Thursday, 22 June 2017

Mindfulness for Stress

I feel sad this morning that my eight week 'Mindfulness for Stress' course has come to an end, but immensely happy that I had the good sense to enrol on this course. 

Sarah our trainer was such a kind and sweet person, a passionate mindfulness example and an ideal guide to a better way of living our lives. I had a real need for help with my stress, Jan the love of my life had unexpectedly passed away on Valentine's day and at the start of the course in May I was struggling to get a good nights sleep as my mind was tormented by the worst event in my life. I was struggling to come to terms with the fact that I would have to learn to live my life without my best friend.

Eight weeks later I am sleeping much better and regularly getting up to 6 hours (good for me) and even when I wake up early I get back to sleep quickly. I feel my mind is no longer tormented and I have a sense of calm that helps me to balance my emotion with rational thinking. I have learnt to accept that Jan has passed, embracing my sadness rather than trying to solve it. I still have tearful moments and good and bad days, but the good days are more plentiful and growing.

Thinking about the eight weeks I feel I have learnt the following.
  1. How to meditate - something I had never done in my life, but which I found very helpful as it provided me with a simple tool that I could use to relax and calm me when I feel stressed. I have an overactive mind and thought I would never be able to 'empty' it in order to meditate. So I was delighted to learn that thoughts are 'allowed' and there to be enjoyed and played with. I also found that focusing on my body and breathing through the guided meditations stopped my thinking from completely hijacking my meditation sessions.
  2. Learning correct breathing - I understood as a trainer the power of breathing, but this course helped me to understanding the science and how to integrate breathing into my mindfulness lifestyle. 
  3. What we resist persists - I soon realised that pushing away, suppressing, numbing out and reaching for distractions was not working and learnt to adopt a mindful 'attend and befriend' approach, specifically to embrace the loss of my Jan.
  4. Taking in the good - here my positive approach to life has helped me to fight the human negativity bias and celebrate all the good and amazing things in my life. In particular my loving family and friends who have been truly amazing and helped me to develop new happy neural pathways. I think the most important message is that you have a choice, do you 'feed' your miserable self-pity or do you invest in joy, peace, love and hope.
  5. Mindfulness walking - I walk in the countryside every day of my life, the joy of owning a wonderful German Shepherd. This gave me the opportunity to apply mindfulness as I walked, taking in all the wonderful things that I had stopped seeing. Spring in the UK is a marvellous time of the year with all the colours, leaves and flowers all bursting out with their goodness. I learned to recognise when I was doing things on autopilot and break out of its grip.
  6. Self-Compassion - possibly one of the most important keys for me was to stop being so hard on myself and to learn to be kind and supportive. Irrational I know, but soon after Jan's passing I kept thinking that I could have detected the sepsis and saved her. Even when my doctor explained that Jan was too sick  to have survived, my self flagellation continued. I'm ok now, I know I did everything possible and that it was out of my control. 
  7. Compassionate communications - learning to listen and speak in a mindful way, listening deeply to what is being shared rather than an interpretation of it.
  8. Gratitude - we did this one exercise where we texted a buddy the three things we were grateful for each day for a week. When you look back on this list you soon realise that life is still good and that we all have a lot to be thankful for!!! 
  9. Mindful photography - by chance more than design I have been taking a 10 week 'Improve your D-SLR photography' course at the same time. The two courses have proved to be a wonderful combination and helped me to enjoy the present moment and see beauty in ordinary things.

I know I have a long way to go if I want to live a mindfulness life, but I feel that I have made a good start. In the weeks going forward I need to turn these good intentions into good habits and in everything I do to continue to be kind to myself.

The one thing I do know is that mindfulness has helped me at a very difficult time in my life and given me great hope for the future. 


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