Updated: Feb 3
The Power of Self Awareness: Mindfulness
Taking the time to consider how we care for ourselves when we are at our lowest and most vulnerable points in life is key to finding ways to overcome the hold those feelings seem to have on us. Think about the last time that you felt depressed, anxious or unhappy - How did you treat yourself? Were you gentle and kind, or were you self-critical, angry and frustrated with yourself?
When we are stuck in the middle of the chaos of those unhappy moments, it can be hard to pinpoint why we are feeling such extreme emotions. More often than not, we try to consider who the perpetrator might be. It could be the spiteful bully in middle school that left us with an unresolved complex, or we could be more likely angry with ourselves in some way. We embarrass ourselves, criticise and even humiliate ourselves. When we suffer and are in pain, we try to block out those feelings either by avoiding them completely, or indulging in something else that makes us happy. For me, it is copious amounts of cheesecake, but for others it could be binge-watching some God-awful reality tv show, or just simply avoiding people altogether and snuggling into the comfort of a duvet. Other people may turn to addiction to drugs, drinking and gambling and even work. Whatever gives us that sense of escapism and momentary pleasure – we do it!
At the same time, it is common to speak to ourselves unkindly and blame ourselves for negative events happening. We can honestly be our own worst enemy that prevents us from moving on or taking on new challenges. Have you ever found yourself saying things like, “of course I broke it? I break everything.” Or, “I am so clumsy, I will screw everything up.” The difficulty with these thoughts is that they are very powerful and we frankly go on to believe them. These thoughts don’t just impact our choices, but the way that we are able to deal with our problems. Have you ever found that if it doesn’t rain, it pours? That’s because our feelings and emotions become more out of control as our negative thoughts grow. You really need to pull this disease out by the root because at best this way of thinking is simply unhelpful. It doesn’t help us manage our own suffering and perpetuates patterns of toxic, reactive behaviour that can leave us feeling as though we aren’t good enough and are doomed to feel lonely forever. Either way, that reactive feeling can drive our emotions to points that make it feel as though we are spinning wildly out of control. Through doing this, we feel more unhappy as our suffering increases. We end up feeling disconnected from the world around us and feel incapable of doing the things that we need in order to just “get by.”
Why don’t we break the cycle?
There are so many reasons as to why we end up staying in situations where we feel disconnected and unable to respond effectively.
This could be due to:
Unresolved childhood trauma – This is where we often learned how to deal with our feelings in an unhelpful way without realising.
Biological/ Genetic – This is simply how we are wired up to respond to something. We have very little choice in how we respond if it is all due to our genetic pool. Sometimes it helps to think about the people in our family who are like us in terms of how they express their emotions. In doing so, try to consider how they deal with their emotions? What would you do better in their situation?
Societal stereotypes of general roles – Luckily, we are starting to shift further away from the somewhat primitive approach to expressing emotion in our 21st century British world. However, the remnants of this are still trickling down into the generation of our so-called forward-thinking millennials. These stereotypes suggest that women only express their emotions through crying, while men express their feelings through anger and aggression (or just bottling it up altogether). The influence of this ideology reflects how we respond to our own feelings and emotions too. But like I say, we are thankfully starting to shift away from this toxic ideology.
Avoidance – Picture an ostrich with its head in the sand. That’s right, nothing bad exists if you don’t have to face it, right? This is an understandable reaction because if you really lack the energy to face the day-to-day rigmarole of mundane life, how are you supposed to face whatever it is that is making us feel that way? Surely the mere thought of that is exhausting enough, let alone acting on it. It is however crucial that you choose to address the root of what is making you suffer and ensure that you do so in the present moment. One approach that is particularly helpful with this is the practice of mindfulness.
Everyone is harping on about it, but what even is it? Mindfulness is an approach to helping you heal from the pain that you are suffering from. It is the act of striving to stay entwined with the world around us through allowing us to feel grounded when we are sure that we are floating a million miles away from anywhere safe.
Mindfulness helps us stay in the present moment. It’s a useful tool in bringing us out of the feeling that the traumas that we have experienced in the past that are plaguing our lives in the present. Mindfulness connects us to the very functions of our own bodies and awakens us to our own inner power and strength. In full, it is the act of choosing the path of lovingness and understanding, rather than negativity, unhappiness and reacting defensively. These reactions manifest as feelings of anxiety and depression, which have a huge impact on ourselves, our loved ones and the choices that we make on a daily basis. Through practising mindfulness, we can become better equipped with solving our own problems, resolving difficulties and moving on in a healthy way. By searching inside ourselves we are able to be better equipped to protect ourselves from the troubles of the outside world.
Taking responsibility for our own feelings
Through actively taking responsibility for the emotions, we can actually better understand what is triggering us to feel anxious or depressed too. By developing a sense of compassion and patience for ourselves, we are able to find more balance in our own lives. Those reactions that you deem to be “personality traits” of being reactionary can actually change once you develop the want to better yourself. Through confronting our triggers, we will find the strength to better our lives. To be committed to living in the moment, we are able to actually free ourselves from the turmoil that we are suffering from.
How to develop mindfulness
Breathe – Really think about how you are doing it. Think about how the air passes through your nose, into your chest and how your ribs expand out too. Then exhale and repeat this process until you realise you are beginning to calm down.
Think about how your body feels – Are you experiencing pins and needles? Are you feeling any aches and pains from built-up tension or stress? Perhaps your shoulders, neck or head hurt? These symptoms are all products of anxiety and depression.
What can you hear? What is going on around you? Is there traffic, chatting or birds around you? Think about what you can hear and identify what it is.
Stretch out your hands, legs and neck. Extend your muscles and make sure you are focusing on your breathing too. Continue doing this until you realise that you are feeling calmer.
Write it down
Now that you have become more aware of how your body is reacting and have tuned in to the sounds around you, write it all down. While you are jotting down the details, consider what it is like to feel calm again and reflect on how you have changed through this process of feeling anxious to being calm. Also, it is also beneficial to consider what it actually feels like to tune in to those feelings and reactions and how that differs from your normal routine.
So why not give mindfulness a shot? It doesn’t require spending any extra money on equipment or on specialist care, so it’s a win-win really! Quite simply, it is for you to tap into if and whenever you can. I would highly recommend that you try it as it gives you back the control that you may have felt like you lost a while ago. Through practising mindfulness, you will realise that you have the power to better your situation and deal with your anxiety/ past traumas through harnessing your ability to differentiate between the past and present. Mindfulness is about choosing to stay in the present, to be aware of yourself as well as your reactions and to better understand your triggers. Believe it or not, an effective strategy to better your anxiety and depression is actually in your hands. So why not give yourself a little more room to breathe and allow a little mindfulness into your life?
Jimi D Katsis is a Bristol based consultant psychotherapist at jimikatsis.com specialising in recovery from trauma, depression, and anxiety