How often do we look up from our busy lives and consciously live in the present, moment to moment? My own answer to that nine years ago was, rarely, if ever. I suffered from physical illnesses, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. It was like being trapped in a never-ending cycle from which I could not escape.
From the moment I woke my mind was consumed with thoughts of worry, regret for the past, the ‘what if’s’ and guilt for things I ‘should’ have done/not done and shame of not being enough, being there for the people I love. The list went on and on. Fear of the future; all the ‘to do’ lists and not having enough time to do it. The narrative went something like; “I should be working harder, doing more with the kids, exercising more. I’m fat. I am so tired, how am I going to get through the day? I’m behind on the washing and ironing. Yoghurt, milk, wipes, bleach, I forgot the cat food, as well. I don’t read enough books, how can I fit that in? I need to book a holiday. Hold on, I’ll just look at Facebook for a minute. God, my life is rubbish. What if I can’t pay my mortgage in six months? What am I going to do this weekend? I must do my banking. Why do I feel so down all the time? Why am I so exhausted? I can’t cope. I am a failure.” Talk about beating yourself up and I wasn’t really aware I was doing it.
Within five minutes of waking up my stomach was in a knot; my shoulders were rising with tension. I constantly felt tired but wasn’t sleeping well. I was consumed by social media. I was having panic attacks and I tried to read and think my way out of it.
Upon entering counselling, I was (slowly) introduced to the concepts of mindfulness, meditation, and grounding. At first, I was skeptical, but to be honest I was desperate. I started off with some basic breathing techniques and found initially they made me feel worse! However, I persevered and experimented with different types of meditation found on various apps, free online platforms, from books and over time I attended workshops and courses. Learning to use mindfulness techniques and to meditate is an individual thing; certain things click or work for different people. For me, it is a bit like learning a language. The language of my own heart and mind.
Mindfulness is a quality that every human possesses already, but our busy worlds can block us off from it. However, with some carved-out time which can begin at even just a couple of minutes it can be accessed and you can learn it.
There are many types of mindfulness, meditation, and grounding practices.
The most widely thought of/used is guided meditation where you can sit/lie down and slow down your breathing. There are many different techniques for this. I use 7/11 breathing but some use square breathing, which is gently breathing in for a count of four, hold for four, breath out for four and hold for four. If you repeat this process, slow breathing will calm your autonomic nervous system which slows your heart rate, respiration blood system and digestion. It also slows your mind.
Guided meditation can help you begin to look at your thoughts from afar, almost like a spectator. I never knew I was not my thoughts! Yes, that’s right, you are not your thoughts. Our thoughts are a product of our conditioning – how we were raised, where we grew up, our friends, parents, peers, teachers, our life experience, and our culture. We absorb everything around us, and it can influence what we think, and shape our beliefs about ourselves and others. I didn’t know the thoughts that were swirling around in my head were creating negative feelings, beliefs and affecting my behaviour. Learning to stand still, be present, detach with compassion from my thoughts and be curious about them was a game changer for me.
I now listen to guided meditation every day. I use different ones, all of which are free. There are guided meditation and mindfulness exercises for anxiety, depression, IBS, loneliness, bereavement, and just about every other subject or issue you can imagine. There is breath awareness, loving kindness meditation, affirmation and mantra based, visualisation and more!
I often take time out of my days, even if it is for two minutes. I can either go inwards and shut my eyes and be on a calming beach alone and think of things I am grateful for or talk to people I love.
I can also go outwards and stop for a minute and look at what is around me. I often go for walks and look at all the different colours of the trees and feel the wind in my face and just be in that very moment.
You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere and with anyone by just noticing what is going on and paying attention to what is happening in that moment. Playing sports, watching a movie, gardening and many other activities can do the same thing for the brain if you are engaged in that very thing in that very moment.
This is very tied to grounding which is a technique devised to bring you into the present which can help with anxiety and other mental health issues. There are many techniques out there but simple things like savouring a food or drink, moving your body, and concentrating on the movements, touching things like soft materials, listening to your surroundings, etc. can all help bring you into the present moment and shrink those thoughts that are overwhelming you.
There is overwhelming evidence now to show the benefits of these practices. For me they are a way of life and are as important as the air that I breathe. It really has changed my inner world and my outer one too.
Here are just some of the benefits of mindfulness, meditation, and grounding:
Reduced stress and anxiety
Sharpened attention span
Greater patience, tolerance, and kindness
Can help with physical pain and illness
Decreases blood pressure
More balanced thinking
I still get anxious thoughts every day, but I would say from where I was eight years ago, they are but mere rain drops in a sea.
I will leave you with this. Take one minute and stop. Hold your hand up to your heart and say ‘may I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be well, may I be love’… Repeat and rinse! Namaste 🙂