on my way to mindfulness

dealing with social anxiety

After several mindless weeks…

I feel as if i’d fallen down the stairs. Everything went so fast. I was up there, smiling to a promising new life of opportunities, and bam, 2 months after, i am at the bottom of the steps, aching all over and a bit surprised. There is no better proof that meditation is important for my well being. Exercise too. I have put those activities aside because i thought that it would give me more time for dealing with a more and more overwheming schedule and I feel so bad. How could i be so naive? Well, i am learning the hard way. Back on the horse, once again. I return to the breath…

Overwhelmed…

Making a comeback on this blog after nearly a month (hum, after checking it’s actually more than a month. I have really lost track of time!). First I got overwhelmed by internship tasks, then by holidays. Both those periods caused me to realize that I let myself get overwhelmed by a bit of everything. I have to read two chapters for my course tomorrow, I have to prepare a presentation about my internship for Wednesday, I have to answer emails: blam, I feel totally stressed out.

Yet, I spend time wandering aimlessly on the internet. I started at 11 today. I gave myself 30 minutes to just check whatever news I wanted to read.  It’s now 15:00. I’ve run out of news and blog posts to read. But I still resist getting started with the stuff I will sooner or later need to do. This happens nearly everyday. It makes me feel like I never have any free time. But I get into that routine nearly every day. I am really tired of this behaviour, I can see that it is totally absurd, yet I do it all again, day after day. Doesn’t it look like an addiction? As if I couldn’t act without feeling really pressed by time. I often forget that’s one of the ways my avoidant tendencies express themselves.

Being away from home and my desk for 10 days helped me to reduce drastically my time in front of a screen, but this feeling of reluctance for what needs to be done didn’t get any lighter. I have also noticed that, even if I have nothing to do, I have difficulties just enjoying the moment. I actually don’t know how to enjoy relaxing. I can have all the spare time in the world, I am not able to truly experience deep relaxation, except when in body scan (but then, I am often reluctant to do it!). I spent so much time telling myself during those holidays “it shouldn’t be like this, it should have been like that”. It didn’t help that my mindfulness practice was somewhat put in parenthesis: my routine didn’t resist the constant change of places and schedules. Big mistake indeed. I need to learn flexibility.

I feel vulnerable and weak in front of the big semester in front of me. Already overwhelmed, when it has only just begun. Though I have heard the little voice of hope murmuring “you can do it” a couple of times. I have come back to meditation since I came home. I have practiced yoga this morning. I am writing my pages more often. Now I am going to get out for a walk in the early September sun. Going out to breathe a little, finding a more positive perspective. Start anew.

A reappearance – not giving up!

I am back on the blog after nearly two weeks. When I started writing this post, I wanted to explain that I am not sure I know why I didn’t come back here any sooner. Well, now that I took a couple of minutes to look at the problem, I can see that it’s not true. I just didn’t really want to admit to myself that I stayed away in order to avoid reporting difficulties. I wanted to report success over weeks 3 & 4 of the MBSR programme. In the last posts, I wrote how I have struggled with the content of those weeks. I haven’t really managed to do several days in a row of yoga or body scan + 20mn of meditation. And since I stopped writing about it, I thought about it even less. So, yes, I am still at that stage of the programme. But I don’t want to quit, and I don’t want to skip those weeks either.

It will take the time it takes. I have now in front of me less than 2 weeks of internship that will be quite demanding before I can go on holidays: reports to finish, a presentation to prepare, barriers to overcome. I know that I need to focus, I need an anchor to avoid getting carried away by anxiety. In addition, as my sessions with the psychologist are over, I need to check myself regularly to see how I am doing. Fortunately, I have continued practicing meditation nearly every day for 15/20mn, and it has really become a habit, I am so glad about it. It’s a complement to my morning pages. I don’t have a fixed moment in the day for it, I just practice when I feel like it. But I feel that if I want to make it through those 2 weeks without too much damage, I need to physically relax more often during my day. The yoga and body scan could be the solution. But they take time, and a special setting; it’s not as easy to organize as the meditation, which I can do anywhere. I need a bit of privacy, therefore I need to plan. I’ll make my first relaxation appointment at 21:00 tonight. I put it in my agenda.

 

MBSR days 27 to 32 – down… but up again?

On Sunday, I started to feel impatience. I knew I was going to the psychologist the day after, and I guess I planned to talk about progress, when I could suddenly only see failure to progress to the speed I wanted. Panic. So before sleeping, I started crying, both because of this insatisfaction but also because I was afraid of not being able to cope with another week of tasks, challenges. It was too much. I couldn’t see the positive. Fortunately, after a talk with my boyfriend, I was able to accept another, brighter perspective, and the body scan that followed helped me to fall asleep.

As usual, the visit at the psychologist made me feel tired but lighter at the same time, as if I had released some of the negative energies that poison me. I had meditated for 20 mn before going, and that helped me to talk quietly without bursting into tears right away. It is very satisfying to see how the MBSR programme is making a difference. I am determined to make mindfulness integral part of my life from now on.

I have struggled with the practice during the following days though. I have delayed important tasks again, losing myself in escapism, and the return to reality is always tough. Being aware of it and doing it anyway drives me crazy, as if it is against my will, when I am actually allowing myself to do it. This sucks so much of my energy, creates all kinds of negative thoughts. It makes me feel suddenly stressed when I see that I need to act quick, otherwise I will be “discovered” and will have to explain what is going on. Such an unsustainable behaviour, yet I find it so hard to get rid of it. One day I think I’ve understood how to deal with it, the next day everything has to be learnt again. Uh,  is that the “let’s beat myself up” talk coming? I can only act when it comes again, no need to try and change the past!

I have meditated nearly everyday, but I haven’t practiced the body scan and yoga, as well as the reflection on the positive events since last Tuesday. Right now I can’t prevent myself from feeling bad about it. “I should have done it, I should have done that” goes my mind at the moment. Well, I may have given a lot of attention to those thoughts in the last days. But I decide to go back to the breath now, so I can move on… To the restaurant! No need to spoil the evening with what should or shouldn’t have been done. This MBSR programme may take more than 8 weeks for me… but it doesn’t really matter. I will enjoy the additional weeks!

MBSR days 22 to 26 – Up…

So the intention expressed in my last post did not take shape immediately. I actually did not practice yoga, not even the body scan on day 21. I just felt overwhelmed by the food making and other small tasks of the evening. I wanted more time to prepare the yoga. It did not happen either on the next day; another difficult day of general procrastination, self-beating, and tiredness. Then Thursday came and I decided to do things differently; instead of pressing myself to get in front of the computer and work, work, work until I am done, I allowed myself to follow my desire to have a walk in a park. The weather was beautiful, the city pretty quiet as most people are gone on holidays and tourists are not out exploring yet at 10 in the morning, so I had a slow walk among the trees, the green grass and the sculptures of Kongens Have. Apart from a couple of joggers, few early visitors taking pictures and some people sunbathing, I enjoyed a very calm wandering in the alleys, listening to Pema Chödrön’s “Getting Unstuck”, her wise words and the atmosphere certainly contributed to this feeling of happiness and freedom that I felt during those instants and perdured for a couple of hours.

In the evening, I decided to try the yoga sequence described in the book. I looked online for a video, and found this one. The sequence is not exactly similar to the one explained in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, but it was close enough (there was a mean boat pose in the middle of it that awakened my poor aching abs from recent workouts!). I felt as if I could have stayed for a body scan after it, but decided against it, as I wanted to observe if there would be any difference of impact on my sleep quality. I slept very well for the few hours I slept, and my dreams were certainly entertaining! On Saturday I practiced yoga again (but zapped the body scan on Friday, it was a very similar day to Wednesday, typical of my getting stuck in procrastination). This time I decided to try the audio track from UCSD, as I found it difficult to focus on the breath as much as I would have like with the video format. I got pretty surprised by the high speed of the audio instructions, I had difficulties keeping up when trying to figure out what the guide meant at times! As I am clearly not satisfied by those two possibilities, I will try to take some notes from the book, and do things at my own rhythm.

I have started observing pleasant events, and I am glad to be able to write that there was at least one to reflect on everyday! Some of the days I have also been aware that I should pay attention to those pleasant moments, and it surely helped creating some! I’m back to my sitting meditation. 15 mn Friday, 20 mn Saturday. I can see that I am now used to the shorter meditations, after what must correspond to 10 mn I grow impatient to hear the bell ring. I practiced in the morning on Friday, and 15 mn felt totally manageable. On Saturday evening, I felt an annoying pain in the neck nearly just after I had started. I have experienced that a couple of times when meditating, it’s probably due to posture problems, so usually I just change position, move my head in all directions until it feels better. This time I decided to stay with this pain. There was a lot of pressure on what feels like the place where the neck and the skull meet. Then the pain shifted to a lower level, to come actually to the front. I wanted it to go away but I didn’t do anything else than observing it and wishing to go away. I consciently moved my spine in different directions, tried to stick my navel to the spine, and then the pain subsided. It was so strange, I had felt it quite strongly for more than 10 minutes, and it suddenly disappeared.

 

MBSR days 17, 18, 19, 20 & 21 – where is the yoga?

I really enjoy the body scan now. So much that when i consider trying the yoga exercise instead, I’ve plenty of good excuses ready, some more valid than others: from “nah, i am too tired, better  just lie down” to “i can’t be bothered with finding the right pages in the book”. As a result, I haven’t tried the yoga exercise yet. It isn’t because it’s something new to me, I have practiced yoga regularly in the past and I even have tried the exercise described in Full Catastrophe Living when I read the book.

I have noticed that in general, I have thought less and less about my mindfulness practice these last days. I am not going to beat myself up for that (I have to confess, I was about to!), but I can’t really say that it’s because I have been extremely busy. I is true though that changes in my routine affect my thoughts so much, I have difficulties staying grounded, focused on the direction I want to keep. So yes, the social events of the weekend as well as plumbing issues (kitchen sink and shower area filling themselves with the neighbours’ waste water – quite a nasty experience!) have occupied my mind to the point that mindfulness went out of the picture. But I find it difficult to go back to it now that my life is quieter. Why so? I feel that I need this practice to actually improve my ability to focus, but at the same time I see it as an effort and I am fighting against it. Is it my inner donkey acting here? Maybe it’s time to have a good talk with her (yes, it’s a she-donkey). My donkey is quite lazy, and really doesn’t recognize what’s good for me. She just wants to continue as it is. When I get enthusiastic about trying something new, when somebody suggests doing something that is out of my comfort zone, she starts braying and acting stubbornly, because she thinks it might be dangerous. I guess that with the mindfulness meditation, she found a more subtle strategy, and just made a u-turn when I was not paying attention. Because that’s actually what I’ll get better at, paying attention, if I perservere with the practice. And that means more control on miss donkey. I can understand that it is not something she would like, but she has to understand that I am not going to let her decide everything anymore. I am ok to let her live her life, but we can’t stay together all the time if she doesn’t want to follow me. So I am now heading for the yoga mat with a sulking donkey. I hope it will give her the occasion to reflect on her life!

I have also noticed that I have completely neglected a new activity in week 3 of the MBSR: I was supposed to record a pleasant event for each day. I will start doing this right away!

MBSR days 14, 15 & 16 – stormy weather

Already 2 weeks! Feels as if I have been reset to default settings though. I went to the psychologist on Monday morning, told him that everything went soooo much better, ended up crying for half an hour. Apparently, there is still room for improvement! The trouble is that I have been avoiding a necessary face to face with some difficult situations and emotions, sweeping stuff under the rug, and I suddenly got to lift a corner and have a good look at what I had been discreetly accumulating there. So, I have been cleaning up since. And I know now that I will have to deal with that avoidance tendency all my life – which was a little difficult to swallow on the moment. But well, it is easier to do something about an issue if you are conscious of its existence and about what triggers it. I will use the breath to support myself in difficult situations. I don’t want to stay stuck with my old habits.

The 10 mn meditation and the body scan helped me soothe my aching mind and body after all the mental upheaval (I usually come home completely exhausted from the psychologist!). I practiced the meditation in the afternoon, and kept the body scan for bedtime. I meditated on Tuesday morning before going out, this helped me feel really relaxed when I took the metro. Sometimes I get worried about what people think about me and become extremely self-conscious. This was not the case at all this time. I fell asleep during the body scan in the evening; I woke up with my headphones and an Ipod out of battery at 7AM! On Wednesday I planned to start the yoga, but came home late, so I decided to simply do a short body scan before sleeping. No falling asleep, but the itchy feet were back! I stayed with the itch, and it disappeared at some point.

MBSR days 10, 11, 12 & 13

I have somewhat neglected my practice. Surprisingly, the problem is not the body scan (with which I keep on waking up earlier and earlier!), but since friday I have been reluctant to practice the 10mn breathing meditation. Why that? I had plenty of opportunities to do it. But since  the day I’ve tried to meditate after the body scan, it seems that I cannot go back to doing it in the morning anymore, ad I report it to later, later…Then a day has passed and I can’t get myself to just sit and breathe! So strange, only 10 little minutes…

As for the body scan itself, I have practiced for only 20 mn with a guiding audio track, only on saturday afternoon did I manage to go for the real deal (and not on the bed! No pain in the lower back appeared, it was really good to be back on the floor strangely!). So from a mindfulness practice of nearly 1h/day, I’ve gone down to merely 20mn. Am I getting bored? Is it because I was unconsciously expecting “results” that I don’t see coming? Does it make me feel uncomfortable? The reason is not that important, but once again I feel that something is dragging me away from that new habit of mine, while at the same time there is a kind little voice telling me to resist, to try again. Yes, during a couple of days, I have given in the self-pity and the easy excuses. It may have brought me a temporary relief from the difficulty of experiencing something not totally satisfying, but in the end it hasn’t brought me any durable help, on the contrary. After a rather “difficult” appointment with the psychologist today, I am determined to follow my wise inner voice and continue the MBSR programme. I am jumping back on the horse right now with a 10mn breathing meditation.

MBSR day 9 – a condensed practice

I woke up at 6 in the morning, without alarm clock, just like that. And I felt ready to start the day! it felt too unusual though, so I went back to sleep. Next time, I will take the opportunity to be awake that early to actually get up, but I was kind of taken by surprise… didnt even had 6 hours of sleep and felt fresh! That motivated me to renew the in-bed body scan experience. In addition to that, as my day got pretty busy, I had delayed the 10 mn meditation as well. So if I wanted to do it all, I had no choice but to practice breathing meditation and body scan one after the other. That’s what I did, around midnight, and it went fine. I no longer have this pain in the lower back which makes the body scan much more enjoyable than on the thin yoga mat. Of course, I plan to go back to it at some point, but for now I just want to experiment with comfort! The breathing meditation that followed was “easy”, nearly no mind chatter or impatience.

During the day I have regularly taken breaks to check my “stomach lock”, where I contract myself and prevent myself from breathing with a relaxed belly. It’s amazing, it seems that I hardly ever relax it when I am sitting, and even less when I am in a public place!

MBSR Day 8 and keeping focus

I am starting a new week of mindfulness practice and I have decided to make a few changes. So far I have been very reluctant to practice the body scan, seeing it too often as a chore instead of the fantastic opportunity to connect with my body it actually is. As an anxiety sufferer, I typically loose myself in negative, fearful thoughts and forget to stay grounded in my body in difficult situations. I don’t realize how tensed I am until I need to make a move, which instantly feels awkward because I had been standing immobile for 10 mn with hands locked together or a contracted stomach. Even at this very moment, I have just realized that my feet were contracted together in some weird posture! I want to communicate more effectively with my body parts, and this cannot happen without training. And the body scan is a safe time to train it!

Another change is regarding my activities outside the mindfulness practice. I have just started an internship, and even if I have the freedom to work from home, I still need to keep myself focused on the tasks at hand. I find it extremely difficult and added to that, I am totally overwhelmed by other activities I have started, such as re-learning Spanish or taking online courses. I am thinking all the time, “I can’t do it all, I can’t do it all!”, and of course with that outlook on things, I just don’t do it all, and far from it! I am in a big time procrastination mode since Saturday and it’s driving me mad, because I am so conscious of it, but I keep on doing the contrary of what I should do! I have those thoughts about just quitting it all. Of course it is not a solution. So I am going to do a little of everything, and I’ll have to accept that it won’t be perfect, it won’t be all done “as planned”, but I won’t stop. So I am now using the Pomodoro technique to get tasks done without loosing myself into details. I have tried it during assignments and it’s really efficient to get yourself started. 25 mn of work right now feels much lighter than 6h at some point. Once you’ve begun a task, it’s much easier to continue a bit more… and a bit more.

The morning 10 mn breathing meditation was eventless; I now practice without audio help and find it much more fruitful. I went for an in-bed body scan just before sleeping, it was actually not boring at all and I felt totally ready to sleep, already rested.

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