How are you today? How is the breath, body and heart? Take a moment to pause and really connect with what’s happening in this moment. What are you paying attention to? Is it thoughts, an ache in the body or an emotion?
These inquiries help us to stay connected with the life around and within us. We so easily get carried away and lost in the land of thinking, striving, judging and reacting that we lose this vibrant connection to the present moment. Instead, we move into action and doing. Even when we’re thinking we’re doing and living our life in a virtual world of thoughts and stories. Our energy gets caught up in thinking mind, our body contracts, and we get swept up in an emotional hailstorm. When this happens we feel lost, overwhelmed and out of balance with life.
Feeling overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions is a sign we’re out of balance
When we feel overwhelmed, we’re out of balance and caught up in the world of fear. Our thoughts are filled with a thread of anxiety and we move into physical action (doing more and more). Or we get paralyzed as if we’re caught in the middle of a tornado. Consumed with worry or catastrophic thoughts, we lose our ability to help ourselves and our instinctual reaction is to soothe ourselves in unhealthy ways. Some of us go on shopping sprees aka retail therapy, or we turn to alcohol/drugs or some other toxic behavior that temporarily suspends the pain. Suspending the pain sometimes turns into procrastination and this compounds the problem, leading to stress, shame, anger and confusion.
The body reacts to what’s happening in the mind and heart
The truth is that when you’re anxious your whole body responds to the situation as if there’s an imminent threat of danger. Your fight, flight system is engaged and your body, mind and heart kick into survival mode. When we’re in survival mode we react. Our muscles contract, our hearts rev up and our digestive system slows down to conserve energy needed for protection. This is why some of us experience anxiety and panic attacks. In an effort to restore balance, our body triggers the alarm system. (If you’ve suffered from panic attacks you know what I’m talking about! Although it may feel as if you are going to die it’s actually your bodies way of trying to help you. But because it feels dangerous your anxiety escalates to the point where it turns into panic.) So we suffer from anxiety, which can make us feel like we’re in the middle of a catastrophe. Sometimes, we go to the other extreme and get depressed. When we’re depressed, it can feel as if we’re walking around with a rain cloud hovering over us. Or perhaps it’s just periods of highs and lows. In any event, reacting to what’s happening in the outside world, or in the mind, causes us to lose the balance between body, mind and heart.
So how can we help ourselves?
What is often needed is a break from the thoughts, stories and judgment. We need to get off the emotional roller coaster and connect with the life that is right here. This isn’t New Age talk. It’s reality talk! What we need when we’re reeling, is to help ourselves calm the central nervous system and reconnect with the present moment.
Pause, breathe, feel…
The first step is to notice and become aware when we’re reacting instead of responding. To do this, we must learn to listen and tune into the body, become aware of thoughts and recognize when we’re caught up in an emotion. We also need to be compassionate towards ourselves. Because when we suffer, we’re in pain. This compassionate movement towards pain (it could be emotional, physical or psychological) helps alleviate suffering. We pause to connect with the breath and this helps slow down and calm our reactivity. Pausing is a vital step towards restoring balance between body and mind. As we come back into balance with the present moment, we are better able to help ourselves. We gain clarity of mind and respond in ways that heal and reconnect us to this moment.
For instance, if I’m stressed out about an upcoming test, I may begin to increase feelings of anxiety and tension by thinking about all the times in the past where I failed an exam or task. Perhaps this test is an essential next step towards a promotion and this increases the anxiety. I may begin to obsess and worry to the point where I’m unable to focus and concentrate. I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. What’s most important here is not the trigger (test), it’s how I’m reacting to it. If, instead I pause the internal chatter and shift attention to the breath, (feeling the sensation of the breath, the fullness of the inhale and the slow emptying out on the exhale) I reconnect the body and this helps ground me in the present moment. If I then began to attune to how anxiety is showing up in the body, I might notice that the stomach feels as if it’s tied up in knots, and the chest feels tight. Sending compassion to the tightness or pain in the body can help me begin to soften. The intention is to create space between thoughts, emotions and the body so that I can begin to feel more grounded.
The next time you feel overwhelmed try this brief mindfulness practice:
- Breathe in slowly. You might softly whisper breath in-breath out
- Feel the sensation of the breath coming into the chest and lungs, breathing out feel the body emptying out and soften places of tension
- Consciously set an intention to stay with the difficulty or pain, allowing compassion to arise in the heart.
- You can bring the hand to heart in a gesture of healing and compassion or place the hand lovingly on the cheek.
- Use the mantra soften, soothe, allow and send love as you stay present.
- If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, focus on the feeling of the breath coming in and out, or your feet on the floor.
- Stay with this practice until you feel more grounded.
When you practice these moments of mindfulness and compassion, you’re reconnecting with the life that is right here and this can help you restore a feeling of balance and inner peace.
May you be well…