If you’re looking for a stress solution or REAL mental health care, then I apologise, but this post ain’t it. Can I instead direct you towards the Our Brains page on this website where there are some more practical thoughts and actual places to go and get proper help, support and advice. Go to the bottom of the page for some links and phone numbers.
However, if you’re looking for somewhere to listen to a middle-aged woman grumbling about her inability to ‘help herself’ (I’m often told to do this, still can’t work out how) then CONGRATULATIONS! Your ears will soon be bleeding at the swearing and frustration of my 7 year journey through the mega highs and super lows navigating bloody mindfulness.
I’m so far in to this exsaperation that I struggle to say the word without preceeding it with a swear. It’s second nature now, similar to saying ‘can’t be bothered’ before ‘gym’ or ‘the whole bottle’ before ‘wine’. I have tried, as I will prove, both successfully and unsuccessfully with this slippery mistress and that in itself is part of the problem. Knowing I CAN do it, that I HAVE in the past, means I label myself as inept whenever I fail in the future.
I’m not taking the piss out of the term or the benefits of practicing – I truly believe in them. Problem is, as the title says, I can’t fucking do it. So join me on this shitting mindfulness journey and I will try and prove it can be done, there are ways, but some attempts are harder than others.
And yes, it’s sometimes referred to as ‘meditation’, but in my eyes that word has attachments that make the process seem inaccessible to the everyday man. As I say, I’m going to try and show it’s not as difficult as you might think.
Steph’s mindful ‘rules’
I suspect that if you’re here you already know what this is all about, but for anyone who needs a bit more information this is my personal interpretation of bastard mindfulness.
I’ve read plenty of books and online resources on the act itself, possibly too many, which has likely clouded the facts and made it feel overcomplicated. So in this paragraph I’m going to try and simplify but I have a problem with droning on. I’ll be trying not to.
Humour me for a moment – stop completely and think at the end of this paragraph about only your breathing. Close your laptop, lock your phone, put down your tablet, turn off the radio and TV and see if you can do it for 30 seconds. Can you stop thinking about the millions of things you’re managing every day from kids to bills, jobs to family and pets to relationships? Try, TRY, ONLY breathing, for 30 seconds. Go on. Ready?…NOW.
Okay, done? Congratulations, you’ve just practiced wanky mindfulness.
If you failed, then don’t dispair! You now know you need to keep trying and it’s very possible you might benefit from it more than you realise.
When you can actually achieve it.
Now i’ve (hopefully) demonstrated virtually what the bare bones of the practice is, i’ll try and add a bit of meat to that skeleton.
What are we trying to do? Shut. It. Off. You turned away from this screen a moment ago just to focus on breathing. That single moment gifted you the ability to ignore the constant rumbling of life around you and bring your thoughts back to what’s actually happening in the here and now.
My real breakthrough came when I understood the importance of being ‘present’. Yes, that’s wanky, it really REALLY is. But the fact is that’s what we’re trying to achieve here. In daily life we are mostly rushing, swiping, running, driving, scrolling, turning, talking, shagging, messaging, reading, pumping (petrol😉), writing and typing all day looooooong. Tap, tap, tap, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, ping, ping, ping, toot, toot, toot, pap, pap, pap, waah!, waah!, waah!, ending hopefully with zzzz, zzzz, zzzz.
Our lives are one droning set of noises, many we are attracting over and over again just by using these devices. Yes, the device you’re looking at now.
So for me, fucking mindfulness is about being away from all that and together with yourself. That’s what being ‘centered’ is too. It’s not complicated.
In fact, it’s the ultimate distraction.
The mindful high
Let’s start with the positive. It’s important to understand the benefits before listening to my struggle and despite what you may be thinking, when I get it right I actually like it and you might too. Stay tuned…
I mentioned in a previous blog post a moment when my grief came back like a tsunami in an unexpected way with no time to prepare. It caused me a total wash of sadness and brain pain. When the tears had slowed and I noticed I was stressing excessively, pained from being tense and stiff, and experiencing a sudden mental health decline, I decided to try some crappy mindfulness for just a couple of minutes.
Adele was turned off (I idolise her but she rarely helps my pain), my phone switched to silent and I muted the television (couldn’t be arsed to reach an extra centimetre to the off switch). I sat here, on the side of the bed in the same position as I would in a chair. My feet were flat on the floor, my arms rested on my lap and my spine as straight as I could manage without too much discomfort.
This is where the real practice began. I started with softening my shoulders and neck, where I hold most of my tension. That felt nice so I just noticed that ‘nice’ feeling for a while. Probably 20 seconds. When I felt a bit more loose I moved to my breathing. There are many exercises if you look online, but if you want somewhere to start the NHS has a Breathing Exercises for Stress page with some directions for you. I think (just my opinion) that the counting you do for relaxed, comfortable, ‘mindful’ breathing varies from person to person. It took a while to get it right, but right now my personal breathing counts are;
- Breathe in for 4 counts
- Hold for 4 counts
- Breathe out for 6 counts
- Repeat…again and again and again
I don’t use a timer – I find that an even bigger distraction, spending my mindful time thinking about when the alarm is going to ruin the silence. But if it helps you to know an end is coming and you can forget it while you try, then go for it.
And for me, just like breathing, the amount of time you take varies from person to person and can be adapted from stress situation to stress situation. If you have a HUGE distraction, lots of pain, worries you can’t compute or work that’s relentless (maybe others, maybe all) and you are understandably desperate for some balance, why not do 20 minutes? Remember – everything that’s bothering you will still be there when you’ve finished, so 20 minutes away might help you feel better able to manage it.
When I was finished on that day, and I’d guess I managed only 5 to 7 minutes, I felt different. My headache was still there but noticably reduced, my breathing had normalised reducing my fear of full-blown panic and I was able to think about the stresses with better clarity and a few crumbs of positivity. Those few minutes of being centered had improved my symptoms, reduced the prospect of a nasty panic attack, lowered my anxiety levels and gifted me some stress-related balance. I don’t know of any medicine or book that could do all those things for me. Certainly nothing that fast.
As I say, when it works it REALLY works.
Maybe when you have a silent moment later, no not now, rather than pick up your phone and window shop for trainers or romance, take 60 seconds away from the swiping to try the exercise you did earlier again. Totally silent and totally device free, throw in some darkness if it helps. 60 seconds on soft muscles and breathing only.
When you do that without the distractions and listen only to your body, feel your breathing, reduce your tension…you’re there, and it’s suddenly accessible.
Slowly build on the regularity of that exercise and then it becomes a helpful, positive routine.
The mindful low
Now i’m going to say the things the yoga magazines and expensive app subscriptions AREN’T telling you.
Sometimes it’s just not possible. With the best will in the world, unavoidable, pressing, important things are happening. A perfect storm of distractions, ferocious noise, banging at the door, buzzing devices. And we can’t shut off.
In fact, forcing bleeding mindfulness might make things worse.
Again this is just my opinion, but when it’s impossible to get there it’s acceptable to acknowledge that at that moment, you’d be making a mistake if you tried. Instead what I do is make a note, mental, phone-based or with an actual pen (yes they still exist 🖋), to make the time to relax later. I am promising myself that when the noise is quiet again and I can be alone with my thoughts, the gift of being centered will be available and I WILL take it.
Then you have to follow through on that promise to yourself and although that also sounds wanky, it’s important that you do. What rewards are we giving ourselves these days? I can’t afford new shoes or a lovely new handbag (although I still look!), but I CAN afford some time. Time for myself, time to heal, time to find me again.
Then time to look at shoes with clarity 😊 (priorities).
Look, joking aside, I’m being honest and that’s important. I fully understand that daily life gets in the way…constantly. But I promise you the more you do this, the more it becomes a part of your routine, the more people around you will understand you need that space and the easier it will get to achieve.
The mindful narrative
So what are people with actual authority and real understanding of shitting mindfulness saying?
For me it started with the health professionals in my life mentioning I should try. Gradually the word started entering my consciousness on an almost daily basis until one day I felt it was just being wilfully shoved straight down my gullet with no actual description of what it is, why I should bother and how it should help. I was listening to my GP, therapist, physio and nurses (yes I have all 4 💊💊💊🏥) even the TV (I have one of those too 📺) mentioning it ‘in passing’ (whatever, it was constant) and I had no choice than to try. If for no other reason than to stop the chatter and decide for myself.
Online I found many resources, books too, but I was quickly overwhelmed with choice and had no idea which instructions to follow. There are many places to go, many people to talk to, the trick is to find the process that works best for you. Every person will have a different idea of what works. All the people involved in my case did. But if you’re unsure there are some good, reliable, trustworthy starting points (rather than just aimlessly watching YouTube)…
Where do you go for real instructions that won’t make you want to reach for a Predator vs. Alien movie for some light relief (I HATE that film)? I’ve found some useful resources for you and I’m not going to comment on my personal experiences with them. It’s important to find what works for you without my opinions and personal needs.
Mind – This is a charity I mention tirelessly because they relate to so much of what I chatter about. When it comes to mental health, these guys are the authority. They have a dedicated ‘dicking’ (my word, not theirs) Mindfulness page on their website with links, lists and an overview of the idea and how it helps.
Mindful – This is a gorgeous American magazine-style website dedicated to being mindful and learning lots about the process. When you get past the pop up ads (they can be annoying, but it’s worth persevering) it’s well laid out and has an abundance of information for you to digest. Even better, if you don’t want to digest lots of information, there is a solid overview on the How to Meditate page, saving your brain from overload.
Mental Health Foundation – For a less frightening overview of the process, this charity has a quieter, simpler page with a baseline overview and snippets of information. Head to their ‘buggery’ (my wprd, not theirs) Mindfulness page to see. If you want more they also offer a free downloadable book that’ll take you on a more in-depth journey.
Of course, as always, your GP and the NHS in general is the best starting place for anyone feeling lost, stressed, anxious, sad, overwhelmed, depressed or ANYTHING else mental health related. Mindfulness is a helpful tool for your MH journey, but a Doctor will help you mend the issue at its roots, which is essential for healing long-term.
To sum up…
In conclusion, when you’ve managed to navigate the stuff above that makes sense to you, when you’ve had 5 minutes to find your ‘zen’ (wanky again, i know), when you’ve found the process that aligns with your usual needs, then you can do it again…whenever you want to or need to.
It’s not a quick-fix for a mental health problem and, just to stress again, you should always obtain help for this from a professional. The Our Brains page of this site has practical help and resources at the bottom of the page. Your NHS doctor can provide even more.
Use this process as a tool for relaxation rather than an ‘appointment with yourself to become centered’. It’s actually simple to do if you are able to find the right moment. And when you do you’ll have found your…
And no, I’m not over explaining the picture today. Hot chocolate gives me life. You get it. I need 20 minutes alone after writing this anyway. 😁 💜