m positive I can get across the road before—” SPLAT!!!
The second is interesting in that an adrenaline dump is more commonly known as the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, something inherent in all fauna. We’re programmed in threatening situations to either stand and fight or run and hide. It’s primordial. The thing is that adrenaline is in finite supply; it does run out. So, if you’re having an anxiety episode or panic attack it will not last longer than between sixty and ninety minutes.
The other thing I’ve encountered a lot in my mental wellbeing learning is the term mindfulness. It’s essentially meditation. It’s all about focusing on the present rather than the past or the future. I think it’s true to say that the vast majority of us are so wrapped up in worrying about what has been or what is yet to be that we often forget to concentrate on what is. When was the last time you sat and studied the intricate patterns of the bark on a tree, listened to the sounds of nature, or took mental notes of the smell of your morning coffee? All of this is mindfulness.
It’s unreasonable to expect a person not to cogitate over past or future events that have caused or could cause great upheaval in their lives. You could be the most mindful person on the planet; you’re still going to think about things and either replay or pre-play scenarios in your head. The concern is that people are doing too much of one and not enough of the other. It’s gotten so bad that some people panic about things that are probably never going to happen. That’s because worrying is habitual and progressive. It always starts with a thought and then, a few thoughts down the line, ends up a full-blown crisis about to happen.
How do you stop it from happening? You stop the progression. Bring yourself back to the present. Tell yourself there’s no point in worrying about it because it hasn’t happened. Put things in place to try and ensure the crisis doesn’t happen. Be proactive rather than reactive. Put the skids on your negative thought process as quickly as possible.
You can train yourself to be more mindful by trying out a few exercises. The longer you keep up with the exercises the more of a hippy you become. I’ve been made aware of two exercises to try, which I’ll explain to you forthwith:
- Focussed breathing, where you take deep and slow breaths—in through the nose and out through the mouth. Sit in an upright position in a quiet place with no distractions and concentrate fully on your breathing for ten minutes. Your mind will naturally wander. When you notice that’s happened, refocus on your breathing; even tell yourself to do it if you must. It doesn’t matter if your mind wanders just so long as you bring it back to your breathing each time. The more you do it the less you’ll find your mind wanders. You’ll be able to prolong your meditative state and it should help you cope better in your daily life;
- Object focus, where you keep your attention centred on something physical. The thing I had suggested to me was my morning coffee. Study its colour; look at the steam rising from the liquid; feel the warmth on your hands; take in everything you can about that simple beverage. As with the above exercise, your mind will wander as it gets bored. Just keep on bringing it back to the coffee. Really take notice of the taste; swill it around in your mouth; take in the sensation as you swallow. Keep bringing yourself back to it until it’s all gone. Repeat the process each morning.
It probably sounds a bit daft if you’ve never tried it. The simple fact of it is that it’s all about controlling your mind because you have more control over it than you perhaps realise. Fundamentally, it’s your choice whether to procrastinate over the past or the future. I often hear people say “I can’t help it”. That’s simply not true. You can help it, you just won’t because you think you can’t. Scepticism comes only from within.
Yoga is also a good thing to try in order to make yourself more mindful because it’s as much a mind exercise as it is a physical one. Plus, who doesn’t want to be more bendy and stretchy than they already are? Think of all the pretentious poses you can pull when you’re getting your photo taken on top of a mountain!
Other methods that are proven to help towards improving mindfulness are to be more active (that doesn’t mean necessarily going to the gym every day; it can be something as simple as getting off the bus a stop earlier each day. Mental and physical health are very much intertwined), socialise more with friends and family, be kind to others (giving change to a homeless person, say thank you when someone does something for you, do little favours when people need them of you, etc.), and increase your knowledge (take time to learn new things in order to give your mind the sense of achievement it craves).
Teach yourself mindfulness and start to live in the moment. Look out of the bus window on the way to work and actually see what’s out there rather than staring aimlessly into space. Earwig on people’s conversations and learn a thing or two. Look for unconventional beauty in the nature around you and let it invade your mind and your senses. Make that moment in time your own and don’t let it pass you by. The past isn’t going anywhere, so don’t let it ruin the present. The future hasn’t happened, so deal with it when it comes. If you simply must attempt to prevent dire consequences then do it. Just don’t spend your time worrying without taking some kind of action.
Be who you are today. Become a calmer and more positive you. Become a mindful, hippy, zen master. I guarantee you’ll feel better for it.
For tips on meditation check out this website: Inner Peace Fellowship.