In life, there are things we do not like, there are situations that make us unhappy, there is pain, illness and loss. While some things can be fought and overcome, there are others that we cannot change, no matter what. Fighting against these in fact increases our suffering, while letting go and accepting can bring relief.
To bring acceptance into your daily life requires mindfulness. And mindfulness is a life skill like any other that must be cultivated. When we are mindful, we can look beyond negative emotions to see what the real problem is and confront situations rationally.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations in the present moment. The act of focusing in itself distracts from ruminative and negative thought patterns.
When you find yourself consumed with lingering negative thoughts, find a quiet space where you can sit and be by yourself. Close your eyes, observe the thoughts as they pass through your mind one by one, all the while inhaling deeply. Understand that it is okay for the thought to occur. Pause for a second, then exhale and imagine the thought leaving your mind with your breath.
It is important that you pay attention to the physical as thoughts come and go. Do you feel tension in your body? Is that tension always in a particular place? Do you feel pain? Are you perspiring? Is your heart beating fast?
It is also common to become aware of micro-sensations when you are in a mindful state – pain or tingling for example. As long as the pain is not overwhelming, continue doing what you are doing, observing the sensations come and go.
When it comes to your mind, observe any attempts at resisting the thoughts. Does the thought then fade away, or is it even more pronounced? Rather than resisting, why not simply acknowledge the thought? There are also emotions that come with thoughts, and you should try to label them: this is anger, this is frustration, etc. Becoming aware of our emotions is the first step in being free of them.
GENERAL PRACTICES FOR A HEALTHY MIND
While mindfulness does not come easily, and in fact may take a lifetime of practice, there are active steps you can take right now to approach life with a positive frame of mind:
Pay attention to the good things. A great way to keep our minds off the worry track is to focus our thoughts on things that are good, beautiful and positive. Take the time and focus on these even for just a moment. We tend to focus on the negative, and this is perfectly natural, but we can train ourselves to focus on the good as well.
Reach out to others. Tell friends and family when you’re feeling down and let them know how they can help you. In worsening situations, talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.
Practise yoga. Yoga decreases the heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels (cortisol is a hormone involved in the fight-or-flight fear response).
Drink less caffeine. For most people, some caffeine is not a concern at all and may even be a good thing. But too much, even for people who can tolerate it, will turn things very bad mood-wise. If you are feeling overly on edge, it might be a good idea to reduce coffee and tea as they may be making things worse.
Remember, mindfulness is a journey. There are no hacks or shortcuts to alter our brains. It took years for our belief systems to become what they are, and a few sessions of mindfulness will not be enough to overcome it all. So keep practising and trust that the results will follow!