It’s mental health awareness week this week (second week of May each year) and it’s a cause close to my heart. I have been affected by mental health issues both personally and also supporting family/friends. I always remember being an anxious teenager, the ever-present pressure of exams and trying to discover who I was and how I fitted in (or didn’t, as I felt!). Rather than having specific worries with an identifiable cause, anxiety was a dark filter that blanketed my whole life and pervaded every occasion, to the point I was never fully present in anything I did. Reason and logic were futile. Despite a wonderfully loving and supportive family I still suffered a seemingly endless battle. The anxiety then developed into panic attacks in my 20’s, which were a complete assault to my senses as they seemed to happen in those infrequent moments of relaxation when my defenses were down. I had accepted that this was the way it was going to be. Anxiety my constant exhausting companion.
But the sleepless nights and constant catastrophising got too much and I eventually sought help, thanks to a very understanding boss at the time who helped me access support through work. I went for counselling, which is where I was first introduced to mindfulness. I had studied psychology as a degree and was aware of the formal treatments available but mindfulness really appealed because of it’s simplicity. Paying attention to what is happening right now. So when I had feelings of panic, noticing that my heart rate increased, my hands got sweaty, my stomach gripped. And by noticing and acknowledging the signs of panic it somehow distanced me from them, I was an observer rather than being directly involved and it took the edge off. Mindfulness gave me a choice of whether to be consumed or whether to try and detach. I never thought it would be possible! A choice to not have to listen to my thoughts. The choice to let go of the turmoil. In the first few sessions it was an achievement to stay present and aware of the sensations in my body for just a few seconds. Some days it was harder than others. But the more I experienced the temporary relief from intrusive thoughts, those few second gave me hope that it was possible to find some peace. And I found yoga and mindfulness went hand-in-hand. An hour focussing on how my body feels and following the breath gave me much-needed relief from the thought torrent and further belief that it was possible to not be constantly consumed.
So Mindfulness is now part of my day to day life. Whether it be spending time with loved ones, sitting and paying attention to my breath, practising yoga, walking in nature, playing with my pets, making jewellery, sewing…noticing all the sensations of sound, colour, touch helps ground me in the present and resist the pull of remembering/planning/worrying. I still have bouts of anxiety but I trust it will pass. Sometimes it lasts longer than others but I keep the faith it won’t last forever.
And if you have been to one of my classes you will know that I love to weave mindfulness throughout, starting with a mindfulness meditation and then mindful reminders through class to keep checking in with how you feel and to notice what’s happening right now. Not wishing it were different. Accepting it for what it is knowing that whatever the sensation, it won’t last forever.
Mindfulness worked for me because it reminded me that this present moment is really all we have. But mindfulness for me was a tool of coping I could add to my toolkit. I am so lucky to have love and support from family and friends and I now know I need to make time to do the things I love otherwise I could end up on a downward spiral. Taking time for yourself is so important and it is not selfish to put yourself first (being as considerate as you can to others!). And don’t suffer alone. Speak to someone you love. We don’t know everyone’s story so being kind in our words and actions can have a huge impact on someone who is struggling.
Just to note that Mindfulness isn’t necessarily right for everyone. Especially if you are suffering with chronic anxiety, seek help and support. Mindfulness may help long-term maintenance but not necessarily short term fire-fighting. But there will be a tool and technique that works for you. It may take some time and effort but asking for help is the first step.
In each class we will continue on our mindfulness journey and work towards a feeling of acceptance of how things are right now and we may find a moment of peace and contentment 🙂