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Can a mindfulness practice be life changing?

Posted by Karen in mindfulness

For many years and from a young age, anxiety was a constant, unpleasant companion – that is until I was introduced to the practice of mindfulness.

When you’re in a difficult space, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. It’s a challenge to consider anything but the familiar. However, just sometimes, the advice of a good friend penetrates through and connects with you. 

This is how it was for me when I was first introduced to mindfulness. This is my story.

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For many years and from a young age, anxiety was a constant, unpleasant companion – that is until I was introduced to the practice of mindfulness in 2008. By now I was forty. 

I have dreadful memories of feeling terribly frightened and anxious about anything and everything as a young child. I lived in constant fear that something bad was going to happen to me; that I would get lost, that I would need to go to hospital, that I was going to be separated from my mother and sister, that I was going to be in a lot of pain, that I was going to die…

Although I had therapy when I was a child and later when I was a student and young adult to help reduce the level of anxiety, I was suffering from considerably.

Catastrophic thoughts kept me in a constant state of high alert and worry. Life felt very scary indeed.

And then at forty, my life turned a significant corner. I was introduced to mindfulness by a friend and decided to give it a try. As you know, a mindfulness practice is no quick fix, I understood this from the get go, and committed to a daily practice in order to give it a chance.

Mindfulness has transformed how I experience myself, others and life’s challenges

Mindfulness has helped me to see and understand my helpful and unhelpful habitual ways of thinking and behaving which in turn has helped me respond differently, more compassionately to myself, others and life’s challenges.

And with this increased self awareness, I now have a better understanding of the cause for my anxiety. A daily mindfulness practice has helped me find a different, more supportive relationship with myself.

Mindfulness helped me to become more aware of my response to stress, creating space for me to take back control. 

Most of us have a particular stress response.

When I feel anxious and then stressed, a narrative runs in my head that goes like this: it’s all too much, I have too much work on, I can’t cope, I won’t be able to do it all. These thoughts then go on to trigger my mind’s alarm system. This triggers more tension in my body, makes my breath shallow and inhibited which in turn impacts on the choices I make – what I say to my colleagues, friends, partner, family etc and how I say it, aka knee-jerk reactions.

Then, to top it all off, I beat myself up for being so stressed, inefficient, grumpy or moody which adds another layer of anxiety and stress.

Regaining perspective – seeing things for what they are

A mindfulness practice has helped me to see things more for what they are. I can now see the impact of harsh self-criticism or self-judgement. How this adds even more pressure on ourselves, creating more stress and more anxiety. Left unchecked, it can also lead to depression.

So I have lots on and the deadlines are unpleasant but they are just deadlines and work is just work and giving a talk is just giving a talk – no more no less. It’s called primary experience. How we interpret what happens to us is called secondary experience – this can cause us a lot of pain depending on how we interpret, judge and analyse life’s events.

As a result of greater self awareness, now, when I feel stressed or anxious, I notice my breath getting shallow, I recognise the thoughts racing through my head, and the feelings in my body (e.g. tightness, racing heart, anxiety, sweating, panic, feeling overwhelmed). I use this moment to regain control, to take some deeper breaths, let my breath find its natural rhythm again which in turn allows my mind and body to calm down and relax.

Today, I still suffer from anxiety occasionally, particularly in the early hours of the morning. The difference is, I now know what I need to do. I expand my in-breath and slow down my out-breath. I ground myself and become aware of whatever catastrophic thought is going through my head. I then ask myself: ‘Is this true?’ 99% of the time the answer is ‘No’. I come back to the present, the here and now and continue to sleep.

Mindfulness is not an idea, it’s a practice. It requires daily commitment, faith and stamina. The pay-off is huge and can be life-changing. It certainly has given me my life back.

As always, I am curious about how you are getting on. Drop me a line or call or if you need some support, book a free 30-minute coaching taster session in Victoria park, via phone or Skype.

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