Feeling burdened at this crazy time of year? Wanna shake off the weight of overwhelm and overload? Could mindfulness help?
Mindfulness is the ideal forklift for shifting the load of stress. Paradoxically, bringing the right sort of attention to our stress and strain does not increase it. It makes it lighter.
The way mindfulness works can be explained by the prompt “over-strain”. The prompt demonstrates how bringing attention to our thoughts and feelings in difficult situations can switch off habitual and unhelpful ways of reacting.
Let’s start with a whole word. ‘Over’ stands for overwhelm, overload, overreact, over-committed, overworked … The list concludes with a different type of ‘over’:
OVER IT !!!
Who isn’t ‘OVER’ IT? Now we’re ready for the next part.
The next word in the prompt is ‘strain’ and can be broken into three pieces:
Str- stands for ‘stress’
a- stands for ‘automatic’
in- stands for ‘in’
The first two parts, ‘stress’ and ‘automatic’, go together. They are linked because stress reactions by definition are automatic and unconscious.
When overwhelmed by overload, we lose it. We lose our connection to peace and fulfilment; to happiness. We lose control of our better self, our better behaviour.
Think about it: when you’re holidaying on a tropical beach, are you tuned out from your environment? No, you’re right there, drinking it in and loving it. Effortlessly relaxed. Feeling alert and alive. How wonderful to be fresh in the beautiful moment, enjoying the swaying palm trees, the crystal clear water, the heady aroma of coconut oil in your sunscreen! Ahhhhh!
Imagine if more of your life could be like that.
Stressful situations, such as the overwhelm of office deadlines or the overload of family demands, put us in quite a different headspace to the tropical holiday. Our buttons get pressed, our defences aroused and our hackles rise. In such situations we tend to switch off from what is around us and go into automatic pilot mode. Stress and automatic pilot mode go together.
And life is full of little stresses, pulling and pushing us, piling one on top of the other.
Automatic pilot mode becomes a habit, a default mode. We want to be anywhere but the present moment. This is how stress makes us mindless. We want to escape the discomfort of the events in the present moment so we tune out from where we are right now, from what is happening for us right now.
We want to delete overwhelm and overload but along the way we delete all the good stuff as well.
Automatic pilot doesn’t serve us. It doesn’t make things better. It keeps us stuck. It imprisons us and the feelings of overload and overwhelm worsen.
Operating from automatic pilot makes us numb; it dulls us from the richness of our world. It’s a dreary way to be for too long. It’s the source of dissatisfaction, discouragement and depression. It perpetuates unhelpful habits. It blinds us to bright new possibilities.
And so we come to the final part of the prompt: IN.
IN stands for IN the present moment. Mindfulness.
As soon as we become mindful in the moment, mindlessness diminishes and automatic pilot mode crumbles. We can’t be mindful and automatic at the same time. The higher the dose of mindfulness, the lower the ratio of overwhelm.
You can engage mindfulness by stopping and breathing, by being present. It could be something as simple as pausing your mental rumination while you go outside and look up at the sky; or enjoy a drink of water. Or take three slow mindful breaths. Or gaze mindfully at the lines on your palms for several seconds.
There are many creative possibilities you can craft and personalise for yourself.
Mindfulness opens a space and in this space we can chose our response. Mindfulness notices both the stressor and the impulse to react. We can arrest the early warning signs that usually lead to an emotional explosion and worsening of the situation.
There’s the world of difference between blindly reacting and wisely choosing our response.
Mindfulness means noting our surroundings, sensing our senses, feeling our feelings, being open to whatever is going on for us rather than surrendering to the impulse to escape (flight mode) or rant, rave and react (fight mode).
Mindfulness expands our view. It interrupts our struggle and when struggle ceases, so does the load.
Remember the prompt ‘over-strain’ next time you feel your buttons being pressed Remember it next time you feel your hackles rising. Remember it whenever you feel overwhelmed by overload.
And use mindfulness to get over it!
MIndfulness Instructor Shakti Burke coined the ‘over-strain’ prompt for her mindfulness classes to explain how mindfulness helps manage stress.
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