Tag: mindfulness

Walking this Borderland #12: 5 4 3 2 1 steps

A family member gave a women’s wellbeing workshop recently. I wasn’t able to go but I helped her look over some of her materials. Many of the daily challenges she suggested to improve our wellbeing incorporated elements of mindfulness  (in a loose sense at least – I’m not yet very knowledgeable about mindfulness so you may correct me). For example, becoming aware of our emotions, or being curious about our environment, perhaps taking a little time to be present in each moment and noticing new things in places that are familiar to us which we might often pass on “autopilot”, such as the beauty of a tree coming into bloom on our route to work.

I came across The 5 3 1 Technique to improve your daily wellbeing, of which you can easily find various versions online, for example here *. All credit for the idea behind this post goes to that technique. I do not know who first invented it and I’ve seen a couple of different versions.

Inspired by this, I developed my own version, which I’m going to try to practice daily. I’ve called mine simply “5 4 3 2 1” (this being more memorable than 5 3 1, perhaps?!):

FIVE – the original 531 technique suggests 5 minutes of meditation at the start of each day. I think starting each day with meditation or prayer is a great idea but it can be really difficult if you have never done it before or if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed. I find it helps to give the time more structure, for example, finding 5 things or people you are thankful for and thinking about them for a minute or so each. Or you could write a list of 5 things that happened in the previous day that you enjoyed or are thankful for. I’m Catholic and another way I sometimes do this is to pray a decade of the rosary really slowly. On each bead, I say the prayer in gratitude for a particular person or event, trying to be open to let the thankfulness fill my heart. This can be a good way to calm down when I’m feeling very anxious or a good way to pray when I’m struggling to be still.

FOUR – find 4 ways to connect to the outside world. For instance. … Go for a walk. Write a letter to someone. Pray for someone. In your work or chores, find a tiny way to do something with a little more concentration than normal, or with a little more care than normal. The simplest task done with love and attention has value and grounds you in the present moment, turning your thoughts and energy outwards rather than inwards to anxiety and fears.

THREE – notice 3 things in the world around you that are different or beautiful. It could be something new you’ve learnt, a conversation that made you think, something beautiful in nature, a sensory experience like a soothing scent or touch, and so on.

TWO – look in the mirror and tell yourself 2 good things about yourself. For example: you are beautiful; you are loved; today you are going to help people; you deserve to take care of yourself… (wow, for me at least it’s incredibly hard to come up with these things for myself 😉 !)

ONE – do one small act of kindness for another person. This need not be a big action. It could be simply smiling at them, allowing them to go before you in a queue, or asking them about their day and really listening. Just something to make them feel valued.

All these steps are intended to be small things which all work towards grounding us in the present moment and increasing our sense of wellbeing. I’m giving it a go. ..

Ginny xxx

*I have not followed up all the links on the mindfulness site myself so am not advocating their contents / saying that the techniques or information there will be useful for everyone. I just intended it as a description of the original 531 Technique.

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Spring springing up

I saw these little flowers in the park on my way home from my hospital appointment. Delicate and bright, eye catching across the park, pushing up through the cold soil. Earlier the same day I’d seen the first bunny rabbit I’ve seen this year, nibbling away at the grass. So cute! Spring is springing. I’m trying to keep noticing and smiling at these little things.

Ginny xxx20160308_143414

Walking this Borderland #3: Good things happen over tea

 

 

Please read Walking…#1: Introduction before this or any other post in this Series. Thank you.

 

Good things happen over tea. I saw that quote on a gift mug today. It’s true. Perhaps I’m particularly English 😉 though it’s my coffee I really can’t get through a day without!

This one follows quite well from#2 and is another way of practising grounding and mindfulness.

If it’s not too wet a day, I like to sit outside for a few minutes with my tea. I don’t mind if it’s cold – I wrap up well and the nip in the air adds to the sensations that keep me rooted in the present.

I hold the cup. Enjoy the smell. Watch the delicate progress of the steam wafting upwards and maybe feel it on my cheeks if it’s a particularly cool day. I sip slowly and really enjoy the flavour and the comfort the warm milky drink brings inside.

Then I turn my attention further outwards. A good place to start, I’m told,  is to name 3 things you can see, 3 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell. Sometimes I start there and then go on to appreciate in detail something in my familiar surroundings. For example, how many different shades of green / gold / brown are there in the big tree opposite my flat? Count them. What shape are its leaves? Are there fewer today,  if it has been windy?

By this time, if I was feeling okay when I started I may be feeling calm enough to try some slow breathing exercises. If I was in a state of very high emotion, turning my attention outwards in this small way may have been enough to just slightly take me away from the extreme, to a place I can be a bit further from acting on dangerous impulses.

Ginny xx

On panic, lemons and stitching patterns

On panic, lemons and stitching patterns

I’ve posted before about how I find that colouring intricate patterns can be very calming.

When I was an inpatient I drew and painted a few times, which I had not done for many years. I go through phases of doing a lot of cross-stitch embroidery or making greetings cards. It seems to be something that I do a lot of and then leave for a while then return to it. Sometimes I find it helpful and calming but other times, I really want to be able to do it but am not able to. If I try to push myself to, it just doesn’t work – I go wrong all the time when I try to follow a pattern, or I just can’t put together anything pretty. Then far from helping I feel dragged down lower. It’s as if when I am completely drained and lacking in emotional / mental energy, there is nothing with which to be creative. In those states I often need to sleep, or paradoxically, to do something physical like getting outside and walking.

I’ve been on two different wards as an inpatient. One of them had a variety of craft activities available and support to use them and discover and learn new ideas for projects. For example we learnt to make plaited bracelets, worked together to put together a collage display, coloured stained-glass window images, and so on. The peer support worker spent a lot of time facilitating these activities. The other ward did not really have such resources and there was nobody to support these kinds of activities. The first ward seemed much more an environment in which it was possible to focus on having hope of getting better and learning skills to cope. Of course the access to creative materials was not the only reason (I think the work of the peer support worker was very important and I will post about that separately). However I think it made considerable difference to how the days passed.

I think in working with simple materials to create something beautiful, you can empty your mind, practise mindfulness techniques, slow some of the frantic anxiety as you become absorbed in the task. The concentration it requires and the different sensations you encounter – textures of fabric and materials, sounds, colours, deciding how to combine them, perhaps repetitive and rhythmic motions, the sense of putting together something lovely from all the separate parts – all of this helps occupy your mind. In  a similar way to distraction techniques, by filling your mind with all these sensations, they can become the focus, rather than obsessional thoughts, sadness, anger and so on. It does not solve anything but can replace some of the intensity of an emotion for a time. I can find it helpful in trying to delay self-harming as well as in times of generalised anxiety or after panic attacks. My friend who suffers with an eating disorder said that in particular having something to do with her hands can calm her after eating and help her resist the urge to binge-eat and/or purge.

My clinicians explained that there is a limited number of sensations the body and mind can experience at any one time. In personality disorder, our emotions may reach a higher level more quickly and in this heightened state, we cannot think rationally or mentalise or make good decisions. We cannot see outside of the emotion. It also takes longer than it does in most people for the level of emotion to fall. One thing that can help the emotion to fall, to get to a level where we can start to mentalise, use distraction techniques or choose to do other things that help us, is to “shock” the body with another strong sensation. For example, putting your hands under very cold water, holding ice, or (this one works well for me) eating something with a sharp taste. I use pieces of lemon, or lemon juice, with a sharp and bitter taste. This can help to lead you out of extreme distress or a panic attack, to the point that you can then address how you are feeling with other techniques. Then continuing to do something that gives positive sensations can continue to calm you – for example, something self-soothing like hugging a soft pillow or wrapping up in a soft blanket, or perhaps one of the creative activities which provides a range of tactile sensations.

There is also something encouraging to me in being able to create a picture, object, etc, which is useful or attractive or perhaps can be given as a gift to someone else, even when we are really not feeling great. It’s another way to make it true that the overwhelming emotions are not all that there is and to start to hope that there could be some good somewhere in me.

Ginny

xXx

My new way to relax

swirls

Currently, one of my preferred ways to relax whilst I’m alone at home watching TV or the like, is colouring in complex swirly patterns like this one. It can switch off some of the thoughts for a while, passes time and gives a creative focus outside of oneself, even a way to practice mindfulness. The results can even be used for something pretty, for instance, made into pictures or coasters. Seeing something lovely that you have managed to create, despite perhaps feeling depressed or low, can be encouraging. It is a relatively cheap hobby, especially as at the moment we seem to be fortunate that there is a range of “colouring books for grown-ups” around, often to be found in discount book stores / stationers’ / supermarkets. No doubt you could find template patterns on line as well, which could work if you have access to a printer. Then all that is required is a packet of crayons or coloured pens (note to self, curb tendency to multi-buy pretty pens!).

Happy colouring! 🙂

Ginny xx

An early morning surprise visitor

It had been the most horrible night, with repeated flashbacks. I felt surrounded by danger and panicky emotions boiled to the surface and repeated self-harming had only numbed it for a few minutes at a time.

I was exhausted but gave up on going to sleep in the early hours as I knew I’d soon have to get up for work.  As it got lighter, I was in a numb state where I was not sure any more if things were real or if I was watching everything through glass (this happens to me sometimes after an intense period of distress).  I was standing staring out of the window into the communal garden.

Suddenly, the tiniest little deer (muntjack?) came walking very slowly and calmly across the lawn.  He stopped to nibble some grass and stood for several moments looking around before, just as calmly, walking on and following the path round the side of the building out of sight.  He showed none of the timidity deer often have round people and what he was doing so far into the city centre, I don’t know.

Coming after the strain of that night, it was a most precious moment.  I don’t know what I felt.  It seemed ethereal.  Just I knew I was not quite so numb and disconnected the rest of that day, and I often think back to that little deer, walking in the early morning.

There really are beautiful and unexpected things everywhere, no matter how much pain we are feeling. Perhaps the times we are startled into watching them and drawn out of the pain by their beauty, will help our recovery.

Ginny x