Have you ever had the experience where you’re sitting idly, maybe where you were supposed to be listening to someone talk about something boring, and, in a matter of seconds, a cascade of worries carries you out of your seat and rushes you deep into all the things that could go wrong in your life?
“Does he hate me, or maybe even worse, what if he likes me? Is my algebra homework due Today? What if I fail everything this year?! What if I embarrass myself at next week’s show? What if all my friends realize what a fake I am and never talk to me again? What if no one like’s my selfie? What if everything in life comes crashing into an awful fiery mess, and nothing is ever the same again?!”
Some call this anxiety, anxiousness, or angst, or a good old freak out. Others call it, any given weekday as a normal Teenager. Sure, it’s still anxious “catastrophe thinking,” but it’s also common for Teens to experience this, in some form or another; in some degree or another. It all has to do with differing levels of hormones in the system that are not quite regulated yet, and a developing pre-frontal cortex, but that is for another time and another blog. However, it can get so bad, that things start going poorly or start becoming unmanageable, or unhelpful coping mechanisms kick in, such as overeating/not enough, pornography, alcohol or drugs, grades drop, or work becomes difficult, etc. This happens when Teens are too much in their heads. When Teens aren’t in their heads at all, they can be more impulsive, reckless, get into fights and engage in activities that they may regret in the future. Even still, some numb their minds, and “tune out” everything else to avoid either of these options. So, how do we stay in our heads but not so far in that we get lost in our worries?
Mindfulness is about being present to yourself, and the world outside of yourself, without a need to control, to change, to judge, or to react to what is in your head or out in the world, but to better be able to respond to it. Specifically, neurobiologically, Mindfulness is all about engaging your parasympathetic nervous system, rather than your sympathetic nervous system, but that is for another time and another blog. This way, we can recognize what is in our heads, in our hearts, and out in the world around us, and better decide what to do, or not do, to “deal with” the world around us. Anxiousness may paralyze us to be unable to do anything, get stuck in worrying about things or to “tune out” the world around us. None of these options provide with any route to “deal with” anything in our lives.
Someone may ask, “but if I don’t know the catastrophe that is coming ahead of me, how do I deal with it?” We can’t pretend that nothing bad will happen in life. We do need to do our part to make sure that we are moving forward with what would be most helpful for our future in front of us. However, we also can only live in this moment. This moment right now. This moment right now is the only one that truly exists. Do what you need to do Today, to order your steps in front of you, to get where you need to be in the future. How do we practically do that? With being intentionally Mindful. If we know what is true in the world around us right now, we can better attend to ourselves and the world around us. We can better order our steps to address what we need to. We can “deal with” the now, to get to the future. If we live in the past or in the future, we are living in a catastrophe fantasy, and not the real world. We “deal with” problems in the real world, not the fantastical one.
Being Mindful is a practice. If you are not immediately successful at it, no worries, it is something to develop over time. Don’t try to do a Mindfulness activity for 30 minutes at first. Perhaps try 5 or 10 at first and work your way up.
Here are 10 Simple Steps to Jump Start Your Mindfulness Practice:
1. Find a quiet, uninterrupted place.
If this is a practice developed over time, you can do mindfulness anywhere. However, until you are a pro in it, it takes a while to build it up. If you can’t find “a quite uninterrupted place,” perhaps the best option is at night before you go to sleep.
**If your environment is entirely unsafe, mindfulness is a good thing, but you may need additional help to deal with that environment. Find a trusted adult to address this concern.
2. Close your eyes, and take a few, slow, deep breaths in and out. Focus only on your breath.
If thoughts come up, acknowledge the idea, and know that you can get to it later. Focus back on your breath. Don’t focus on the past, or the future, just what is true to you right now. We don’t have to change anything at this moment; we have to recognize that it is there. Breath deep and slow, focus on your breathing.
3. Focus on the things that you can “touch.”
Be aware of the sensation of the temperature of the room on your skin. The hardness or softness of the seat you are sitting in. The texture of your garments you wear. If you begin to focus too much on any one of these, recognize that they are what they are, draw your attention back to your breathing. Be aware of the air passing through your nose to your lungs, hold your breath shortly, feel it fill up. Be mindful of the air passing out through your mouth. Breath out deep and slow, focus on your breathing.
4. Then extend your awareness to other feelings you may have within you.
If you have pain, are hungry, or something else, recognize that it is there, that you can address it as soon as you are able. Mindfulness is about being aware of what is going on, without judgment, immediate reaction, or direct control of the situation. Bring your awareness back to this moment. Breath deep and slow, focus on your breathing.
5. Then extend your awareness to the sounds around you or a specific calming sound.
Listen to the world around you, without needing to change it, worry about it, judge it, or do anything be to recognize it is there. Recognize the sound of the wind rustling leaves, sit with that for a few moments. The sound of traffic, or the market, or whatever is outside of your immediate room; sit with that for a few moments. If there is something that you need to attend to, you can visit this later. If there is something you need to do, you can do it. If there is not anything that you need to do right now, don’t do it. Just be aware of what is there. Breath deep and slow, focus on your breathing.
6. Open your eyes, fix it on one point, and recognize what is true around you
We can only do what we can do. We can do what is in front of us. If we live in the past or the future, we can’t do anything. If we lose sight of what is indeed in front of us, we can’t do anything. What is true in the world around you? Has it indeed crashed in a fiery mess at this moment right now? Most likely not. Sit with that for a moment, let that be true in your world around you. What else is true? What are the positive truths about you? Sit with those, allow them to be true. Breath deep and slow, focus on your breathing.
**If there is a genuine crisis or emergency, get help. Do not sit in a chair breathing in and out, get help. If you are not in an actual crisis, proceed.
7. Close your eyes again, focusing on the sounds, or a specific calming sound.
8. Bring your focus back on just your breath.
9. Bring your awareness back to the day at hand
10. Go out and live Today for Today’s sake.
Practice hopeful thinking, rather than catastrophic or worrying thinking. Where are you moving to today? Where do you want to be? What would be helpful for you to get there Today? How can you live Today, as just Today? Whatever that future is, whatever it may hold for you, whatever you may or may not accomplish, do so in an intentionally mindful, confident way. Have faith in yourself.
The above is a brief JUMP START to mindfulness and is not a full account. As stated, this is a practice developed over time. There are more things to consider, and more profound questions about yourself or the world around you that might come up. Find a trusted adult to talk through these insights and revelations.
No matter what life has in store for you, you are the one who must live it. What do you want it to be? You may not be able to control the future, or what the world has around you. You can control how you react to the world around you, and what you allow to control you. Whatever you become, kick butt in it, don’t let it kick your butt!
Latest posts by Johnathan Sumpter, (MBA, MA, LPC, NCC) (see all)
- Jump start Mindfulness in Teenagers with this Simple 10-Step Activity daily - January 13, 2019