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Monthly Archives: September 2018

How Mindfulness Can Help With Anxiety

Blog banner How Mindfulness Can Help With Anxiety

Although Mindfulness practice has been happening in Eastern cultures for many years, it's only recently increased in popularity in the West. Its benefits have been promoted over here by people like Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme.

Despite an awareness of its benefits on mental health, there's still some confusion as to what Mindfulness is. In this post we'll be giving a whistle-stop tour of Mindfulness and some of the different practices you can try.

What Mindfulness is not

It might seem like we're beginning the wrong way round, but we think it's important to start with addressing the confusion that often surrounds Mindfulness. A lot of people mistake Mindfulness as a form of 'relaxation' and it seems as though the two terms are often used inter-changeably.

Whilst feeling relaxed can often be a by-product of practicing Mindfulness, it is not the aim of practicing Mindfulness.

What Mindfulness is

The aim of practicing Mindfulness is to draw our attention to the 'here and now', or, the 'present moment'. All too often, we spend our time thinking about the past (which we cannot change) and/or worrying about the future (which we may have little control over changing).

This quote from Buddha, sums this up perfectly:

"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly".

This reference to worrying about things outside of our control, or things we can't change, seems all-too familiar when we look at the negative thinking patterns which feed into anxiety.

But isn't Mindfulness all 'woo-woo'??

When people think of Mindfulness, many may visualise monks sat high up on mountains, gazing over the landscape, and generally 'being all zen'.

Also, social media often portrays a rather 'stylistic' view of Mindfulness where meditating in a minimally-furnished room, whilst wearing designer yoga pants and a smile reserved only for the likes of Buddha, is deemed as a sure-fire way to reaching enlightenment.

Because of this, Mindfulness might seem rather unachievable to the 'average Joe', but in reality you don't need sparsely kitted-out rooms, yoga pants, or incense sticks to get there*.

*Equally, if you do want to use these things in your Mindfulness practice then go for it. We're not saying that these things are 'bad', but what we're saying is that you can start being mindful now without the need for anything else. It's your mind-set, not the material stuff, that'll help you be more mindful.

being more present

Mindfulness: It's not all about the Buddha

Mindfulness-based exercises

We're giving a very brief overview of some different Mindfulness practices here. You can do a Google search which will bring up plenty of results and you can look into them in more detail. If you do pick one or two that you're drawn to, it might be useful to start off with "guided" versions of these, meaning, a recording of someone to guide you through them. There are plenty of these on Youtube ๐Ÿ™‚

Sitting meditation

There are lots of meditation apps out there nowadays, so you can pretty much meditate anywhere (okay maybe not, but you get what we mean).

You'll want to find a quiet place to meditate. You can either sit crossed-legged on the floor (you may want to sit on a cushion), or sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and arms resting where they're most comfortable.

The meditation will usually involve you closing your eyes and focusing on your breath; not trying to do anything particular with it, just observing it. During the course of the meditation, your thoughts will inevitably drift to past or future events. The idea is that as soon as you become aware of your mind drifting, you should bring it back to the present moment. Don't judge yourself for losing focus on the present, just keep bringing your mind back to it.

This is hard to do, but remember that it's Mindfulness practice and in order to get better at it that's exactly what we have to do. Two popular guided meditation apps are Headspace and Calm so free to check them out as they'll take you through the process.

Walking meditation

This type of meditation isn't just walking, it's about paying attention to your walking and is therefore done at a much slower pace. If you're worried about other people, you might want to do this in your back garden or pick a spot in the local park which you know is usually quiet.

Some people find this form of meditation easier than the sitting meditation, due to focusing on the bodily sensations that come from the walking. As with the sitting meditation, when you become aware of your mind wandering you bring it back to your breathing and walking.

Mindful eating

Before you scoff your [insert favourite food item here], this isn't just about eating. This is about really paying attention to what you're eating; less hamster and more sloth.

People often practice with a small piece of food like a square of chocolate or a raisin. Whatever the item, it's about paying attention to how it looks, smells and feels before even putting it in your mouth. Once you put it in your mouth the idea is not to chew it straight away either, but to be aware of things like the texture and the taste.

We're not suggesting you eat like this all the time, but trying this exercise will help bring an awareness to your eating that you may not have had before. After all, how often do we really pay attention when we're eating?

Other ways to be more mindful whilst eating could include: eating without distractions around you like the television or your mobile phone; paying attention to when you feel full and to stop eating at that point; and only eating when you feel genuinely hungry.

The body scan

The body scan is best done lying down on the floor or on your bed.

The idea of the body scan is to bring attention to how you feel in your body. You can start at the top of your head and move down through to your toes, or vice versa. Spend some time on each part of the body, paying attention to how it feels. Is it tense? Have you got any aches or pains? Whatever you observe, do this without judgment and without a wish to change it. Acknowledge however it feels and move onto the next part of the body.

There's a chance that you may fall asleep during this practice, and that's okay! If you feel yourself nodding off, perhaps move your body slightly just to bring yourself back to the exercise and continue with the body scan.

Yoga

Some people may not immediately associate yoga with Mindfulness, but we'd say it's a form of Mindfulness as part of the practice is to be mindful of the breath and the feelings in your body as you hold it in various positions.

There are plenty of good yoga videos available on Youtube. You might not want to start with this one, though.

How Mindfulness can help with anxiety

As we've talked about in previous posts, worrying about things which are outside of our control is likely to increase our levels of anxiety.

Mindfulness aims to keep us in the present moment because ultimately that's all we have, and therefore worrying about things which have happened/have yet to happen is a waste of mental energy.

It's worth repeating that Mindfulness is a practice, so it's not about being 'perfect' or getting it right all the time. The key is to bring our minds back to the present moment as soon as we become aware that they've drifted. Don't beat yourself up over your mind drifting; there should be no judgments in Mindfulness practice.

We hope this post has given you a good 'starter for ten' in terms of exploring more about Mindfulness. Have you got any other suggestions of Mindfulness practices that we've not listed here? Let us know in the comments ๐Ÿ™‚

5 Ways To Manage Negative Thinking

Blog banner 5 Ways To Manage Negative Thinking

In a previous post, we explored an analogy of the process of negative thinking and how, once one negative thought presents itself a whole host of other negative thoughts can follow. In this post we talk about how to manage negative thinking to reduce its impact on how you feel and what you do.

Stop thinking! (In unhelpful ways)

One of the simplest things to do is stop thinking! Yes, I know you're probably going to say "But we're always thinking; how can we just stop??"

We're talking about us stopping our unhelpful thinking.  If you have a worry, then focusing on that worry will only make it bigger and generate more worrying thoughts. At this point we may also start to make assumptions about the thing we're worrying about.

To put it more simply, a lot of us spend a lot of time thinking in unhelpful ways.

Start thinking! (In helpful ways)

The place to start is that everyone thinks. It's what our minds do, but how we think is what will influence how we feel and what we do. So here's some ideas for how to manage negative thinking in ways which work for our benefit.

1. Examine your negative thinking patterns

It might be helpful to try and recognise your negative thinking patterns.  Start to look out for when you're turning a small worry into a bigger one.  If you can start to see the tipping point you'll become more aware of your thought processes and stop them before they spiral. You can find out more about negative thinking patterns here.

2. Look for possible solutions

Imagine you're in debt, and through no fault of your own you find you're no longer able to make the repayments. Your thoughts may focus on the consequences of owing so much money and being unable to pay it back.

Instead of looking to find a solution you may go into panic mode, hiding unopened debt demands, not answering phone calls, and peeking through the curtains every time there's a knock at the door. When you avoid the situation that's causing the worry, your level of anxiety will be highly likely to increase.

So, to reduce your worry you need to take action. You could do things like contacting the Citizen's Advice Bureau and your lenders to explain your situation. You may be able to get your repayments reduced, which will lessen your worries about falling deeper into debt.  The worry of the debt hasn't gone away, but you've reduced it by thinking of potential solutions and acting on them.

stop anxiety taking over

Don't lose yourself in negative thinking

3. Stop creating your own anxiety

An example of this might be that you always delay completing academic essays/work projects until the last minute, which leaves you feeling anxious and stressed.

Effectively, you're creating your own anxiety and the only person that can change that is you! The key then, is to reduce this stress and anxiety.  A simple solution would be to do chunks of your work throughout the week if you can't face doing it all in one go. This way you'll find your work completed before the deadline, often with time to review it, plus you'll more than likely have lower levels of stress and anxiety.

4. Accept what you can't change

Sometimes there's nothing we can do to lessen or reduce a worry, so we need to try and accept it. Normally, these worries are completely out of our control and thinking about them will provide no answers. 

Someone we know told us that their partner had gone for tests at the hospital regarding their health. Their thoughts had already turned to the worse case scenario and they were making all sorts of assumptions about the outcome.  Whilst their fears may very well come true, equally they may not. The bottom line is that worrying about such a situation will not change it, so accepting the situation as it is in the 'here and now', although difficult, is sometimes all we can do.

5. Use distraction techniques

One of the easiest ways to stop yourself from getting into negative thinking is to distract yourself from it and focus on activities which take you away from your negative thoughts.

You can use any activity you want as a distraction technique (as long as it's legal and not harming anyone else, of course!). As long as it works for you, that's the important thing.

To get you started we have a FREE eBook for you to download! 

As you can see negative thinking has the power not only to make us feel anxious, but it can prevent us from taking action to try and reduce our worry.

Equally, there may be times when there really is nothing we can do and that calls for a level of acceptance, although we appreciate that this is easier said than done.

Have you got any other suggestions for how to manage negative thinking? Let us know in the comments ๐Ÿ™‚

12/09/2018

The Process Of Negative Thinking

Blog banner The Process Of Negative Thinking

Negative thoughts can be tied to many things; our core belief, our past experiences, thoughts about the future, body image, going to new places, meeting new people and so on. Weโ€™re very good at focusing on the negatives, whether real or perceived.

We've used this analogy with our clients:

The 'hook' of negative thoughts

Imagine youโ€™re sitting in a small row boat, floating on an ocean of negative thoughts. The thoughts are swirling all around the boat, making it bob up and down.

You cast your fishing rod over the side of the boat, and seconds later you have your first bite. You find the negative thought provides very little in the way of fight as you haul it into your boat.

As you examine the negative thought it seems to grow; getting bigger and bigger. Not only that, but more negative thoughts are now jumping onto the boat of their own accord. The more negative thoughts you explore, the more the others seem to launch themselves from the ocean.

Your boat is now heavily laden with negative thoughts, riding low in the water, and still the thoughts jump on board. In no time at all the boat starts to sink and you find yourself floating in the ocean.

Each negative thought you grasp to stay afloat takes you deeper down and you start being pulled towards the bottom of the ocean.

what happens with negative thoughts

The process of negative thinking

It might sound like a dark analogy, but it holds a certain truth in how a lot of us think. A negative thought enters our mind and instead of merely acknowledging it and letting it pass, we hook into and start analysing it.

This process of analysing only serves to create more negative thoughts. It enables โ€œwhat ifโ€ thoughts to form, and then we start making assumptions. Some of these assumptions may be based on past experiences, while others may just be things we've concocted during the analysing process.

It's rare that any thoughts within this style of thinking are based upon actual facts. Letโ€™s face it, our mind lies and creates infinite possibilities. It thinks of worse-case scenarios, magnifies situations to make them seem worse, and disables our ability to think clearly, rationally, and be pro-active in taking action.

Like the 'boat' example, you may have a worry which initially starts as a small, niggling worry. As you explore this worry it opens up a map of possible destinations, all of which become increasingly worse in their outcome. You start feeling more stressed and anxious, and as you turn the worry over and over in your mind more worries come to the surface.

How can we address negative thoughts?

Can you see the problem with this style of thinking? When we concentrate on the worry, it makes it increasingly bigger. A small worry may be a real worry which therefore needs attention, but ruminating over it will not resolve the problem.

So what can you do instead? What might help your thinking or your situation? The next blog post will address this. See you then!

Can you relate to the analogy of negative thoughts above? Let us know in the comments ๐Ÿ™‚

How To Challenge Your Core Belief

Blog banner How to challenge your core belief

In a previous post we talked about how you can identify your core belief. In this post we'll use a method of how to challenge your core belief.

We know we repeat ourselves a lot, but we cannot stress enough that a thought is not a fact. It is 'just' a thought, but we give it so much power in our minds. However, because we know it's only a thought, we have the power to challenge it and change it.

So, the gloves are now off and we're going to kick our core belief into touch ๐Ÿ™‚

Entering the court room

Imagine you're in a court room and have a judge and jury in front of you. When lawyers present their evidence, they can't say "I believe this happened, your honour", they have to state the facts of the case. The same is true with this exercise.

Your aim is to present the evidence for and against your core belief. You're the prosecution and the defence.

Remember, each item on the list of 'fors' and 'againsts' has to be factual. It has to be subjective. It cannot be a belief.

You have been warned - Judge Judy can sniff a belief out anywhere!

Make your case for the defence and prosecution

Get a piece of paper and a pen. Write your core belief at the top and then underneath it draw two columns. One column should have the heading "Evidence for" and the other column should say "evidence against".

Start with whichever column you want. When we work with clients we tend to start with the "evidence for" column first to list the things which support their core belief. Remember, the evidence should be factual and not things you merely believe.

Then move onto the "evidence against" column and, again, list down factual things which dispute your core belief.

This process might take a while. It's often all too easy to start listing beliefs rather than facts, so take your time. If you're stuck then ask a friend to help you think of factual items for each list. An outside opinion can often be more objective than your own.

Review your findings

How did you get on with the list? Be really critical; is each item under each column factual?

Even if you have some factual items under the "for" column, this doesn't mean your core belief is true. Remember that a core belief is a global belief about yourself, so a few items which seem to support this belief don't make it something which applies to the whole of you.

The aim of this exercise is to come up with a more balanced view of yourself, rather than the "extreme" view which comes from a core belief. Based on your list of "fors" and "againsts", what would a more balanced belief about yourself look like?

For example, if your core belief is "I'm a failure" based on not passing a few exams, then a more balanced belief might be "I'm not good at every subject, but that doesn't make me a total failure".

Over to you; try it and see if you can come up with a more balanced belief.

What did you think about this exercise? Let us know in the comments!

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