Mindfulness

Too often we seem to go through life letting things happen to us. We are reactors to circumstances instead of choosing our own actions.  For instance, it’s easy to take on the role of victim and simply sit passively while things happen that we don’t want to happen.  We tell ourselves, “This is the way it always is and there is nothing I can do to change it.”  But that’s not true!  We can make different choices and take another course of action that may change the outcome of what is happening.

Sometimes we get caught in what I call the haze of ordinary. It simply means that we aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in our lives and when something we don’t like happens, we just lament how bad life is and we sit there suffering.  How foolish can we be!  We are capable of making changes in our lives, in the ways we think about things and in what we do in response to challenges.  We sometimes just need a bit of a bump to bring us back into a mindful way of thinking.

By mindfulness, I mean paying attention to what’s going on and being open to trying new things to change the situation. This means living in the present moment and stopping ourselves when we get on the pity wagon before we take off and ride it for hours or days.  Yes, bad things happen in life.  That doesn’t mean I have to focus on them and wail about them forever.  I can also realize that good things happen in life too.  If I focus on my blessings rather than my problems, it makes the problems shrink in size.

Stress makes mindfulness more difficult. If we’re stressed, we focus on what’s stressing us out rather than on the good things going on around us.  I work on reducing my stress levels and think of it not as a selfish thing to be doing, but a necessary way of improving my life and the lives of those around me.  Let’s face it, if I’m out of sorts, then the people around me will know about it and, in most cases, pay for it too!

I have to stop sometimes and look at what’s really happening to me at that moment. I’m not in danger.  I’m not particularly uncomfortable.  The sun, if it’s not shining now, will shine again in a day or two.  The problems I’m experiencing, although they may seem insurmountable, will fade away and others will replace them.  But good things will keep happening too and I don’t want to miss any of them.  Remaining mindful helps me live in the moment and feel hopeful about life.

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DEALING WITH YOUR ANGER

I’m mad. The anger lies just below the surface waiting to rear its’ ugly head. I lash out at the dog for minor infractions. I kick the wastepaper basket at work. I snap at friends and, in general, I hate myself for it. I’m depressed. It feels like a hopeless cycle, but I know better.

I have PTSD too. Mine is not from a wartime experience, but from living in a battle zone as I grew up. I learned to survive, but there are some things I carry with me that go along with those survival skills. I have to ride herd on the anger-beast within me all the time. I’ve done well over the years learning to do just that, but every now and then, it gets out; then watch out!

What am I angry about, you ask? It’s a lousy situation knowing that my spouse is in a nursing facility now. I never wanted that. I’m angry at myself for not being able to keep him at home. I know it’s not rational, but that doesn’t help. I’m a gerontologist. My specialty is handing problems dealing with aging, but I couldn’t help him. That makes me mad. Fighting family interference makes me madder. It’s a problem and I have to deal with it. Fortunately, help is available.

So, what’s my secret to handling the red-rage? It’s not really a secret; it takes a lot of work. First off, I have to own my anger – admit that it’s there. That may seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how we can deny anger even when it’s staring us in the face. My tip-off is when the dog is sitting on the other side of the room with her ears down. Then I pay attention to what I’m doing: grousing and slamming things around as I think about what I want to say to the person who has ticked me off. Hard to deny that!

So, what’s the cure? I’ve had to look at a variety of solutions and play around with them until I found my personal favorite: music. I put on some music and crank it up! I take the time to think about how I’m letting my rage run my life.

There are many other ways to tame the tiger too:

• Using mindfulness which involves getting into the moment by focusing on what you are feeling right now. Anger makes us live in the past and robs us of the future. Bringing yourself back to the current moment helps us focus on what is happening now, not what happened a little while ago.
• Breathing exercises. Yes, simply taking control of your breathing can reduce your anger. By slowing your breathing down, you pull your body out of that “fight or flight” mode that comes with anger. It helps us release the anger too.
• Journaling. I use this technique too. When I get angry, my thoughts race and it’s hard to know just exactly what I am feeling, yet alone figure out a way to cope. Writing it down allows me to organize my thoughts without the anger clouding the issues. It’s one of the healthiest things I do.
• Do a reality check on your expectations. Sometimes I get angry with others because I’m already angry. That’s not fair to them. It’s kind of the kick the dog issue when you’re mad about something else and you take it out on the dog simply because he’s there. I don’t want to do that with my dog or the kids, or anyone else for that matter. My anger is my responsibility and I am the one who needs to deal with it.

There are more ways to cope with anger. The main thing is that you start looking at how to control yours. Don’t let anger manage you; there’s too much at stake. Instead start managing your anger today!