The Skill of Awareness
Halloween is just around the corner and we are moving into the holiday season.
You may notice that you can go the whole day without noticing. You are in what I call Autopilot. Much of the time we are so in our head, we forget to be aware
When we experience stress, we assume that something fundamentally is wrong or that a disaster will happen. We become disconnected. We avoid situations. We stop taking care of ourselves. We get irritated. We mentally ruminate. We judge ourselves negatively.
For those who have OCD, you have more obsessions and do more compulsions
For those with an Eating Disorder, you might restrict more, or binge more, or purge more. If you have a Body Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB), you will spend more time in a “trance” state.
Awareness can be a VERY helpful tool to protect us against these behaviors.
What is Awareness?
I particularly love the second definition.
The goal is to take more interest in your surroundings or notice the atmosphere of your brain.
Eg: “I can’t do this” (test, get up, stop a behavior that is problematic, get a new job, go to a party etc).
Thoughts without anxiety= no big deal
Thoughts with fear/anxiety: Must be a sign of trouble to come
Being well informed allows us to identify what is a thought and what is a fact, despite what emotion or feeling it is coupled with.
Often, we have thoughts about events of developments that have not even occurred yet. We try to use our thinking as a way to confirm certainty or find the solution.
Let me ask you…
How successful and productive is your thinking about this not-yet-occurring situation?
Could there be peace in not going over every last detail of the possible disaster?
Are we using up THIS present moment to find solutions, without recognizing that RIGHT NOW is still and quiet and safe?
One of the main reasons we mentally ruminate is FEAR. It’s everywhere.
If you have fear, it may not feel safe, but your job is to watch how caught up you get with it. Become more aware of the unrealistic and irrational places it takes you.
You can practice awareness simply by bringing your attention to your surroundings. The 5 Senses Meditation is an easy way to practice this tool.
One of my most favorite ways to managing this is with the following meditation.
The more you practice it formally, the better you become at it.
The better you become at this awareness practice, the more you are able to use it during your busy day, or when distressed, or even panicking. It is an amazing tool. I hope you enjoy it.
Find a position that is comfortable
Put your feet flat on the ground
Slowly close your eyes,
Soften your eyebrows, your jaw, your shoulders, your stomach, your hands, your feet.
Bring your attention to your breath
Notice the rise and fall of your chest
Imagine that your breath is like a swinging door. Each time you breathe in, the door swings to the left. Each time you breathe out, the door swings to the right.
Continue to follow this pattern, just keeping your minds eye on the swinging door.
You may find that your thoughts wonder off. That is ok.
Just gently bring yourself back to the image of the swinging door as you breathe in and out.
Continue to breathe, allowing your breath to decide its own rhythm, and while watching the swinging door swing back and forth gently and evenly.
It is important to remember that it is natural for your thoughts to go off towards something completely unrelated. You may notice that your thoughts often go to very scary or disturbing subjects. You may start to go over all the things you have to achieve later today, or in your life.
When you become aware of this, just come on back. Come back to your breathe, as your anchor. Gently come back to the swinging door.
You may find that you have to do this “coming back” quite a lot. Again, this is totally normal and healthy, showing us that your brain is alive and well. Try not to be hard on yourself for this. The goal is to learn the great discipline of coming back to our present moment and not get caught up in thoughts that are not helpful.
Continue to practice this, noticing your breath and the swinging door.
Slowly, bring your attention back to your body
Slowly open your eyes
Congratulate yourself for trying as hard as you did.
May this practice bring you strength and compassion with the thoughts that you have.
I hope you have enjoyed this episode of My Anxiety Toolkit. My name is Kimberley Quinlan.
This podcast is not intended to replace correct professional mental health care. Please speak to a trained mental health professional if you feel you need it.
Have a wonderful day
Self-Compassion is a helpful tool for managing shame and blame and negative self-talk. It is particularly, in my experience, helpful for those struggling with OCD, Panic Disorder, Phobias, Health Anxiety, Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors, Eating Disorders and Depression.
The Center for Mindful Self Compassion (centerformsc.org) describes self-compassion in the following way-
“Self-compassion involves responding in the same supportive and understanding way you would with a good friend when you have a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself.”
Self-compassion is Kindness, Warmth, Gentleness and Care.
When I talk about the practice of self-compassion, I use the metaphor that self-compassion washes away shame and blame like the rain washes away the dirt on our cars. As the rain gently falls, the dirt slowly falls away. Once the rain has come and gone, there is less heaviness and dirt on the car. It is easier to see out the windows and now you can see the beautiful fields and trees that you pass on your way to work or school.
A part of this metaphor includes this final sentiment. Even though the rain has come and gone and the car is mostly cleansed of its dirt, there is still slight streaks of the dirt left behind.
As much as I would love to say that self compassion will wash away all of the dirt and dust on the car, this is not realistic. The tiny little streaks left behind is a reminder that compassion is a job that is never over. It must be practiced over and over, for the years to come.
This podcast offers a meditation that uses the basics of Kristin Neff’s self compassion research, including the three elements of self compassion. For more info go to selfcompassion.org
This podcast discusses Uncertainty and how it exists on a spectrum,
The Beginners Mind, Tools to manage anxiety and uncertainty, and the joys that
A short meditation is offered at the end to help the listener practice these skills.
Key Points from todays podcast!
What IS the difference between Fear and Bravery?
My thoughts are….they are both.
Begin fearful is not a weakness.
Allowing there to be both allows for compassion and strength
Brene Brown “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen”
My definition of Bravery is the examples above. Having fear AND showing up.
Vulnerability is not a weakness. It is a measure of courage
Perfectionism is an attempt to avoid vulnerability with ourselves and others.
Go and be brave, while being afraid. Go and make friends with vulnerability
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the BRAVEST thing that we will do” Brene Brown The gifts of Imperfection
“Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy-the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brene Brown
It's time for a parade!!!
Hello and welcome back!!! My name is Kimberley Quinlan and this is Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, speaking about anything and everything related to anxiety and mindfulness. Today, in the spirit of the upcoming 4th of July, I wanted to talk about parades!! You know???? Floats and crowds and cheers and lollipops and picnic chairs. For some, these are some of our greatest memories.
I often use a parade as a metaphor for our thoughts. In fact, I have heard several different clinicians or teachers of eastern philosophy use a parade metaphor to discuss the experience of anxiety, pain, sadness or life, in general.
As I said, for the purpose of this podcast, I am going to use the metaphor in relation to our thoughts. Lets get straight to it, shall we????
First, I would like you to slowly take a deep breath. If you would like, you can close your eyes, but it is not entirely necessary for this activity. Again, I would like you to take a breath and imagine yourself at the sidewalk of a street, waiting for a parade to begin. You are sitting or standing behind the yellow ribbon and you have your family and friends with you. You also have your favorite flavored lollipop in your hand. The morning sun is gently shining of you and the crowd is excited. This is a great day!
You hear the music start and slowly, you to see the first float approach the crowd lined street. It slowly approaches you and your friends are waiting patiently to see what it is about and who is on it. As it gets closer and closer, you experience a sensation of satisfaction. This float it is very appealing and has all of your favorites colors and favorite flowers. It is simply beautiful! You wave at the children and adults on the float and they smile back at you as they wave.
Up next is a float made out of a trailer bed, with a racecar on it. This float is all about shine and muscle. The surface of the car is so shiny, you could almost see your reflection in it. Even the trailer bed is sparkling and has sponsorship stickers all over it. The drivers wave as they rev the car. It is invigorating, but a little loud. Still, you are having a great time. You wave to the two men and one woman on the float who are dressed in their racing outfits and then you slowly turn your head to see what is next.
Coming up next is a very scary looking float. On it, is lots of people and they are yelling at all the spectators. Some a yelling very scary things and others are yelling very mean things. The float is covered in grey and black streamers and there is a cloud of smoke coming from the front of the float. You are surprised to see this float in the parade and wonder, “what is going on?” This float was significantly unpleasant and you angrily consider writing a letter to the parade committee to inquire about the purpose of this float at such a celebratory event. The float comes and then moves down the street, scaring the people as it passes.
You have a hard time directing your attention away from the scary, grey and morbid float, but you bring your attention to the approaching city’s marching band that is playing the most festive music as they slowly follow the scary float.
OK guys, let’s stop there! What a parade so far, right? There has been beauty, and music, and loud revving car and a float that was quite scary. It is very similar to our thoughts, am I right? I am sure we can agree that we are sometimes passed by thoughts that bring us much joy. And, in a similar fashion, sometimes our thoughts are down right demoralizing and scary. This imaginary parade is very similar to the way our brain operates. Happy thoughts, scary thoughts, interesting thoughts, maybe thoughts we don’t even notice.
When we experience thoughts that we enjoy, we often bask in the beauty and festivity of them. The use the metaphor, when looking at the pleasant float, we don’t question why they chose those particular beautiful flowers or what was the purpose of that float. We watch and enjoy and then we excitedly search for the next float to arrive.
However, when we observe a grey and scary float, we are completely alarmed, we become angry and try to discover who would create such a float. We might even respond my yelling back, thinking that might stop them from shouting OR prevent them from showing up to next years 4th of July parade. We might also close our eyes and try to pretend the float is not there, or try to think of a previous float that we enjoyed. Simply put, we are being highly reactionary to thoughts that scare us.
This is a particularly troublesome practice. If we were to experience each of our thoughts as if we were watching floats in a parade, we could see that our experience of the parade is levied on our emotional reaction to each float. We are completely at the mercy of which float is next. This can create quite a predicament. Because we cannot control which float comes out next OR the theme of the float, we are left feeling out of control and anxious about our experience.
This is true of our thoughts also. We are constantly spectators to a whole range of thoughts that come and go, like floats in a parade. Going back to the parade metaphor, when being passed by the scary float, you might find yourself trying to get it to pass you quickly. You might even find yourself whispering (or yelling) ”Get outta here! You have NO place here, in this parade!” This type of behavior does not make the float pass the crowds faster. It just makes us more frustrated and ruins our 4th of July parade experience. Now, going back to our thoughts, we are going to have a very difficult time if we are fighting what thoughts come and go.
The trick is to create a non-judgmental and accepting attitude towards each and every float. If a float (or a thought) arises that makes us uncomfortable, just notice your experience, similarly to how you did when a pleasant float passed. For the pleasant float, you noticed satisfaction and the people on the float and how the flowers and colors brought up sensations in your body.
When scary or more difficult thoughts arise, your job is to observe and wave, knowing that that float (or thought) will pass in time also. Sometime we have to acknowledge that just because the float looks scary, doesn’t mean there is actually real danger. For example, Lots of people LOVE scary movies and will even PAY to go an get scared in a movie theatre, but they can separate their experience of fear and become observers instead of reacting to their fear.
I invite you to move into your day, allowing your mind to be like a parade with many types of floats, meaning, allow all of your thoughts. I don’t expect you to be fantastic at this. It is like a muscle that must be strengthened. Just practice noticing the temporary fashion of each thought and do not fight them when they are passing you by. It is the fight that will create your dismay.
Last of all, don’t be afraid to bring your camera to this metaphorical parade!!! Use your zoom to zoom on and out while capturing the ENTIRE scene. Don’t get too focused on just the floats. The floats alone do not make up the entirety of a parade. The parade also consists of the crowds and their cheers and the streets and most importantly, the lollipops!!
I hope you have enjoyed this episode of My Anxiety Toolkit. My name is Kimberley Quinlan. If you have any thoughts or comments, please feel free to comment in the comment section of my blog.
This podcast is not intended to replace correct professional mental health care. Please speak to a trained mental health professional if you feel you need it.
Have a wonderful day
5 SENSES PODCAST
Hello and welcome to Your Anxiety Toolkit. My name is Kimberley Quinlan.
A big part of my work as a therapist is to help clients tolerate fear and anxiety (or other forms of discomfort such as urges and sometimes pain), instead of doing compulsive behaviors.
In effort to keep this podcast short, I wont go into detail about compulsions. But, if you are wanting more information on compulsive behaviors related to specific anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors, please go to my website under “Areas of specialty”
The reason I decided on this specific topic today is because of the common question asked by clients “If I choose NOT to do these compulsive behaviors, what should I do instead?”.
Well, I like to think of our experience in this life like looking through the lens of a camera. When we are anxious, we often ZOOM in on what is making us anxious or we zoom in to our sensations of anxiety. We FOCUS on the problem. We stay zoomed in, thinking this will solve it. That makes sense, right? If we could just figure out how to solve the problem, we would then fix the problem, right? But what if zooming in was not the solution. What if zooming OUT was the solution?? Hmmm, interesting right??
One of my favorite activities for clients (or for myself) when anxious or dealing with discomfort involves just becoming an observer. The following meditation is an exercise of this. It is a meditation of noticing. I like to call it “the 5 senses Mediation. I hope you enjoy it. And feel free to leave a comment in the comment section of the blog that accompanies this podcast.
OK, I want you to find a place where you can rest, preferably in sitting position, and take a deep breath. And then another.
You are here because you probably are uncomfortable.
Something just happened that created a lot of anxiety or distress for you, - or maybe you just finished up doing an exposure. I can imagine that you are experiencing some pretty uncomfortable feelings. Maybe your stomach is in knots. Maybe you have a really tight chest or maybe a racing heart rate. Maybe your head is spinning, telling you to “make this anxiety or this feeling go away!” You know from experience that doing a compulsive behavior keeps you in the cycle of anxiety. So instead, you are here, sitting with your discomfort.
Again, take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for how brave you are.
After another breath in…and then out, I want you to shift your gaze to your noticing mind. As you breathe in and out. I want you to close your eyes and just notice what it is like for your chest to rise and fall. Continue to breathe at a pace and depth that feels good for you as you observe.
Now, I want you to shift your attention to what you hear. What sounds do you hear? Are they pleasant or unpleasant? Try not to get too caught up in your emotions about the noises. Just notice them
You may find that your thoughts drift off, try not to be alarmed or frustrated. This is just your brain doing what it does. Just bring your attention gently back to what you were noticing. If you find your mind keeps going other directions, that is ok and very normal. Don’t give it too much attention. Just notice and return back to the meditation.
Again, return to your breath. And now, I want you to notice what you smell? Continue to breathe and observe the scents around you. Did you notice them before? Or are you just now noticing them?
Take another deep breath, and this time notice if there is a particular taste in your mouth. Do you taste the flavors of your most recent meal? Or do you have the freshness of your toothpaste on your tongue as you observe the sensation of taste. What textures do you notice?
So, we have already explored sound, smell and taste. Now I encourage you to gently open your eyes and notice what your see. What shapes do you see? What colors do you see? Are there any particular colors that you enjoy? Or do you notice an aversion to certain colors or textures. Try not to get too caught up in what is the “right” way to observe. Just notice that you are noticing. That is all this is about.
Lastly, I want to you gently close your eyes again and notice your breath again. As you breathe in an out, turn your noticing mind towards the sensation of being pulled down onto the chair by gravity. Where do you notice the strongest pull of gravity? Is it under your thighs and buttocks as you sit? Or is it under the soles of your feet, if you are standing? Or do you feel a strong pull of gravity under your back, as you recline in your chair? Isn’t it interesting to notice this??? You might also notice what it feels like to touch whatever it is that is close to your hands. What texture do you feel? Is it soft or hard? Maybe crinkly? Maybe spongy. If you like, you might also notice what it feels like for the air to touch your skin, maybe on your arms or on your face. If you find that this creates discomfort for you, gently return to one of the other sensations that you enjoyed. Remember, there is no pressure with this meditation. It is just about noticing.
Again, return to your breath. Before we wrap up with this meditation, I invite you to slowly open your eyes. Give yourself one last breath, this one a gift for with you just did! Fantastic job!!
As you continue to breath, go into your day using your noticing mind as much as you can. You might work to just observe what flowers you see as you walk to your class? Or you might notice and observe what it feels like for your hands to grip your fork as you eat? OR maybe you just notice your breath, going in and out of your chest.
Enjoy your day!
Please note that this podcast should not be a substitute for professional mental health care. Please speak with a professional mental health care provider for information on what tools would best suit you.
Lovingkindness is a great way to create more compassion and self care in your life.
I was recently lucky enough to attend and present at the Trichotillomania Learning Center Annual Conference in Dallas for those who suffer Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors. The conference was filled with a beautiful group people who struggle with hair pulling and skin picking, two disorders that are grossly misunderstood and stigmatized in our culture.
What struck me over the long weekend was the incredible love between the attendees. There were tears and laughter and hugs and love shared between so many people from all over the world. On the last day, I could see that most of the tears were coming from the fact that they most would leave their conference family, where they were accepted, and return back to their lives, where they feel so alone and were no longer fully understood.
I share this meditation in hope to create or continue an experience of love that that I felt so strongly during such a beautiful gathering. It is a loving kindness meditation that has helped me greatly when I feel alone or misunderstood and I hope it helps you also.
The First and Second Arrow
During this podcast, I hope to give you some tools to manage judgment, or what is sometimes called “the second arrow”. My hope is that this podcast can help you have a more non-judgmental relationship with your body and your body’s experience of anxiety and discomfort.
Intended for those suffering OCD, Anxiety, Panic, Eating Disorders, Depression, Stress and worry.
NOTICING with Non Judgment: MEDITATION
Take a long, deep breathe in. And slowly exhale. Take another. As you breathe in and out, congratulate yourself for taking the time to do this. Just stopping and breathing can be difficult and uncomfortable when you are managing life, anxiety and stress. Good job!
Again, take a nice deep breathe in and slowly exhale. If you find that taking a deep breathe is too uncomfortable, just breathe at a depth and pace that feels good for you. There is no “right” way to do this.
Now, I want you to continue to breathe in this fashion, but as you breathe, notice where in your body you feel discomfort. Is it in your chest? Your stomach? Your forehead? Your shoulders? Just do a quick inventory and just notice where your discomfort lies.
Once you have identified the areas in which you are uncomfortable, I want you to practice just breathing while you notice these discomforts. Take some time to experience the discomfort. Try to just be with it, without running away from it.
Again, good job. This is not easy.
Now, as you notice where your discomfort lies, I now want you to notice if there are any judgments about your experience. These judgments come in the form of thoughts, such as “I cant do this” or “I shouldn’t be this anxious”. Maybe you are having the thought.. “this feeling is awful!” or “I hate that I feel this way and I shouldn’t have to feel this way” . You might start to compare yourself to others, having thoughts like “Most people don’t feel this way, something must be wrong with me”.
These thoughts are all judgments. Judgments are not facts. They are usually a person’s personal reflection on an event, often subjective to their beliefs and views. They are often not true at all.
When it comes to judgments, I love the Buddhist parable about the first and second arrow. This parable uses the metaphor that when we experience an event that causes discomfort in us, it is similar to being hit by an arrow. In this case, we will call that first experience of discomfort “The first arrow”. The first arrow is something that we cannot control and is challenging, even painful. If we were to look back at our experience at the beginning of this meditation, the “first arrow” would be the physical discomfort you noticed when you first did an inventory of your body.
The second arrow is the judgment that we have about the discomfort we experienced. These judgments are often what reinforces the pain and discomfort. The second arrow is a personal narrative that pulls us into a pattern of faulty thinking about our experience and our ability to tolerate anxiety and the discomfort that is present.
The sensations and judgments you experienced just a few minutes ago is a great example of this. I invited you to notice your discomfort, and it is common to immediately follow this noticing with a judgment about our experience. It is the judgments such as “I cant handle this” or “This feeling should not be here” that makes the first event even harder. In fact, we could argue that the judgment is what can keeps the discomfort around….it keeps us feeling fearful, discouraged and sometimes hopeless.
So, lets go back to noticing. Notice again where you are uncomfortable, or remember back to an event that caused you discomfort. When you observe this event or feeling, the first arrow, you might start to notice feel those second arrows coming up again.
If you were to remove that second arrow, the judgment, you would begin to see that this event or this feeling, is, in fact, just an event or feeling. And also, it is temporary.
If we strip ourselves of judgment, we can allow this moment to be just what it is; a moment. It is neither good, nor bad. And now, in THIS very moment, it might be slightly different to the moment you experienced just a few moments ago.
So, to conclude this mediation, I encourage you to go into the day, noticing first and second arrows. You might be surprised how often you are spearing yourself with an arrow that is not necessary.
I will be offering other podcasts that I hope will be helpful for you, so keep checking in. Please feel free to comment below on the blog page
I hope you have a wonderful day!