Martin Stepek explains why living with stress is part of life but a mindful approach can help remove its sting
Most people in our time live with some degree of worry, stress or anxiety whether we recognise it or not. These states of mind have a powerfully negative knock-on effect on our body, ultimately wearing it out at an accelerated rate, and making us much more susceptible to illnesses.
At times we can feel swamped by our worries and stress. Suppressing them, pretending they’re not there or other efforts don’t seem to work. Then we worry about the fact that we’re worrying, get more stressed thinking about how stressed we are, and becoming ever-more anxious at our levels of anxiety. The classic vicious circle.
By gently and in a quiet kindly way just observing and calmly being with these frames of mind you slowly but surely take their sting awayMartin Stepek
Mindfulness offers a deceptively simple and apparently paradoxical way of dealing with these troubling and harmful emotions. We learn to just sit with them. We don’t try to push them away. We don’t try to pretend they’re not there. And we don’t let them drown us in their intensity.
Instead we just be with them moment by moment, as if they’re sitting on a bench beside us. This sounds bizarre, maybe even impossible to do, but we can do it.
We can just sit there noticing our stress, worry or anxiety, seeing their gnawing qualities, their tendency to try and overcome us so that we’re literally all-encompassed by the feelings of worry, stress or anxiety. But by watching the emotions, by trying to keep as light or fine an attention as we can manage, we can in fact become aware quite clearly of what these harmful emotions feel and look like in our mind.
We can even have little inner conversations with them.
“Hello worry. I see you and it’s ok. You’re part of my life and I won’t try to reject you or get angry that you are part of me. We’ll just sit together.”
You can make up your own conversation. The point is to sit quietly and calmly with the very states of mind that tend to prevent you from noticing or sitting calmly. By gently and in a quiet kindly way just observing and calmly being with these frames of mind you slowly but surely take their sting away. You reduce their strength so that they are less likely to swamp you completely in future.
Now this doesn’t happen overnight. Worry, stress and anxiety usually develop in us over years or decades. They’re not going to dissolve in a couple of weeks. But they will soften and settle if you are patient and keep practicing gently but firmly.
It is possible to live happily and peacefully in coexistence with your own destructive mental habits. This is freedom, a deep mental liberation.
Martin Stepek is chief executive of the Scottish Family Business Association and director of culture and communications at Wright Johnston & Mackenzie LLP. He teaches mindfulness and is author of several books on mindfulness. This blog was first published on his own website.