Many mindfulness practitioners will tell you the most challenging time to keep their mindfulness practice going is when the going gets tough.
When we are going through a difficult time it can be really hard to remember to breathe, to find the time to meditate and to remember all the teaching about letting go of thoughts non judgementally.
Times of difficulty raise our adrenalin, they get our heart rate pumping and they prime us ready to put our fists up or run like hell. There’s a great little explanation about fight or flight in this video on how stress affects our brain (which will also make you want to practice mindfulness by the way when you see the affect stress has on it) .
So this is a time when most people who either try to live mindfully every day or practice mindfulness more formally through sitting in meditation will let their practices lapse a bit. This is common when you get sick, or if you have a bad time at work or at home. The first response is to deal with the issue, or worry about it, and put everything else on the back burner.
If you can keep your practice going though, this can have a massive impact on how you relate to the stress in your life. For example – I had a stressful time recently which was prolonged for a long period of time, over a year if I fully look back. There were days I did not and felt I could not practice. However when I did meditate, or take a mindful walk, or recognise thoughts as thoughts and let them go non judgementally I felt so much better. When I stopped thinking and just concentrated on what I was doing I felt so different. More human. More alive.
Even if all you can do is sit and breathe for five minutes every day during a time of difficulty, then you are still being mindful, and that time you take for yourself can help reduce levels of stress, and also reduce the likelihood that you will suffer the long term effects such as depression, anxiety and poor physical health.
Tips for keeping your practice going
If you are finding it hard to be mindful daily, here’s a few tips on how to keep on being mindful and not losing the hard work you have put in.
- Gratitude Diary – A gratitude diary is a really good way to see beyond the every day stresses you’re going through to some of the deeper good things in your life. Some days it’s as much as you can do to think of three things that you’re grateful for, but on those days I am usually grateful for my health, my family and the fact I can get up, walk about, breathe and see. It’s quite a humbling exercise to do in that respect.
- Set reminders – If you want to meditate but stress in your life is causing you to forget to do so, set an alarm or a reminder on your phone. If you’re going through a really busy time, morning is often a good time to meditate. Remember 10 minutes is enough to feel the benefits of meditation, so set your alarm 10 minutes early and meditate in bed. Alternatively if you prefer to do it at lunchtime or later in the day, set a reminder on your phone and commit to it .
- Give yourself some kindness – In times of difficulty we can often be really hard on ourselves, blaming ourselves for things going wrong or thinking that if we tried harder we could make things better. This is when self kindness comes in. Make sure that you pay particular attention to being kind to yourself – are you hearing an increase in negative self talk? Bring awareness to this, and make sure you aren’t letting a rambling stream of unconscious chatter on how crap you are go on inside your head. Notice it and if it’s particularly loud or frustrating, write down what your inner critic is saying and challenge it – is it truly fact?
- Stay small – if you want to keep living mindfully but it really is impractical to meditate, or to give yourself much of a self care routine, try bringing mindfulness to things you have to do. When you wash up, really absorb yourself in the feel of the water on your hands, the way the suds look and feel, how you move your hands as you wash the dishes, pay attention to how it feels and what you can sense and you’re being mindful without doing anything extra. Same with something like brushing your teeth or taking a shower- you can do these mindfully too. It’s all about paying attention to the senses and being in the present, and letting thoughts go. So if you are experiencing the water running onto you in a shower, and then you hear a thought say ‘This is a terrible time’ , acknowledge that thought without judgement and then bring your focus back to feeling the water run onto your skin.
Hopefully by trying some of these ideas, you’ll be able to keep your mindfulness practices going, or at least it won’t be so hard to get back into a really good routine once the difficulty passes (which it will).
Have you got any tips for how you keep your mindfulness practice going when times get hard?