Is your monkey mind and other distressing symptoms driving you bananas and derailing your life? Stop suffering and try something new for you. Many of my therapy and coaching clients are interested in learning holistic ways to reduce and manage the symptoms of anxiety, depression, addictions and eating disorders, and a subset, in particular, are interested in some form of meditation. They are often motivated by media stories or recent studies that document the proven benefits of meditation and mindfulness, and are interested in natural ways to gain symptom relief. Peer review studies and research are confirming that this approach, in addition to specific lifestyle modifications is a highly effective route to managing and controlling anxiety, panic disorder and mild depression. As a psychotherapist trained in both traditional and non-traditional methods, I have always encouraged my open-minded, curious clients to give non-traditional techniques such as meditation and mindfulness a try. Many are unwilling, for a variety of reasons, to use medication, and for clients with this orientation, using a multi-modal approach combining cognitive therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), EMDR therapy, DBT skills and mindfulness meditation can provide the much needed relief.
Not sure how to begin? Learning to practice meditation without goals can be a challenge for the beginner. Yes, no goals -- it's not about mastering meditation or becoming an enlightened being -- let that go, it's way easier and more sustainable than that, thank goodness. Allowing the mindfulness process itself to unfold without trying to judge or control it is the practice. You're not trying to empty the mind -- our heads are messy and cluttered -- some days are worse than others. Learning to watch your thoughts and active mind -- you observe, notice and tolerate the many feelings and sensations that arise as if they float past you on a cloud -- that's how you do it. It's hard for the beginner but actually, with some practice becomes easy. You have an active mind and are accepting and just letting things be as they are. Nothing to change, if that helps!
Mindfulness gifts the practitioner with the ability to gain some distance and simply observe how thoughts and distractions come and go. Thoughts are just that -- thoughts -- not necessarily truths. Thoughts don't have to control you, but notice how often they do. Once you learn to tune in to your noisy, judging mind, you can begin to make choices about your relationship to your thoughts. Some mind chatter you may choose to allow, some you will release. Learning to notice with interest, curiosity, and sometimes even humor is key. Are there thoughts you wish to change? "I'm not worth it" and "I can't do this" are common examples of negative self-talk that you may begin to notice. You might find that these negative self-evaluations are ever-present, derailing you from having a more accurate and realistic perception of who you really are. Old habits, same stories!
Wondering where and how to start this practice? One easy way to begin is to choose a routine daily activity such as making the bed. Begin with noticing your thoughts. What you are doing? How are you doing this? What does your body feel like as you do this simple activity? Notice your breathing and any body sensations that arise. Do you do this mostly on automatic pilot--and if you do--can you begin to notice how fluidly you slip in and out of this state as you make the bed? If you're hard on yourself notice that as well. Don't rush to finish making your bed, focus on being fully present as you do it. This is the practice of mindfulness. Being present and learning to tolerate the experience of being in your body and with your thoughts.
There is no way to do this practice wrong (just don't torture yourself with judgments please), which is the beauty of this elegant meditation. Go slow in the beginning. An "easy does it" approach offers you a natural way of being in your experience, and with time, you will develop the capacity to tolerate whatever arises for you. By paying attention to one’s breath and inner cues from the mind and body, you will learn to reconnect with an ease and stillness that addictive behaviors, eating disorders, depression and anxiety symptoms aggressively disrupts. Additionally, yoga, deep abdominal breathing and meditation have shown to reduce levels of cortisol, lower blood pressure and encourage relaxation, all of which have the added benefit of reducing depression and anxiety.
If you've tried meditation, but found it's too difficult to do on your own, then I recommend that you check out some of these helpful resources such as The Chopra Center, Shambhala and a personal favorite of mine, Belleruth Naparstek who develops guided imagery DVD's, iPhone and iPad apps for specific conditions such as: insomnia, weight loss, cancer, pain management, PTSD, depression, addiction, panic attacks, ADD, ADHD and more.
Some conditions such as Bipolar Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, OCD, addictions and eating disorders will need more intensive interventions such as psychotherapy and medication. It is important to seek professional help for yourself or others when the potential for harm and destruction is great and should outweigh the desire to treat these conditions in natural, holistic ways.
Practice acceptance, try compassion and change what you can. KS
NYC Therapist Kimberly Seelbrede, LCSW is a skilled Psychotherapist, Relationship and Stress Reduction Expert in New York City. She provides therapy, EMDR & Coaching to individuals and couples.