Some of us hold onto our stressful thoughts like a badge of honor – we think that if we worry, it means we care. But it also traps us in a loop of unhappiness; stress makes it difficult to concentrate on anything but the source of our anxiety.
So, how do we let go of stress? By being mindful and accepting what is.
What is Mindfulness?When you’re present in the moment, there’s no room for unpleasant thoughts, and you’re free to live the life that you have right now – not a distant past or an uncertain future.
According to Western New York’s Horizon Health Services, mindfulness is often used in therapy as a way to manage anxiety, depression, addiction, and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
By living in the moment, you’re able to focus your attention in a more effective way, rather than letting worries, fears, or overwhelming emotions take over your reactions.
How to Be Mindful
Stop Predicting the FutureLet’s say that you’re worried about a presentation at work. The thought of speaking in front of a group keeps you up at night. You imagine yourself stumbling over your words, saying something that your boss disagrees with, or not knowing an answer to a question.
Can you be certain that any of those things will happen? Can you know it, without a doubt?
Or course not. What you’re doing is robbing yourself of the present to worry about a make-believe future.
It can be alarming to feel that you're not in control. But you can accept and even welcome this reality by knowing that you always have what you need, even if it's not what you think you need.
- A mistake in your speech could motivate you to take a public speaking class, where you improve your skills and make new friends.
- A job loss might lead to a more fulfilling career opportunity.
- A car accident may teach you how to be a more careful driver.
- The end of a relationship may prompt you to become more independent.
When you have faith that whatever life gives you is for your greatest good, you're no longer threatened by the unknown.
Leave the Past in the PastMany people live on auto-pilot, dwelling on the past with regret or nostalgia, so that they can’t see what’s in front of them.
Wanting something to be undone, resisting reality, doesn’t turn back the clock or result in anything but heartache. Learn from the past, and then let it go. Trying to change the past is futile.
So is trying to relive it.
Think about the first time you visited Walt Disney World or another destination. Everything was new and unexpected. You felt the thrill of discovery.
What was it like the second time around? You wanted to experience the same anticipation, but it wasn’t like the first – it couldn’t be. That second trip may have been more thrilling, it may have been less so, but it was (and always will be) different. To be anything else is impossible.
Love and Accept OthersPart of accepting reality is accepting others for who they are. When you try to make someone want the same things as you or act in a certain way, stress is always the result.
Think of a complaint that you have with a friend or a partner, and ask yourself, “What’s the reality of the situation?” Not “What do you want to happen?” but “What is happening?”
For example, if you’re upset with your husband because he spends more time at work than at home, ask yourself, "What’s the reality?" The reality is that he’s working.
Fighting against that reality, trying to persuade him to come home, is manipulative, not loving. In seeking to change his behavior, you’re denying his right to make his own decisions. You’re trying to live his life for him, and in the process, you’re forgetting to live your own.
As you stop judging people and start to accept them instead, your behavior becomes more loving and your relationships improve. You get back what you give.
Don't Try to Be a Mind ReaderWhen someone says or does something, we jump to conclusions about their motives. When your husband stays late at work, you might think, "He thinks I'm boring" or "He likes his co-workers more than me."
We react as if those thoughts are true, causing ourselves stress and heartache without reason.
We already know that we can't read minds, and yet we continue to behave as if the stories we're telling ourselves are true.
When you're upset, notice if you're jumping to conclusions and question those thoughts to get back to reality.
Embrace the PresentWhen living in the past or the future causes you pain, ground yourself in the present. It’s as easy as using your senses.
Become aware of how your environment looks, sounds and feels.
For example, if you tend to worry during your morning commute, focus on your senses. Notice how the sun feels on your face and the way that your seat supports your body. Look at the cars around you. What colors are they? What sounds do they make? Can you hear music from the neighboring vehicle?
Take care not to judge the things that you see or hear, just let them fill your senses.
You'll soon find that not only are you more alert, but in the absence of your stressful thoughts, you're able to appreciate the simple joys in life.
Learning to be MindfulYou can practice mindfulness on your own or seek guidance from sources such as:
- Counselors (click here to contact Horizon Health Services),
- Meditation or yoga classes, and
- Books; if you’re struggling with relationship issues, consider Byron Katie’s book, I Need Your Love: Is That True?, which teaches you how to accept others while living in a way that’s true to yourself.
Learning to be mindful is an investment in your happiness. It can open your eyes to the gifts around you and help you to approach situations in a calmer and more productive way.