It’s well into Autumn now and sometimes it can be hard to remember the warm(ish) days of summer and those long evenings. As the days grow shorter and colder and literally close in, very many people feel unsettled and low at this time of year. Autumn often heralds the start of low mood and mild depression and doctors have recognised this and called it Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It is thought to be linked to the lack of sunlight and it can be hugely improved by spending time outdoors or by investing in 15 minutes a day in front of a light box!
SAD or not, most of us could benefit from investing 15 minutes a day on nurturing ourselves. It is easy to start the gradual slide into a mild depression. It is easy to allow stressful events in our lives or an overload at work to engulf and overcome us. Sometimes life just throws the worst of situations at us and there is nothing we can do except to get on and go through it until things improve. But we do not have to slide down the slippery slope.
It would be easy to say that if we look on the bright side, count our blessings every day and meditate on flood victims and starving children that we would feel better about our lot. Yet such a Pollyanna strategy could as easily irritate. After all, there’s always someone better off than us and someone worse off, it doesn’t ultimately help our own self right now. The Buddhists, Zen masters and Taoists have a more realistic way of living; they practice “mindfulness.”
Mindfulness refers to being completely in touch with and aware of the present moment, as well as being non-judgemental to your inner thoughts or your experience at that moment in time. It is very much about accepting things as they are right at that moment and not analysing or evaluating your thoughts, just noticing them. It is gaining ground as a way of alleviating depression, anxiety and even post traumatic stress disorder. I talk to my stressed and depressed clients about mindfulness and about finding the joy in small things. It is far easier to notice small beauties than it is to force yourself into thinking that your life is perfectly fine when the reality is that you are going through a complete nightmare!
So if things are all too much, if it feels impossible to be thankful, if you can’t see the wood for the trees then focus in on the very small things that ARE ok, if only in that very moment. Noticing the beauty in a ray of sunshine across your kitchen worktop; seeing a vivid and beautiful colour; hearing an exquisite piece of music; finding a conker that sits perfectly in your hand; feeling the tingling spray from a shower in the morning. Just noticing, paying attention to, being mindful of tiny things at that very moment in time can be enough beauty and joy to help you through the day. We all have a basic human need for beauty and joy, to keep us content, to keep our mood elevated, raise the feel-good chemicals in the brain. If we can do this daily, even for a short moment, it will pay off in the longer term.
We can accept our thoughts for what they are; we can notice how we may feel overwhelmed, rattled, angry, sad. They are thoughts, at that moment, not a great predictor of the future to come, nor an analysis of the past, only the thought of a moment. After that thought comes another thought and we can experience it without dwelling on it or judging it. And if we practise noticing any moments or experiences of joy or beauty that occur, then how much more comfortable does this feel than allowing ourselves only the feelings of sadness. Try it, I promise it helps.
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