Letting Go of Thoughts Mindfully

racing thoughtsIt’s easy to get swept away by our thoughts, especially in the face of strong emotions. We get stuck ruminating and dwelling about the past, filled with guilt or regret. Or our minds start racing and we can’t stop worrying about the future and imagining all the things that could go wrong. Or we replay conversations over and over again in our heads, trying to make sense of them or figure out what we could have said differently.

When our minds get going like this, not only is it exhausting; these patterns of thinking tend to make us feel bad, intensifying the emotions we’re already feeling and generating additional negative emotions as well. Because this experience is so unpleasant, it’s natural to want to these thoughts to stop, and to be able to prevent yourself from even having them in the first place. We often wind up trying to make these thoughts go away, and shut them out completely and make sure they don’t come back. But just like we can’t control our emotions or suppress our emotions, neither can we control or suppress our thoughts.

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Give Yourself a Mindful Break From Stress, Anxiety and Depression

breathing spaceIn a couple of recent posts, we looked at some things you can do to help stop stress and anxiety from becoming overwhelming, and to give yourself a breathing time out from stress, anxiety and depression. In this post, we’ll look at a couple more techniques you can use to manage stress and anxiety, and to help your emotions from becoming overwhelming if you’re experiencing depression or anger.

The first is called the Three Minute Breathing Space, and it was developed as part of the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy program for people with depression. Like the Breathing Time Out, it’s a way to bring your attention to the present, give yourself a break from whatever stress or emotions have been building up, and then return to the rest of your day, more refreshed and focused on the present.

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Take a Breathing Time Out

time outIn a recent post we looked at a couple of exercises you can use to help stop stress and anxiety from becoming overwhelming. Another technique you can use throughout the day to manage stress and anxiety, and to help keep strong emotions and feelings of depression and anger from becoming overwhelming, is to give yourself a Breathing Time Out.

Just as a time out can be an effective way to help children calm down when they are acting out and starting to get out of control, when our thoughts and emotions start getting carried away, a time out is a great tool to help calm ourselves.

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What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

zen meditationThe benefits you can experience from learning to become more mindful are virtually limitless. Mindfulness allows you to relate to and deal directly with whatever is happening in your life. Instead of struggling to escape, suppress or avoid distressing thoughts and feelings, mindfulness helps you approach whatever is going on in your life, in your thoughts, and with your emotions, without becoming overwhelmed.

When you start being more mindful and start living in the present moment, you’ll experience your life more fully, and become more in touch with yourself, who you are, what is important to you, and what you want out of life.

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What Is Mindfulness?

zen rockMindfulness is a simple concept. Basically, it involves paying attention to whatever is happening in the present moment. All of us are mindful at times; however, because our minds are used to not being in the present, but rather off daydreaming, planning for the future, or thinking about things that have already happened, we spend very little time actually in the present moment unless we make a conscious effort.

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Bringing Mindfulness into your Daily Life

mindfulnessMindfulness isn’t just something we practice when meditating: anything we do throughout the day, we can learn to do mindfully. Once we learn to bring mindfulness into our everyday lives, we can reduce a lot of the stress, anxiety, depression and anger that tends to build up when we go through life relatively mindlessly.

It would be great if we could go about our whole day completely mindful, bringing our full attention to whatever we’re doing, while we’re doing it, and not getting carried away by distractions or thoughts of the past or about the future. But although mindfulness sounds simple, it does require effort. It takes a continual effort to notice when our mind’s started to wander and keep bringing it back to the present, and it’s not something most of us can do all day long.

So instead of striving go about the entire day mindfully, it’s good to start with some small steps, and find ways to gradually add more mindfulness into your activities throughout the day. Below are some ways you can start bringing mindfulness into your days on a regular basis.

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Mindfulness in Everyday Life

mindfulnessIn previous posts, we looked at the importance of giving ourselves time outs, as well as other techniques to manage stress and anxiety. Another great way we can keep things like stress, anxiety and depression from building throughout the day is to start bringing mindfulness into our everyday life.

We often talk about two broad categories of mindfulness practice. Formal mindfulness involves setting aside some time specifically for practicing mindfulness as we do when we engage in mindfulness meditation. Informal mindfulness, on the other hand, refers to finding ways to incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives.

Since mindfulness simply involves paying attention to the present moment, mindfulness can be brought to anything we do. We can take a shower mindfully, shave and brush out teeth mindfully, eat mindfully, walk mindfully, drive mindfully, work on a computer mindfully, talk to people mindfully. Whatever it is we’re doing, we can do it mindfully.

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Mindfulness From Your Computer or Smartphone

mindfulnessOften, the more technology we have in our lives, the more difficult it is to practice mindfulness. Our computers, laptops, cell phones, HDTVs, iPods, tablets and whatever other new gadget comes along, offer us so many different ways to stay busy and distracted all day long, allowing stress and anxiety to build as we go about our lives without being mindful.

But as people recognize how difficult it can be to stay mindful in our digital world, applications are being developed to help prevent us from getting too caught up in all the technoogy that surrounds us, and offering ways to come back to the present and be more mindful.

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More on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

zen meditation
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is an approach to therapy based on the mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. MBCT adapts MBSR to treat depression by incorporating aspect of cognitive therapy into mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. MBCT is also helpful in helping deal with anxiety and panic.

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Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

mindfulnessMindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a relatively recent type of therapy that combines aspects of cognitive therapy with the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program created by Jon Kabat-Zinn. MBCT was developed to help people struggling with depression, and it is also helpful in treating anxiety and low self-esteem.

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