One of my followers asked me “for advice on connecting to the body to give some respite from the chatterbox” in his mind. This is my answer. In long form. Because I know you all love homework. Yay for homework! I would say to allow the “chatterbox” to play on in the background without letting it stop you from engaging in your life. Let the radio play on while you continue to dance and sing! Acceptance and Commitment Therapy guru Dr Russ Harris would tell you that trying to argue with your thoughts is like having two radios on at once…aaaarrrrrhhhh no thanks! Unfortunately there is no off switch on our radios, human brains do not do silence. Even meditation is not about ridding the mind of all thought. It is more about focusing deeply and fully on the intention that you have made for the practice. So how do we turn the radio down enough for us to concentrate on living a full and meaningful life? Use your senses to get back into your life and out of your mind.
Spend some time just sitting with your emotions. Watching them with the curiosity of a toddler that is experiencing something new. Check out What is Mindfulness? to learn how to notice the sensations that accompany an emotion (heart racing, butterflies in your tummy, tension in jaw and shoulders, head pounding…) without the interpretation that goes with it (I’ve got to get out of here because this anxiety will make me do something stupid…there’s that feeling again, embarrassement, how can you be so stupid?). To make this process easier, try to imagine what the sensation would look like if you were to draw it. Would it have sharp edges or soft, floating edges? What colour would it be? Is it moving or still? Where is it sitting? Has it got bigger or smaller since you started watching it? Is it filling most of your body or only a little bit? To teach kids this concept, show them these short animations When You Worry and When You Are Worried…Fill Your Body with Bravery.
Once you have identified what the sensations look and feel like, you can give them a name. Naming uncomfortable emotions, thoughts and memories is thought to provide instant distance from them. It allows you to see them for what they are, just pictures, words and sensations in your body, that hold the power to impact the way you engage in your life and your states of mind…but only if you let them.It is perfectly possible to feel peaceful no matter what thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. Don’t believe me? I have found my own peaceful bog, I know that it is possible. When you notice that you are experiencing an uncomfortable thought or feeling, label it in your mind. Simply say “that’s irritation”. I’ve found this to be one of my most powerful tools. When I acknowledge the irritation I can usually avoid the urge to react to it. It soon settles and I haven’t ruined any relationships or let the feeling escalate. Paradoxically, reacting to emotions in the way you “feel” like you should actually increases the emotion. If you react to anger with aggression, the anger then gets bigger because you are reinforcing it!
If you are experiencing any reccuring memories or thoughts, write them all down on a piece of paper and pick a catchy title to label your story. Some of my clients have chosen “The Hell Story”… “The Useless Piece of Crap Story Story”… “The Terrible Mum Story”. These all represented the thoughts and feelings that, although not true, were constantly bombarding these people because their radio was up so loud. They couldn’t hear any of the positive things that their mind said and they couldn’t concentrate on the positive things that were happening in their lives. Each time the thoughts or memories appear, simply say in your mind “ah there’s the Hell Story”.
Use the technique that we learnt in What is Mindfulness? and place the statement “I notice that I’m having the thought that…” to create some more distance from those pesky self-defeating thoughts.
Let it Be
Finally you can work on “Letting it Be”. Breathing is the best technique for this, find out why breathing is the bomb. Get involved in the #MindfulMay campaign on Facebook where we are doing a daily mindfulness challenge. Each of these daily challenges is a technique that you can use to get out of your chaotic mind and back into your life. Check out this short vid Coping with Thoughts and Feelings Using Defusion for some more ideas on “Letting it Be”.
Print out the pictures in the blog and create flash cards to stick on your fridge or keep in your wallet, to remind you to allow emotions to come and go. Fill in the blank flash cards with examples from your own life that tend to impact you the most.
The philosophy of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is not to rely on a toolbox of techniques to cope with thoughts and feelings but to adopt a lifestyle in which emotions and thoughts are a natural part of being a human. Paying attention to what is right in the world through daily mindfulness and acting accordingly to your values rather than your “rules” in life will allow thoughts and feelings to have less impact on you.
Love and luck