May is Mental Health Awareness month, find mental and emotional wellbeing through awareness.
You may be surprised to learn that I suffer from anxiety. What? A yogi, meditation, and mindfulness teacher? Yes, even me. Anxiety and other forms of mental illness or dis-ease are common. In fact, after the last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone on our planet is suffering from some sort of anxiety, depression, or grief. When things feel out of control like they have so much of our last year, our bodies react by increasing stress hormones, and eventually, if we don’t tend to the stress, we can begin to live in a state of dis-ease. Mental illness.
I’m not talking about acute mental illnesses that require immediate medical attention. I’m talking about day-to-day anxiety that can arise for any reason (sometimes we don’t even know why!). Perhaps there’s a hormone imbalance, perhaps there’s been a stressful situation in your life for so long that it eventually brings us into a state of constant hyper-vigilance and discomfort.
I have noticed a theme when it comes to using yoga, mindfulness, and meditation for managing anxiety, depression, fear, grief. Every meditation to alleviate this type of suffering starts with awareness. When you step outside of your suffering and observe it, without changing anything or trying to fix it, the observing itself relieves some distress.
You can refer to my blog S.T.O.R.Y. for one method I use, especially when I am faced with a choice that is causing me to feel anxious, but I want to share another here. Tara Brach, Ph.D. is a world-renowned psychologist, author, and meditation and mindfulness instructor. She created and teaches an acronym that I have used as a tool to relieve my suffering throughout my struggles with PTSD and anxiety. It’s called R.A.I.N. If you study with enough meditation teachers you are going to have a head full of acronyms!
R – Recognize. When you recognize the fact that you are feeling anxious or depressed, this awareness can begin the process of relief. Think of uncomfortable feelings as clutter that you know you need to clear, but you’ve been ignoring. Eventually, you trip over the clutter and you can’t ignore it anymore. For this step, observe the clutter you’ve accumulated, “I see this mess,” just notice.
A – Allow. Instead of resisting your feelings, which can make you feel even worse, allow them. Take some time to simply allow the feeling to happen without judgment, try to be open to the feeling, give it permission to be. You’ll be surprised how greeting anxiety with compassion can help you feel better, “I feel anxious, and it’s ok that I feel anxious.” This clutter most likely didn’t happen overnight, but now that you’re taking time to notice it, allow it to be there for the time being.
I – Investigate – approach your feelings of discomfort with curiosity, not judgment. You have these feelings, they are part of you. If you tripped and cut your leg, you would investigate it to see what type of care it needs to heal. Then perhaps you would investigate getting some help to clear out the clutter you tripped over so you can save yourself future pain. Just think gently through some possible options.
N – Nurture – this is the most important. I believe we cause so much of our suffering by being unkind and judgemental towards ourselves. Instead of “darn it, why didn’t I move that clutter before I tripped over it? What an idiot!” Take a moment to nurture yourself, this is healing, calling yourself names is not healing. “Wow, that’s a bad cut, I’ll wash and bandage it, then maybe I’ll think about removing some of that clutter so I don’t trip over it and get injured again.”
Be kind to yourself. Part of what has made this last year so difficult is the uncertainty and powerlessness we have felt. But there are some things you do have control over. Become aware of stressors you are able to remove from your environment and take steps to do so.
Look around right now.
Is there something you can do, some small action you can take to make your life feel less cluttered? To increase safety and comfort, can you move a literal piece of clutter, or perhaps reach out to someone you have an ongoing disagreement with and clear the air?
The more you nurture yourself, the greater ability you have to nurture others. This care begins with awareness. Remembering that May is Mental Health Awareness month is a good place to start.
*If you are in crisis please call 911 or your local mental health crisis line for support!