Do you ever find yourself struggling with the task of mindfulness? Mindfulness is a meditation focused coping skill that has gained a lot of ground in the past few years. A lot of therapists (and clients!) swear by its benefits. There have been studies to prove that a good session of mindfulness can over time improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety, and improve concentration. All of those things sound magical, don’t they?
It can be frustrating to hear about all of these wonderful benefits of mindfulness, yet have it unable to work for you. Have you ever wondered why it might not be working?
1. You were misdiagnosed
I struggled for years with trying to practice mindfulness in therapist’s offices and at home and I could never quite relax enough. I finally told my most recent therapist that I could not get mindfulness to work for me, so please do not try it. After my therapist mentioned to me that perhaps I have PTSD, it all came together. Of course I can’t close my eyes and relax around someone else; hyper-vigilance was getting in my way! Here are some of the common symptoms of PTSD, if you think this may be an issue for you.
2. Your Calm Environment Isn’t So Calm
Are you trying to practice your meditation skills in the middle of a Taco Bell or your stressful work environment? Mindfulness is a skill that needs to be practiced. It seems counter-intuitive but you will need to first begin practicing in a quiet, relaxing environment. Once you build up your skills enough, then the relaxing effects will begin to translate into other environments. Be sure that you are practicing somewhere quiet enough, without harsh lighting, and preferably, before you are in a total state of panic.
3. You Are Judging Yourself
A big component of mindfulness is to address your thoughts and feelings that arise in a non-judgmental way. If you do not know how to do this yet, it may be creating more anxiety for you. Sometimes, we do not want to address how we really feel about our situation, and that is okay. It may be that you feel as though you cannot control the thoughts that come into your mind. Or perhaps you do not want to think about the thoughts that are coming into consciousness yet because you are not ready.
4. You Haven’t Practiced Mindfulness Enough
I know, I know; this was probably not at all what you wanted to hear. I will say it again because it is worth saying: mindfulness is a skill. You are probably not going to be the meditation guru on the first try. It takes a lot of self-discipline and self-awareness to be able to notice the sensations and thoughts that occur within you. It also takes a lot of self-discipline to notice those same thoughts and sensations non-judgmentally.
If you find that mindfulness just simply does not work for you, you are not alone. Sometimes we don’t want to or don’t need to be alone with our thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts will put us in the dark places we are trying to avoid. Please understand that this is okay. You are not a failure because this one particular skill does not work for you.
What Can I Do Instead?
- Day Planning. If I know in advance that I will be facing a stressful day, I plan. I think about what may occur in the upcoming day that may trigger me or that may throw my anxiety into high gear and I give myself options beforehand on how I want to deal with the situation. This does not have to be elaborate. Just a simple five-minutes before you even leave your bed would suffice.
- Dissect Negative Thoughts. If negative thinking is what is causing you to be anxious, try actively challenging those thoughts. You can write it down or do this exercise in your own mind. Take the negative thought and put it on display. For example, I am going to fail at this presentation and everyone will laugh. Challenge it by asking why? Maybe you feel unprepared or maybe you feel as though you will stumble when speaking. Are these logical thoughts? Is it logical to assume that everyone would laugh at you if you were to mess up? Finally, come up with an alternative. You are feeling anxious about your presentation because you want things to go smoothly. That is normal feeling and sometimes, anxiety increases performance. See? That’s not so hard! It does take a little practice at first, so if you feel comfortable writing it down, I recommend it.
- Develop a Calming Routine. If you are trying mindfulness to improve your sleep quality or reduce insomnia, try developing a routine that you begin about one hour before bedtime. Turn off the T.V. and your phone, try not to binge eat a lot of food, and begin winding down in a dark environment. White noise machines can be helpful for some to relax.
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