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mindfulness

4 Steps to Break the Anxiety Cycle

4 Steps to Break the Anxiety Cycle

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"Get a sofa bed." This unassuming project has been patiently biding its time in the murky depths of my Non-Urgent-Things-To-Do list. After having the girls, there's no extra room in our apartment to welcome the occasional guest.

In a classic two-birds-one-stone maneuver, I thought I would do a little online browsing for sofa beds (Yay! The satisfaction of progress!) while also procrastinating writing this blog post (Yay! The sweet sweet relief of avoidance!). Excellent. But then, in a paradoxical victory of sorts, looking at sofa bed videos brought me right back to writing this post.

More thrilling sofa bed updates in a moment. First, a little primer about fear vs. anxiety.

Fear vs. Anxiety

Fear is the emotional state that arises in response to an immediate perceived threat. It's basically nature's alarm to help you survive when your safety is threatened. Your body and brain change gears to give you the means to fight, flee, freeze, or take cover. To help you take protective action, your mind becomes more able to detect and focus on sources of danger (Barlow, 2002).

Anxiety is the emotional state that arises in response to an anticipated threat. You may feel apprehension, worry, and muscle tension. The experience of anxiety may be less intense compared to a state of acute fear, but it might be much longer lasting. This depends, in part, on what stories your mind is telling you (Forsyth and Eifert, 2007).

While fear is oriented towards the present moment ("The house is on FIRE!"), anxiety is focused on an imagined future (1) ("What if I make a mistake and the house catches on fire?!"). Used adaptively, anxiety can help motivate us to plan appropriately for the future and take action.

However, the creative human mind can also come up with brilliantly compelling stories about potential threats that are so distant or so beyond our realm of control that there’s nothing we can really do to take action right now. Like a deer in headlights, we can fixate on those disturbing stories and forget about any adaptive problem-solving. We can even get stuck in a maladaptive cycle of anxiety that feeds into itself without resolution.

The Anxiety Cycle: Mind-Body Looping

Clinical psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach describes stuck anxiety as a cycle of mind-body looping (Brach, 2013). Let's say the mind focuses on the perception that something might go wrong (e.g., “What if I write this blog post and it's stupid and irrelevant?”). If we get tangled up and carried away by that threatening thought, it generates physical sensations in the body as well (e.g., a slight tension and quivering in my stomach; my heart beat quickens a bit and my breathing is slightly more shallow).

In turn, the mind picks up these physical signals. The body’s felt-sense of fear tricks the mind into confirming that the potential threats are true stories (“Of course there’s some real danger here! Why else would I feel like this?”). With the mind on high alert for threats, we detect and focus even more on anxious thoughts...and the cycle continues.

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If the looping becomes habitual we might feel chronically anxious. Fixated on an imagined future we start missing out on anything enjoyable, useful, or interesting that’s available to us right here, right now in the present moment. So how do we break the cycle?

Experiential acceptance vs. experiential avoidance

There’s a kind of futon-type sofa bed I was checking out. If you want to open it up into a bed, you have to do something a little counter-intuitive. Just pulling outwards to try to pry it open won’t work. It just locks in place. You actually have to push the backrest inward, towards the seat first. This activates some kind of release mechanism and voila! The sofa opens up and you’ve just created some bonus space to rest.

Understandably, we want to avoid what we perceive as the aversive, unpleasant experience of anxiety. We want to NOT feel what we are feeling and we instinctively pull away from it. But this experiential avoidance doesn't actually get us away from the anxiety. If anything, it seems to lock the anxiety into place! So what if we try turning inward, towards the anxiety instead?

RAIN: A mindful 4-step practice

You can see for yourself what it’s like to turn towards your anxiety, lean in, and stay present using Dr. Tara Brach’s (2013) 4-step RAIN practice:

1) Recognize what is happening

Close your eyes and bring to mind something that arouses anxiety. To build confidence as you begin to practice these steps, start by choosing something that is only mildly or moderately anxiety provoking.

Become mindful of your anxious or worried thoughts and notice the different forms they take: planning, rehearsing, trying to figure something out, a voice or some sort of mental commentary or judgment, or some visual images. Once you've identified your worry thoughts, whisper "fear thinking."

2) Allow the experience to be there, just as it is

Instead of avoiding or struggling against your inner experience, experiment with just letting it be. You might even experiment with saying “yes” or “I consent” as if you are giving yourself permission to fully experience and mindfully explore whatever is there.

3) Investigate with interest and care

Drop into your body, bringing your awareness below the neck with curiosity, openness, and kindness. Where does the worry and anxiety show up in your body right now? Bring your awareness to wherever you feel the anxiety most strongly in your body and notice the physical sensations: any pressure, tightness, ache, heat, movement, or other sensations?

It takes a lot of courage and willingness to stay present with unpleasant sensations. You can support yourself through this exploration with slow, gentle breaths.

4- Nurture with self-compassion

What does the anxious part of yourself most need to hear to feel comforted at this time? You can explore the ways you might deliver a message of kindness and care to the vulnerable part of you. Using a gentle tone of voice, you might offer some words like “it’s ok, I’m with you” or “that’s then and this is now”. You can also offer a caring physical gesture of some sort, like softly placing your hand on your heart.

After completing the four RAIN steps, use your senses to ground yourself in the here and now. Feel your feet on the floor or feel any other points of contact where your body is physically supported in this moment. See the light, shapes, and colours around you. Hear the sounds and let them flow through you. Take some time to notice what has changed in your body and your mind.

Each time you practice these steps, you’ll be further de-conditioning the tendency to get stuck in a useless anxiety cycle. Unlike the “false refuge” of distraction or rumination, we can lean in and open up a “true refuge” (Brach, 2013)—an inner space that’s always available to us… even in the midst of suffering and discomfort. Even when special guests like anxiety show up.


Maryann Joseph is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.



References

Barlow, D. H. (2002). Anxiety and its disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and panic (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

Forsyth, J. P. & Eifert, G. H. (2007). The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A guide to breaking free from anxiety, phobias, and worry using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Brach, T. (2013). True refuge: Finding peace and freedom in your own awakened heart. New York: Bantam Books.

T. Steimer (2002). The biology of fear- and anxiety-related behaviors. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 4(3), 231-249.


Notes

1) Although this is an important conceptual difference, there may be a great deal of overlap in the body’s physical response: the basic fear-based brain and behavioural mechanisms that evolved to protect us from imminent danger may be re-used to some extent for the fancier task of protecting us from distant or virtual threats (Steimer, 2002).

Intuitive Eating – another fad? Or something more…

Intuitive Eating – another fad? Or something more…

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You may have recently heard the words “Intuitive Eating” or “Mindful Eating” in the news, on social media, or in a post on your favourite blog. The Globe and Mail even wrote a lengthy article in early January stating that intuitive eating is the new “non-diet” of the year. But what exactly is intuitive eating, and can it really help you improve your relationship with food and your body?

Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that shifts away from rules, rigidity around eating, and dieting. It encourages listening to your internal cues for hunger and responding by eating food that you enjoy and that makes you feel good both physically and emotionally. We have now seen that intuitive eating has been shown to improve both our physical and psychological health over the long-term (Bacon, 2010; Van Dyke & Drinkwater, 2014). If intuitive eating doesn’t sound all that fancy, it’s because it isn’t. Intuitive eating is essentially a much-needed back to basics approach, where we are encouraged to focus on our individual needs and preferences as a guide to developing a balanced relationship with food. You won’t find any “good” or “bad” foods in this approach, nor will you be encouraged to cut certain items out of your routine. The idea here is to stop looking outwards for a diet guide on how to take care of your body, and to begin looking inwards to better figure out what YOU need to feel good.

A good parallel here is when you think of an infant’s relationship with food. Infants cry when they’re hungry, and typically slow down their feeding when they’re full. Then they cry again when they’re hungry, and the cycle continues. Infants don’t ask themselves “how many calories are in my milk?” or “I can’t be hungry yet, I just ate!” or even “the other babies aren’t eating this much, why am I?!” – they simply listen to their bodies, feed when they’re hungry, and stop when they’re full. Pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, between infancy and adulthood, we’re inundated with messages about what we should or should not eat, how we should or should not look, and how anything less than the “thin ideal” or a “clean diet” is ground for shaming ourselves and others. As a result, we’ve naturally lost our inner compass, our inner guide that helps tell us what we need and want to feel satisfied.

Essentially, you and only you can tell yourself what your body needs, and it’s time to start listening.

So, how do we go about transitioning from focusing on external cues for eating to focusing on our internal needs? The following is a brief guide that will help you begin your intuitive eating journey, alongside some helpful reading recommendations to dig deeper into this subject.

Step 1: Learn to accept our bodies as they are, let go of diet culture

  • This is a really difficult step, and yet it’s essential. Letting go of thin ideals and shaming our bodies allows us to not only feel more connected and comfortable in our skin, it also lets us stop trying to control our eating behaviours with the goal of shrinking our bodies. If we can accept our bodies as they are, food can become about meeting our needs and experiencing pleasure, as opposed to an attempt to control and punish our bodies under the guise of ‘health’. When we try to use food to control our body size, i.e. when we try to diet, we have to retain that level of restriction in order to keep pushing down our weight. There is no freedom to ask ourselves what do we like, what are we in the mood for, how much would we like to enjoy? Instead, we are focused on “what am I allowed to eat?” in order to maintain this control. This approach ultimately backfires for most people as well, resulting in binge eating in an attempt for our bodies to finally feel that their needs are met. For these reasons and more, letting go of diet culture and accepting our bodies is crucial.

Step 2: Start getting curious about your personal hunger cues

  • We spend so much of our time assuming we should or should not eat because of the time of the day, because of what others are doing, or because of what we have eaten previously. None of this is focusing on what our body is asking for, so start by simply being mindful of your bodily cues for hunger. Do you feel a growl in your stomach? Do you suddenly have fantasies about different meal options? Does your concentration decrease slightly?

Step 3: Ask yourself what it is you’d like to eat.

  • What are you in the mood for? What do you have available? There is no right or wrong answer here, only you know what you’d like to eat!

Step 4: Eating mindfully.

  • Try to slow down, taste the flavour, the texture, and the temperature of your food. Notice how your pleasure for certain flavours changes throughout the course of your meal. Check in with your fullness cues. Are you feeling full half way through your meal? Are you still hungry at the end of your meal? Use these cues to guide yourself in either slowing down and finishing your meal or adding an extra snack to ensure that you’re satisfied.

Step 5: Be compassionate, non-judgemental, and flexible with yourself

  • Each meal is a learning opportunity. Sometimes we don’t feel full during a meal but then feel stuffed 30 minutes later. This helps us learn for the next time that we might need a little bit less of this specific recipe, or that we want to eat more slowly in the future. There is no “bad” or “good” way of doing this, it is simply a curious and open learning experience each time.

  • There are often reasons that we eat that are independent of our fullness cues, such as when a meal is really delicious and we’re willing to feel extra full in order to keep enjoying it, or when we know we’re only going to have a small window to have a meal during our workday. All of these situations are part of the fabric of intuitive eating. The idea is not to do this “perfectly” – in fact, that’s the exact opposite of the idea. The goal is simply to start becoming more curious about what your body needs and why it’s asking for what it needs in any given moment.

  • Become curious about other reasons that we might be eating, such as to hold onto pleasure, push back boredom, or cope with difficult emotions. These different motivations for eating are not problematic, they’re simply worth noticing. If we’re eating for reasons that are unrelated to our hunger and energy needs, then we might wish to expand on other ways to have those needs equally met, so that we have options in the future.

Ultimately, intuitive eating is about finally allowing yourself to accept and celebrate your body, and beginning to re-acquaint yourself with your inner guide for how to strengthen your relationship with food.


Tobey Mandel is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

Van Dyke, N., & Drinkwater, E. J. (2014). Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: Literature review. Public Health Nutrition, 17, 1757-1766.

Gagnon-Girouard, M. P., Bégin, C., Provencher, V., Tremblay, A., Mongeau, L., Boivin, S. Lemieux, S. (2010). Psychological Impact of a "Health-at-Every-Size" Intervention on Weight-Preoccupied Overweight/Obese Women. Journal of Obesity, pii: 928097. doi: 10.1155/2010/928097

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. Third Edition. St. Martin’s Press.

Bacon, L. (2010). Health at every size: The surprising truth about your weight. Dallax, Texas: BenBella Books, Inc.

Getting Grounded and Showing Up for You

Getting Grounded and Showing Up for You

Photo by  Jen Loong  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jen Loong on Unsplash

Whether it’s our to-do lists, a frustrating conversation we had earlier in the day, the constant nagging temptation to check our phones, the guilt over not exercising enough, worries about our loved ones, etc., our thoughts and feelings may be pulling us in various directions all day long. I find it’s easy to get lost among all this chatter, and when I say lost, I mean lose myself and lose sight of what is important to me. Instead of acting based on what I really want and what’s healthy for me, I feel like I have no solid centre and am stuck in reacting mode.

I try to counter this reactive, uncentred way of being by “getting grounded”. I hear the term “getting grounded” often, and to be honest, I’m not sure if it means the same thing to everyone. I’m defining here what it means to me, and hopefully it’s helpful to you too. I think of getting grounded as getting out of the ruminating/worrying/spinning/not constructive thinking that is happening in my head, pausing, and paying attention to what is happening in my body, without judgment. By getting out of my head and dropping into my body, and noticing the sensations that are there, not only do I have more of sense of a centre, of being grounded, but I am more likely to be in touch with what is going on with me, the emotions I’m feeling, the motivations that are driving me, etc. By paying attention to myself in this way, I’m able to get unstuck from distractions and negative thought patterns and show up for myself in a mindful, and maybe even loving manner.

There are plenty of tips out there for “getting grounded” or what clinical psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach might call “the sacred pause”. For example, you might meditate, go for a walk in the forest, or do some yoga. I’ve outlined a simple “getting grounded” technique here that you can do in your every day life, during your busy day.

Pause and Pay Attention

  1. Pause

  2. Drop into your body and notice what is happening there. Notice the sensations in your body (e.g., muscle tension, tingling, heaviness, pressure).

  3. If you have trouble getting in touch with your body, simply try noticing your breath as it travels in through your nose, down your throat, and into your lungs.

  4. Keep breathing and noticing, without judgment and with curiousity.

  5. Proceed

This is a pretty “bare-bones” technique, but I’ve kept it that way intentionally. The purpose of this technique is to simply get us to pause and notice, to check in with ourselves. It may take some practice, but from this place of groundedness and attentiveness, we will likely be better able to recognize what we need to move forward in a way that is healthy and nourishing for us and for those around us.


Lisa Linardatos is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram, or like us on Facebook.


References

Baer, R. A., & Krietemeyer, J. (2006). Overview of mindfulness- and acceptance-based treatment approaches. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches: Clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications (pp. 3–27). San Diego, CA: Elsevier

Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple: An easy to read primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

Resources

3 Simple Mindfulness Practices for Coping with Difficult Experiences and Emotions in Day-to-Day Life by Dr. Natsumi Sawada

A Shout Out to Simply Noticing by Dr. Danit Nitka

Be Here Now… But How? 3 Steps Towards Experiencing Life More Fully by Dr. Maryann Joseph  

Stressing Out? S.T.O.P. by Dr. Elisha Goldstein

Avoid Avoiding and Embrace Living!

Avoid Avoiding and Embrace Living!

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Have you ever had the thought, “I never want to feel this way again.” Maybe you did something that you felt was embarrassing, maybe you experienced something traumatic, maybe you ended a significant relationship and felt broken-hearted. Maybe someone made fun of you and made you feel small. Maybe you had a panic attack and you felt like you were losing control. 

After experiences like these, we understandably want to protect ourselves from the difficult thoughts and feelings that come along with them. Why wouldn’t we? So we change our behaviours, a lot or a little, to get ourselves as far away from these painful thoughts and feeling as possible. Sometimes though in our efforts to avoid feeling this sort of pain again, we end up avoiding some of the good things life has to offer. After all, most of the awesome, magical, fulfilling things that happen in life often entail tolerating difficult thoughts and feelings – like running a marathon, writing a difficult entrance exam, or asking someone out on a date. Moreover, the things that we do to avoid difficult thoughts and feelings are sometimes unhealthy – like drinking too much, sleeping a lot, overeating or under-eating, obsessively reading the news, etc.

Here are some examples:

Beatrice played and loved sports ever since her early days of elementary school. During her first year of high school, her swimming coach commented that if she could just lose her “baby fat”, she’d really have a competitive edge. Although you would not have been able to tell by the look on her face, in that moment, Beatrice felt deep shame. She started dieting as a way to lose weight and feel in control, and in an effort to avoid ever feeling bad about her weight again. Eventually Beatrice developed an eating disorder, and much of her time was spent thinking about food, counting calories, and exercising. She would avoid social events that involved food, as she preferred to have full control of what and when she ate. Also, because she was underweight, she felt more tired and had difficulty concentrating, so school became more difficult and her grades were negatively affected.

Rahim had a panic attack in the middle of a crowd at an outdoor concert. It was the most awful feeling he’d ever had. He felt trapped and like he was going to die. The next time his friends asked if he wanted to go to a concert, he made up an excuse about why he couldn’t go. Similarly, he started to avoid going anywhere where there might be big crowds, like sports games. When he was in a crowded environment, like a house party, he would use alcohol to ease his anxiety. Eventually, he avoided going anywhere far from home in case he had a panic attack, meaning he stopped travelling, which was something he loved to do.

Daniella had been in a long-term relationship for 3 years. She had never opened up to a person and been as vulnerable as she had been in that relationship, which ended a year ago when she found out her then boyfriend had been cheating on her. Daniella understandably never wanted to feel those feelings of hurt and betrayal again. She tried going on dates to meet someone new, but had trouble opening up and connecting with people. Eventually, she decided that dating was pointless and spent most of her free time working.

Beatrice, Rahim, and Daniella all changed their behaviours to avoid feeling emotional pain. In doing so, however, other important aspects of their lives were neglected. Their relationships suffered (or in Daniella’s case, the potential for a romantic relationship), as well as opportunities for growth and positive experiences. Beatrice wasn’t able to fully engage in school, and Rahim was no longer doing something that once brought him joy, travelling.

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Additionally, some of the methods they used to avoid were harmful. In Beatrice’s case, she restricted her food intake so much that she became significantly underweight and her health was negatively affected. To ease the worry about having a panic attack, Rahim became dependent on alcohol to feel okay in these situations. For Daniella, it is less clear. Being devoted to work and working hard is something most of us see as a good thing. In some cases though, positive or healthy behaviours or activities, such as sleeping, exercising, or seeing friends, could also be ways of avoiding. We may procrastinate reading that difficult email by reading the news, or working on that paper by cleaning our apartments. We may also avoid our feelings by getting caught up in our thoughts. For example, instead of accepting that a relationship is over and processing the feelings of loss and sadness, we might obsess over what went wrong and what we could’ve done differently.

So what should we do if we think we’re avoiding painful thoughts and emotions at the expense of other important things?

1. Take some time to get to know your negative thoughts and emotions. The more familiar you are with the negative thoughts and emotions that tend to come up for you, the better you'll be at managing them before they lead to avoidance. To get started on identifying your thoughts and feelings, check out these helpful worksheets.

2. Make it a point in your day-to-day life to notice what you might be doing to avoid. Ask yourself if there are behaviours or activities that are hard for you to give up, and why. For example, is it hard to give up a night of seeing friends because you would miss their company, or because being alone with your thoughts causes anxiety? Is it difficult to give up exercise because you would miss the mood-enhancing benefits, or would missing a day of your work-out make you feel like a bad person and cause significant distress?

3. Once you’ve become familiar with the thoughts and emotions you might be avoiding, and the potentially problematic behaviour you might be engaging in to avoid, take some time to identify your values. What are the things that are important to you? Is it growth, relationships, hard work, or fitness, for example? When we are clear on what our values are, we are better able to move toward them even when it’s hard. 

No dress rehearsal, this is our life.
- Gord Downie -

4. Practice moving towards your values even when you’re experiencing negative thoughts and emotions. To help in this process, break down your “moving toward” behaviour into small, manageable steps, and use strategies to self-soothe and manage difficult emotions, such as mindfulness and deep breathing (or “power” breathing!). For example, if Rahim wanted to start going to places with more crowds because he values new experiences, he could break down this goal into small steps, and maybe start by going to a crowded restaurant, close to home, with a friend. To help him reduce his anxiety in this process, he could use the techniques outlined here, such as the 3-minute breathing space.

5. Be nice to yourself! We are hard-wired to avoid things that make us feel bad. Most of us have those days when we want to hide under the covers instead of facing the world. Instead of judging yourself for avoiding, try approaching these difficulties with curiosity and kindness. This compassionate mindset will be more helpful in moving toward your values when the going gets tough :)


Lisa Linardatos is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


A shout out to Simply Noticing

A shout out to Simply Noticing

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When we feel like something’s not working for us, we want change. Whether you take this on alone or in the context of therapy, the process of change can feel daunting! Creating a space to look inside ourselves and our lives paves the way for reflection on our patterns. For example, you might tend to agree to doing things you really don’t want to do, or overcommit and regret (see Tobey’s latest blog post). Perhaps there are situations in which you consistently react in a way that makes things worse. You might go over what you have done after the fact thinking “I wish I hadn’t done that”. You want to change your reaction but it all seems to happen so fast—you feel like you are not in charge.

In Monthly Picks I posted about Shenpa, which is a Tibetan concept that refers to “getting hooked”—being caught up in something and scratching the itch. In the moment, we rarely notice that this is happening. Often if we’re not noticing, we react and feel powerless to change. When our mind wanders from the present, we allow important choices to be determined by external forces and receive consequences passively.  While mind-wandering can be beneficial in some contexts, it can also interfere with our ability to process information from the environment (Schooler et al., 2011). Wandering away from the moment without noticing can lead down a slippery slope. The risk is that life becomes a series of events we feel helpless over, leading to sadness, anger, anxiety or other uncomfortable sensations that communicate to us that something is not working.

So what’s the first step to taking charge? How do we become more of the driver and less of the passenger in our lives? This endeavour is especially difficult because sticky situations often seem to happen so fast. Taking back your power to participate actively in your life isn’t always easy but starts with simply noticing. Simply noticing is a key element of mindfulness-based meditations (Hölzel et al., 2011). Meditation and other practices based in awareness and noticing (vs. doing) have been associated with improvements in anxiety, depression, perceived stress, emotional well-being and overall mental health (Carmody & Baer, 2008). Simply noticing allows us to live our experiences as they are, rather than through the filters of our biases (Price et al., 2002). The idea is to step back and create space before we choose a response to a situation rather than reacting as we otherwise would (Baer & Krietemeyer 2006).

So how does one simply notice?

1-  Choose your target.

Pick one behaviour that you engage in that doesn’t seem work for you in the long term.  Do you often say “yes” when you mean “no”? Do you often feel compelled to assert yourself but stay quiet instead? Do you beat yourself up for making mistakes at work (or elsewhere)? Perhaps you react angrily when frustrated and say things you later regret? Choose one thing to simply notice.  

2-  Use your emotions as a guide.

When we do something that doesn’t work for us in the long term, it’s often in response to feeling an uncomfortable emotion in the moment. It may be avoiding something that we know is right for us because we’re afraid (e.g., job interview), it may be having one drink too many when we’re feeling sad or anxious. Tune in to those emotions. Ask yourself—is there a pattern here? Is there an emotion that I consistently react to in this way? In what situations do I tend to do this?

3-  Slow the tape down.

Imagine the situation as a scene in a movie. Then imagine playing the scene in slow motion. Although it feels quick in life, slow it down so you can take the time to look at each part of it. Even though time seems to be moving so much faster in these instances, you can slow down your experience and perception of the situation by paying attention.

4-  Simply notice.

Now take special notice of all the elements in the situation—and do this with purpose. Notice your Shenpa (that hook you might feel the urge to bite). Notice your urge to do something. Be present and observe the situation as though you were an outside observer.  Simply take note of what is happening, resisting any urge to do. You may choose to do afterwards, but in the first few moments, catch yourself not noticing, and instead, notice.

You might ask, “I noticed. Now what?”

Noticing is only a first step. However, it’s a powerful one: simply noticing is associated with changes in attentional functions and cognitive flexibility, which are linked to mental balance and well-being (Moore & Malinowski, 2009).  It is a step to ensuring your freedom and becoming aware enough to refrain from biting that hook. Over time, the practice of noticing will empower you to choose your life path through individual choices—ones that may have not been apparent before you slowed the tape down.


Danit Nitka received her PhD from the Clinical and Research Psychology program at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, and is a psychologist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

Carmody, J., & Baer, R. A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(1), 23–33.

Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on psychological science, 6(6), 537-559.

Moore, A., & Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and cognition, 18(1), 176-186.

Price, D. D., Barrell, J. J., & Rainville, P. (2002). Integrating experiential–phenomenological methods and neuroscience to study neural mechanisms of pain and consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition, 11(4), 593-608.

Baer, R. A., & Krietemeyer, J. (2006). Overview of mindfulness- and acceptance-based treatment approaches. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches: Clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications (pp. 3–27). San Diego, CA: Elsevier

Schooler, J. W., Smallwood, J., Christoff, K., Handy, T. C., Reichle, E. D., & Sayette, M. A. (2011). Meta-awareness, perceptual decoupling and the wandering mind. Trends in cognitive sciences, 15(7), 319-326.