Lying in bed yesterday morning listening to RTE (Irish Radio) I was delighted to hear Tony Bates a clinical psychologist who over the time of Covid Pandemic took to the air waves to remind us about the power of mindfulness in both coping and thriving no matter what the external circumstances of our lives.
It was both comforting and energising for me to hear him describe my life’s work- the Art and Skill of Pausing.In nearly all of my work I am teaching busy women professionals across human services how to manage stress through pausing.
In a moment of stress/distress he reminds us to:
1) Breathe (he means intentional-paying attention to our breath)
Deep, slow, self aware breathing is an ancient and powerful way to clear the body of stress and tension, and a great way to relax as part of a nightly transition to sleep. So this is an easy,always available way to manage stress through pausing. Deep breathing kicks off a series of physiological changes that aid relaxation, including reducing muscle tension, slowing breathing rate and heart rate, and lowering blood pressure and metabolism.
A breathing practise can be as simple as taking a series of even, slow inhale and exhale breaths as a regular routine during the day or whenever you feel anxious or stressed.There are also a multitude of structured breathing exercises. One I use a lot especially with women who are not keen to practise mindfulness or meditation is something called 4-7-8 breathing.
In a comfortable position, with your eyes opened or closed as you wish:
* Inhale for four seconds
* Hold your breath for seven seconds
* Exhale slowly for eight seconds
*Repeat several times.
What does the act of deep breathing do for the body and mind to relax and promote healthy sleep? By inhaling deeply and holding your breath, you are increasing the body’s oxygen level, allowing it to work slightly less hard. A long slow exhale has a meditative quality to it that is inherently relaxing.That slow exhale is also very similar to the pace of breathing your body adopts as you are falling asleep. By deep breathing before bedtime ,ina way you are mimicking the breathing patterns of sleep onset, and nudging your body and mind towards its all important period of rest.
2) Talk to someone ( this is where we get to remember we are not actually alone).
Our minds naturally turn to rumination- going over and over the row I had with my beloved last night, rehearsing what I could have, should have said, and maybe even allowing the hurtful thing said to get larger and even more hurtful as I replay it again and again in my mind. Or perhaps my mind spins into the future- catastrophizing on what might/could happen so I worry myself sick.The way out of this? Talk to someone, offload, get some perspective. In the absence of someone to talk to, you can still get outside of your own head by journaling. Write down without censure what is bothering/worrying you or taking up your headspace before you go to bed. That will stop the spinning and your mind will have a chance to un wind and relax.
3) Talk to yourself ( he means here to remind us to be compassionate towards ourselves and should more naturally show kindness to another.
Fear can be all-consuming, especially when faced with uncertainty,
health concerns, financial struggles, and social distancing. The
global pandemic has shattered the sense of “normal” for us all, which
is scary. In the moments you find yourself overwhelmed with fear,
this simple mindfulness practice can help.
Incorporate mindfulness into your life
Naming an emotion (“this is fear, anxiety, worry, agitation”)
reduces activity in the limbic system of the brain. Harness the
power of naming what is; if you name it, you can tame it.
It’s natural to want fear and unpleasant emotions to go away. But
what we resist persists. Even a small willingness to allow fear to
be with us can help us regain control. For example, saying to
ourselves, “ok, this fear belongs.”
Bring awareness to fear in your body to free yourself from it. Ask
yourself, “Where am I feeling this?”, “What does it feel like?”,
“What wants my attention most?”
Facing fear can be a vulnerable exercise. Nurture yourself. You
might give yourself words of comfort, “You are not alone,” “It’s
okay, I got this.” Or maybe a gentle, soothing touch like placing
your hand over your heart, cradling your face in your hands, or
squeezing your arm. Nurturing is individualized; we all need
Learning to practise self compassion in this way is one powerful way to manage stress through pausing.
Suffering, distress, disappointment are part of being human. As we learn to be with, and to be kind to ourselves in these moments, we set ourselves free. From here we get to live more from the peace, clarity, calm and joy that is also always within us.
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Peace to You
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