My husband and kids attended an event at a beautiful lake in central Alberta over the weekend. After the event, many of the attendees posted a great number of pictures on social media. Excitedly I looked through the pictures and saw the amazing faces of the families that attended – moms and dads, grandmas and numerous kids. However, I notice as I scan the photos that my jaw is tight, and my shoulders are becoming tense. I recognize that I am feeling very sad and hurt. It takes me a minute to understand why but then I realize that in going through the many photos posted, there isn’t one picture of my family.
Immediately I judge myself. I shouldn’t be upset, I shouldn’t feel hurt and why am I feeling sad over a series of posted photos? But the feelings of hurt have settled in. I start questioning my families value. I feel sad that the faces of my own children are absent from the collage of photos and the anxiety I try so hard to avoid starts to take hold.
I have entered dangerous territory. My mind is beginning to cycle through feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. My internal dialogue has become negative and I start comparing and judging. It is a familiar pattern of self-sabotage. I have to act and fast. So I STOP! In the midst of these challenging emotions, I turn to the 3-minute breathing space.
‘This exercise is taken from Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). It is a quick and simple way of taking mindful pauses throughout the day and maintaining continuity in our mindfulness practice. It is also helpful for interrupting automatic (i.e., habitual) and unhelpful thinking patterns that can sometimes spiral into negative moods and destructive behaviors. It integrates two types of meditation (open-monitoring and concentrative) as well as the practices of acceptance, attentional switching, and letting go. The following instructions are from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression by Segal, Williams, and Teasdale, 2002.’
Step 1 – Becoming aware
Start by adopting an erect and dignified posture. Then, if possible, closing your eyes and bringing your awareness to your inner experience by asking “What is my experience right now?”
- What THOUGHTS are present? As best you can, acknowledging thoughts as mental events, perhaps putting them into words.
- What FEELINGS are here? Turning toward any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, and acknowledging them.
- What BODY are SENSATIONS here right now? Quickly scanning the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or bracing, acknowledging the sensations.
STEP 2 – Gathering your attention
Redirecting your attention to the physical sensations of breathing in the abdomen.
Feel the sensations of the abdomen wall expanding as the breath comes in and falling back as the breath goes out. Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out, using the breathing to anchor yourself into the present.
STEP 3 – Expanding your attention
Expanding the field of your awareness around the breath so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, and facial expression.
If you become aware of any sensations of discomfort, tension, or resistance, taking your awareness there by breathing into them on the in breath. Then breathing out from those sensations, softening and opening with the out breath. As best you can, bring this expanded awareness to the next moments of your day.
It is important to remember that we are not defined by our thoughts and feelings, all human beings experience difficult emotions, our thoughts are not our truths. Cultivate kindness and compassion for yourself and your experience and become aware of uncomfortable emotions without shame or judgment.
Embrace the moment!