At the beginning of the month, I began a mindfulness challenge. It was quite simple: do three things mindfully every day. I began imagining myself sitting Zen like on top of a rocky mountain, reaching enlightenment and spreading my healing wisdom to my fellow chronically ill bloggers. It was then that I realized; there aren’t really any mountains in the UK, and it rains much too often to sit outside. So my mindfulness challenge remained focused on mundane daily tasks. Sometimes I noticed the feel of my shirt slipping over my head as I got dressed and other times I fully appreciated the warmth of the shower. I used it at work to get through hard days, aiming my focus at the task at hand instead of thinking of all the things that needed to be done, and to help calm my breathing at night to get a better sleep. As is often the way of mindful activities, the changes I noticed were small and personal rather than grand and global, but I still thought I would share with you the top 5 things I learned from my month of mindfulness:
1. Being mindful won’t stop you from having a panic attack for the first time
You may think this point is too specific to be a general observation and you may be right. While mindfulness and meditation and breathing exercises have certainly provided me with a vast amount of help and resources for Chronic Fatigue, it is not some miracle cure for all of your health problems. Mindfulness often gives you insight into what you need and what your fears and challenges are, and it can help you manage those things as well, but you still need to make the decision to utilize those discoveries and put them into practice in your daily life. If you don’t do that there’s nothing stopping the stress from getting to you, and you may find yourself Googling the symptoms of a heart attack…
2. You will appreciate the big picture
Mindfulness teaches you to focus on one specific moment in time, so it seems like an oxymoron to say that mindfulness helps you to see the big picture better, but when you are focusing on just one moment, it puts that moment into perspective. You may be in physical or emotional pain in that one moment, but it is only a moment, and there is no way of predicting what that next moment will bring.
3. Your mind is a jungle
One of my biggest literary heroines wrote these wise words of advice: “There’s a crazy lady living in your head. I hope you’ll be comforted to hear that you’re not alone. Most of us have an invisible inner terrible someone who says all sorts of nutty stuff that has no basis in truth”. Over the past month I have often come out of a meditation feeling like I have just fought a battle with my inner terrible someone. That voice which is saying all sorts of crazy things, and trying to distract you from focusing on your breath, and instead making you focus on what a terrible person you are and what a terrible life you have. You will discover a lot of great things about yourself if you commit to mindfulness, but you will also get to know all of the not-so- great parts of yourself as well. Before you conjure up images of serene and peaceful meditation sessions, know that you will have your battles to fight. This does not make you a ‘bad meditator’
4. It’s OK to assert your needs
Mindfulness will help you get in touch with what you really need to feel better or to help make things more achievable for you. However, it is one thing to come to these realizations in your head, and another thing to assert those needs to your boss, co-workers, or loved ones. Just remember that everyone is different, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you need to ask for help in certain areas. Also, you won’t be of much use to anyone if you crash, so be confident in asserting your needs, and everyone around you will benefit!
5. You’re hardier than you think
Hardiness is a term used by psychologists to define the type of person who can remain healthy and in control in stressful situations. While genetics and the way you were raised affect your personal level of hardiness, it is something that can be cultivated by anybody. Mindfulness helps to control stress levels, and keep your perspective on situations by focusing in on the moment rather than going over all of the terrible things that could happen in your head (see point number 3). By cultivating this awareness of yourself and your surroundings, you are setting yourself up to succeed. I am the queen of over-thinking things. Something I did not realize was a harmful trait until fairly recently. Mindfulness helps you focus in on the specific situation at hand, and slows down time (ie. Breathing) to give you the strength to adequately deal with the situation. Once you start cultivating hardiness by practicing mindfulness (or whatever substitute works for you) you will be amazed by what you can accomplish!