Over the past 5 weeks, my colleague Erica Marcus and I have been leading Portland Public School teachers through a 6-week course titled, Mindfulness and SEL. Teachers develop tools for themselves and their students to increase resilience, self-awareness, and compassion through mindfulness.
Last week our class focused on “thoughts.” As I use mindfulness to navigate my anxiety disorder, ‘thoughts’ has been the most powerful concept for me to dive into. If we can be aware of our thoughts, we have the ability to choose which ones are truthful vs others that our ego decides to be true.
When we are in a state of fight/flight our thoughts can overtake our body and mind and we are not able to choose a different way.
I remember when I was at the height of my anxiety/depression and I saw this cartoon:
It made me feel shameful and guilty because I was waking up each day with the inability to choose. No matter how hard I was trying to get to the other side I just couldn’t… I was in a state of chronic fight/flight which left me with the inability to use my rational mind. Fear was all I knew.
If you are feeling stuck in a constant state of stress/anxiety you certainly are not alone. I realize now that shame and guilt are only going to make things worse. Beating myself up for feeling the way that I did was only causing lower self-esteem.
It’s that self-compassion piece that was missing for me. “Wow, being in a chronic state of fight/flight is really uncomfortable and hard”. Rather than “Julie, what is wrong with you? Get your sh*t together and pull through”.
If you are someone who is feeling a lot of overwhelm I invite you to give diaphragmatic breathing a try the next time anxiety arises.
- Sit up tall then relax your shoulders
- Soften through the jaw, forehead, and temples
- Bring one hand to your stomach and one hand to your heart
- Inhale through the nose and begin to fill the belly up with air
- Full breath in then exhaling all the air out completely
- If the breath isn’t going into the stomach area, that’s common- especially if we are feeling overwhelmed. This is a practice that takes new muscles to develop. The more you practice the better you will get in moments of stress and anxiety.
- Practice, Patience, and compassion mixed with this deep breathing technique is proven to help slow the mind and relax the body.
The breath is one tool among many that we can try when we notice that our thoughts are like a million buzzing bees in a beehive. When we are aware that we are feeling an uncomfortable emotion, we can choose to sit with it and notice how it feels in our bodies and minds to create more resilience.
If you are finding that this is heightening your stress and anxiety then we can use a tool like belly breathing to feel better.
Some days we can sit with discomfort, other days it is just too much and we need a tool that can calm the nervous system.
Each day we wake up with a different demand or experience. Increasing self-awareness is the first step in changing the thoughts so we can begin to heal.