Imagine the scene: You are out shopping with your young children. You are in a busy shopping centre: it’s 2pm on Christmas eve; it seems as though the whole world is within the confines of the hot, crowded space. People are jostling around you; conversations heard between one person and the next as you pass echo the thoughts in your head: “I still need to buy 3 more presents, I also need to get sprouts and toilet roll and I’ve only got an hour before the stores close”.
You feel hungry and thirsty but you don’t have time to stop. Your children are over-excited, and aren’t listening to you as you instruct them to stay with you, so you are constantly keeping an eye on them. They frequently stop to look at shop windows, fully-laden with enticing-looking toys designed for maximum pester-power. One child points at something and asks if they can have it. When you say “No” a fresh round of questions and pleading ensues. Meanwhile, the swirl of shoppers around you distracts you from your other child, who has been swept along somewhere. You can no longer see them. Heavily laden with bags, you grab the child who is still pleading for a toy, as you feel the mounting panic reach maximum. You have lost your child in the busy shopping centre on Christmas eve.
How do you feel?
…You feel hot and sweaty.
…You feel dizzy and your mouth is dry.
…You start shaking.
…You can hear a buzzing in your ears. Your head is throbbing.
…Your arms feel weak with fear and the weight of the bags you are carrying. Your legs seem to have turned to jelly.
You can hear yourself shouting your child’s name, but the noise around you and the sound of the buzzing in your ears begins to drown out other sounds.
You must find your other child.
You feel the panic rising in your chest and stomach.
As you look frantically around you, you catch sight of your crying child just ahead of you, being comforted by a stranger. You run to them, grab your child and hug them in relief. You thank the stranger, who leaves you to join the swirl of the crowd.
How do you feel now, and what do you do next?
OK, so this is an extreme scenario, but I designed it to give you a chance to really feel the physical effects of what you were asked to imagine. Did you feel any of the effects? Well, I can tell you that if you felt any of the panic or fear rising within you during the scenario, then it is possible that you can just as easily feel relaxed and calm if you were to imagine a different scenario:
Begin by sitting comfortably. Place your hand on your tummy. Close your eyes, or focus on something directly in front of you. Notice your breathing, and after a few breaths, take the breath deeper into your lungs, down towards your hand. Feel the hand moving outwards as you fill your lungs with air. As you let the breath out, don’t force it, just allow it to happen. Wait for the next breath to come in, slow and lengthen it as you take it to your tummy.
Now imagine It is a sunny day in the park or in your garden. You are standing barefoot on some lush, green, warm grass. You can feel the blades of grass between your toes. The warmth of the grass permeating the soles of your feet. The ground is supporting your feet as you are standing still, listening to the sounds of birds in the trees, the gentle rustling of leaves in the warm summer breeze, bees nearby humming as they pass from flower to flower. The warmth of the grass on your feet as you stand still and listen. The warmth of the sun around you gently blessing your skin with a relaxing touch that reassures you that all is well in this moment.
Imagine that warmth throughout your body. Sit quietly and soak it up for a few minutes.
Then, when you are ready, take a few deeper breaths and say to yourself “all is well with me right now” before you open your eyes. Smile to yourself.
How do you feel now? I must say at this point that if you found this harder than the stressful scenario, don’t worry! The chances are, that if you are affected by stress, it is because your brain expects stress and responds more readily than the measures you can take to feel the opposite.
That’s why regularly taking some time out to meditate can have a beneficial effect on the . When we feel , our body releases stress hormones which causes our heart to beat faster, our breath to become shallow and fast, and our blood pressure to increase. Focusing on the breath and being “in the moment” has been shown to. Another showed how meditating before a stressful event had a beneficial effect on stress levels, even in those who had never practised before. And if you are a multi-tasker, frequently changing tacks increases stress levels, but one showed that meditating decreased stress and increased effectiveness of tasks with increased concentration levels, as well.
My from yesterday explained how to differentiate between a healthy state of mind, to recognising the need to reset before reaching panic mode, or hitting the emergency button.
So here are just a few benefits of practising mindfulness and meditation. A key to success is finding what works for you, as there are so many different disciplines. As a nurse I am using meditation techniques with my patients in various situations to help them, with interesting and positive results. I can also vouch for myself as a practitioner of mindfulness and meditation – from boiling an egg, to running up a hill or overcoming insomnia, there is a place for these techniques in many aspects of life – with great results!
Nikki Harman is a nurse working in the NHS; and mindfulness and meditation tutor to adults and children. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about courses or sessions either face to face or over Skype.