A lot of us live our lives on auto pilot and we don’t pay attention to how our body is feeling.
You know when you feel physically ill as you suffer with pain that prompts you to go and see your doctor. You keep physically fit by attending the gym, but how do you look after your mental health?
Awareness of our state of mind is key!
Awareness and Mindfulness
When my anxiety was at its worst, a typical day consisted of waking up with a feeling of dread. It didn’t help that I hadn’t slept well the night before due to not being able to switch off the thoughts that played on my mind.
Headspace.com describes it brilliantly in their app that you can download and I highly recommend it to start your journey of mindfulness and meditation.
Imagine yourself sat at the side of a busy main road with cars travelling 30 mph one after the other. Each car is a thought drifting along through your mind. It’s normal that thoughts come and go, but when you try stopping each thought to examine it and then build a soap opera drama out of that one thought, you will drive yourself nuts. For example,
‘why did she say that?’
‘Perhaps it’s because of that, so what do I do?’
‘If I do that, then what if this happens and I can’t afford for that to happen, because then something else will happen, which will cause that to happen’
Imagine doing this for each car on that busy road and more importantly, doing this on a ‘what if thought’?
This crazy thought process was constant, starting with waking up in the morning.
I would step into the shower on auto pilot as I was too preoccupied with what I had to contend with rather than paying attention to washing myself. I would then wolf down my breakfast whilst rushing around. I would then brush my teeth quickly whilst creating a full-blown soap opera in my head instead of paying attention to the actual activity of cleaning my teeth.
These are occasions when you should have one to one time with yourself, be aware of your full senses, the feel of the water on your skin, the smell of your soap and shampoo, the taste of your toothpaste.
Being aware of your senses enables you to be in the present moment and not on auto pilot. You will begin to understand how you’re feeling and what your underlying emotions are and how you react to them.
Prior to practicing mindfulness and becoming aware of my present moment, I was at my wits end. I was in panic mode; I was frightened that something bad was going to happen, most of the time. I couldn’t concentrate on my work, I made snap judgements based on irrational fear.
My work was stressful and I was aiming high with a lot of responsibilities. I felt that there wasn’t enough hours in the day to do everything and I would fight to get as much as possible completed quickly, so that I could move on to my next task. I soon started making mistakes, which further increased my anxiety.
My stomach was in constant knots, so much so that it physically hurt. I started stuttering as I was getting paranoid with the fear that I’m totally hopeless, I’m a fake, why is this happening to me?
I started losing my confidence and everything I was thinking and feeling was irrational. I was worrying about thoughts that are not statements of fact and I was reacting to every thought. (I still do this now, but I recognise what I’m doing and I stop it!)
I ended up switching off and locking myself away to feel safe and avoid everyone and everything. At this point, I knew that I needed help, which resulted in CBT (Cognitive, Behavioural, Therapy).
One of the valuable lessons learned during my mindfulness studies and one that I want to pass on to you is the grounding exercise.
When I start to feel overwhelmed and I realise that my thoughts are getting the better of me, I perform this grounding exercise that brings my awareness back to the present via the use of my senses.
This is a very good exercise to perform if you feel a panic attack coming on or you’re generally feeling low. This exercise can be done stood up or seated and at any time.
- Begin with closing your eyes and taking a deep breath in, through your nose whilst counting to four
- Exhale while counting to 8 and repeat this breathing exercise until you feel relaxed
- Open your eyes and identify the following: –
- 5 things you see (think of objects and colours)
- 4 things you feel (could be your feet on the floor, breeze against your skin, your stomach rising with each intake of breath)
- 3 things you hear (could be your breathing, traffic, clicking noises)
- 2 things you smell (coffee, perfume, flowers, cooking)
- 1 thing you taste (could be something you’ve eaten or a metallic taste)
Don’t worry if you can’t find the right number of senses whilst performing this exercise. The fact that you’re aware of your senses and of the present is enough to calm you down.
Please note that I don’t have any qualifications to manage your mental health and I can only offer you general advice from my own experiences. Please consult your GP if you’re struggling with your mental health as they will get you the help you need.