Walking down the street…
I was walking down a familiar street when I saw a friend, we aren’t ‘besties’, but we normally acknowledge each other, so I stop, wave and shout “Hi” only for them to continue on their path without so much as a smile…
This classic example is used in many mindfulness sessions as a way to explore what might happen when something like this occurs on our otherwise bright and cheery Tuesday morning walk. How do I react?
Now that particular scenario may or may not press any worry buttons for you, but in our everyday lives, rest assured there will be some opportunity to explore our reactions when triggered. How about receiving a blunt email, some tail-gate driver shouting at you for no apparent reason, a friend not replying to any of your messages, people saying they will get back to you and then not doing it, the eggs being over cooked, the breakfast pots still in the sink after a hard day at work, slow wi-fi, more news about lock downs, death rates, unemployment and pandemics…!!!
Do we notice what happens here, or find ourselves lost in reactivity? Are we an interested observer of our reactions or are we pulled into their storyline? Do we notice our state of mind? Is there any disquiet, anger or something in-between? Are we re-living the scenario in a variety ways, again and again…? How is it affecting our body? Behaviour?
In the current climate there are so many triggers that could easily escalate into deeper states of unrest. In uncertain times we are naturally more attuned to risk and danger. Our survival mode ensures we are alert to stay safe. Worry can be a key player in keeping this state heightened and even though it has its purpose, it isn’t not always necessary or even true. If we don’t recognize what is going on, we can so easily get drawn into a powerful and consuming preoccupation.
Worry is generally defined as repeatedly thinking about an actual or imagined experience.
A leading voice on stress, anxiety and worry, Dr. Launa Marques PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the President of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, refers to worry as the cognitive component of anxiety.
We feel worry when we repeatedly think about an issue such as “Why didn’t they say “Hi” or at least smile?” “What happened when we last met?” “Maybe I said something that upset them…?.” It is like an internal, negative narrative.
Most often we associate worry as a negative state. When we worry we feel unsettled or even quite anxious and fearful. However, worry can have its advantages if used as it was intended. If we were able to step back from the storyline and simple observe what the worry is saying, listen without getting lost in the narrative, we could live with worry more easily.
Worry can alert us to the fact there is something not quite right. It is a function designed to prompt problem solving and nudge us in to taking-action. When we are faced with unpleasant and uncertain events, worry can help find resolutions. However, simple as that sounds, it can take quite a bit of effort and practice to know how to work with worry and hone in on its plus-points. Most often in an attempt to find solutions, the mind gets stuck. It pre-occupies itself with the task in hand, drawing us in to the story in a way that can quickly shift from general thinking to overthinking. We can start to move from feeling ok to unpleasant and even to overwhelm.
Melanie Greenberg, clinical psychologist and author of the Stress Proof Brain says “Worry tends to be repetitive, obsessive thoughts.”
These repetitive thoughts create what is referred to as rumination which is when we try to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem by thinking about it over and over again. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem if we were aware of what was happening. However, our internal narrative, which is always busying on, draws us into a reality with such ease we can lose sight of what is real and what is worry.
The more we learn to know our mind, our thought patterns, the more able we become at spotting our worries as they arise. We won’t become exempt from worry but we can learn to calm our worries and over time have fewer that affect us. Being aware of and knowing how to handle worry is key to working with them.
So how hard can it be?!! As we know, worry can be quite impactful, either personally or indirectly with the people we know prone to worry. It turns out we can get quite good at the art of worry and so it makes sense to give it some attention and time to sort out:
- Wake up to the fact you are worrying. Know what worry feels like. Pause and say to yourself “ ah worry’.
- Observe what’s really happening here. What am I thinking, feeling body and mind and how am I acting?
- Recognise the nature and power of the worry. Don’t fight or push away what is happening but let it be here for a moment so you have chance to get to know it without judging.
- Redirect your attention from the storyline to what is actually happening. Mindful awareness of your direct experience such as the air on your skin, sounds, your breath, the weight of your body on the floor,
- You are more than your thoughts! Remind yourself again and again as the thoughts try to pull you back into the worry cycle.
Please check out the audio practices. Maybe start with regular purposeful pauses and if possible do regular formal practice to get to know the nature of your mind i.e Coping with Uncertainty, SURFing Thoughts, Connect, Sitting Practice and Where’s my focus…
Well-Being at Work
Mindfulness can be applied to all areas of life. Talks and training can be tailored to apply to what you need.