Mindfulness Challange

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Reality TV vs. staying connected



I love watching reality TV.  From the adventures of the Amazing Race to Survivor as well as to Say Yes to the Dress, I love it all! From the drama of Dance Moms to the triumphs of the Biggest Loser, I cheer on the characters and share in their heartbreak.It is one way I can experience it. I can imagine cooking on Master Chef and being the one picked in the final rose ceremony of the Bachelor. It's a great distractor and opportunity to disconnect from reality.

 The downfall is that this is not my life. These are not my traumas or joys, and while I would love to travel to Norway and see the Northern lights, my reality is slightly different. I don't have enough spoons to do everything that I want to do. The important question I asked myself was how can I live an authentic life when I am so tempted by these fairy tales? How do I enjoy other people’s success without allowing it to influence my emotional state? 

The answer I have concluded to these questions is to live a mindful life. Not knowing much about mindfulness, my theory based therapeutic-self jumped into some scholarly articles. There is a lot of information about the benefits and use of mindfulness in literature:  
  • Mindfulness relates to being able to live in and acknowledge the 'here and now'. It is the process of being aware of your thoughts, emotions and behaviour. It is about being in the moment and experiencing it for both the good and the bad. It is focusing on and simplifying thoughts rather than an emptying of the mind.
  • Similarly, this process of sensory modulation is also described as the regulation of attention, emotion and behaviour. As an OT, this offered me a unique perspective into how to apply mindfulness into my everyday life.
  • Researchers found that OT students trained in mindfulness had improved self-awareness, self-care, focus and empathy. These students were also less likely to display client judgement which therefore enhanced the success of clinical interventions (1)
  • Mindfulness has also been shown to help decrease anxiety and improve mood.  Immune functioning, self-regulation and the ability to handle stress were all shown to be positively influenced by mindfulness. The regular practice of mindfulness has also been shown to help clients with autoimmune conditions manage their symptoms without the use of pharmaceutical interventions (2,3,4).


Knowing the theory of mindfulness is great, however, the information did not make me more mindful. In fact, it made me retreat away from being mindful into a self-defence mode of intellectualising. When discussing this with my colleagues, I realised that mindfulness is not a once off quick fix but rather a lifestyle choice. I, therefore, challenged myself to try some basic steps to help improve my ability to be mindful:  

Step 1: Change something physically to help you remember to be mindful. 

 I put my watch on my right wrist instead of putting it on its usual left wrist. I also put a coin in my shoe. Every time I felt these 'changes', I used it as an opportunity to be mindful in that moment. Choose one thing you want to be present in today. Make it simple and easy for you to identify. This could also be bringing your attention to your breathing or pain levels. Complete the sentence every time you feel the ‘change’ you want to make: Today I am mindful of... 

Step 2: Stop functioning on autopilot!

 The easiest way to do this was to tap into my senses. Looking around and actively naming two things I could see, touch, smell, taste and hear brought me into the moment. I did this mostly while eating a meal or drinking my cup of coffee. It’s amazing to stop and really appreciate the taste of your coffee! 

Step 3: Small bursts. 

Mindfulness is said to work best when practised in short intervals several times a day. I, therefore, didn't worry about having to find an hour in my schedule. I aimed for 10-15 minute sessions of focused mindfulness twice a day and then basic awareness when I became aware via my watch. 




Step 4: Breathing

 Mindful breathing assists with concentration. Slow rhythmic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which aids in emotional regulation. Every morning when I arrived at work, I did five minutes of deep breathing in my car before beginning the day of work. I really enjoyed this as it helped to ground me in order to go into the day with a more open mind. 



Step 5: Switch off the 'doing brain'. Allow yourself to be. 

 This was very difficult for me. Even though I know I need to rest and recharge my spoons, I often feel guilty. Allowing myself this 'challenge time' helped my pre-frontal cortex to accept this, but I often felt I needed to do something active in order to keep me 'in the moment'. 


Step 6: Create opportunities to become reflective and quiet: journaling, walking, meditating, doing yoga and prayer can be helpful.


 Choose something that not only fits your lifestyle but your convictions too. As mindfulness does have some roots in Eastern religion, I was initially sceptical about trying it out. When I went to the Word, I found my answer. Meditation is also a Christian principle, especially to meditate on the Word of God (Psalm 77:12). Therefore, choose where you place your focus. Another thing I found helpful was putting my phone on aeroplane mode and switching off the TV. This assisted me with remaining in the moment and not being tempted to engage in my escapist fairy tales.  

Step 7: Mindful listening 

As a therapist, I often switch into active listening and use all my senses when someone is telling me their story. Does this person look happy or sad? What does their tone of voice say? What is their body posture like? How can I reflect back what they have said? While this is a good therapeutic tool, mindful listening is the process of rather being in the moment with the person. It is not about interrupting or making judgement calls. I found that I had to physically stop myself from wanting to share my input. It made me more aware of the fact that I need to stop solving everyone’s problems and at times just let the person vent their frustrations.
 

My conclusions

Am I now fully mindful? I don’t think I can ever say this. However, it helped to guide me in the right direction of what I need to do to help bring balance and regulation to my life. The biggest impact I observed was on my fatigue levels, mood and relationships.  Even though I was still weak, my fatigue was more tolerable and I felt more motivated and in tune with myself. This, therefore, helped me to deal with relationships that I felt were difficult.  My other revelation was how much of my OT training affects my everyday life in both a positive and negative way. It helps me to problem solve and adapt my situations, however, it makes me analyse and judge situations critically. I, therefore, need to differentiate between situations that require my therapist hat and my ‘just being’ hat. 7 days is not a long enough trial but I hope you will try this challenge and discover for yourself what you can add into your daily self-care routine.  

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