How an Innovative Therapy Technique Made Me Feel like a Superhero When I Was at My Worst

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“Take another deep breath, hold it, and let yourself feel like you’re drifting and floating.”

The voice overtook me as I felt my body slip into that weightless feeling between consciousness and sleep. It was as if someone wrapped my body in memory foam and filled every corner of my mind with white noise.

“My jaw is slack.”

“My shoulders are relaxed.”

“My neck is loose.”

These were some of the phrases that I was told to repeat to myself in a recording made by my therapist and given to me during our first session together. Each one focused on a different body part, meant to make me feel warm, heavy, and unconstrained. This was the beginning of my biofeedback training.

Just Relax

I chose my therapist because he’s an expert in biofeedback, a psychology technique where a patient learns to control their body’s functions, like heart rate or palm sweating. Biofeedback was first introduced in 1969 as the crossroads of traditional whitecoat psychologists and those interested in a higher consciousness.

Before I could reach a higher consciousness though, I had to master just being relaxed.

A few weeks prior to my first appointment with him, I was trapped in a horror movie in my own mind. I couldn’t shake this one single thought that replayed itself incessantly for a week straight: that of the top knuckle on my right ring finger snapping backwards and breaking.

It’s a disturbing thought on its own to anyone who prefers their fingers in tact, but imagine it popping into your mind over and over — and over and over — until you want to check yourself into a psych ward. I was consumed. I could barely talk or sleep or work without wanting to slam my head against a wall. I was desperate for any advice, so when my dad recommended biofeedback, I made an appointment immediately.

The technique he employed in the recording is called autogenic relaxation. Through the self-induced relaxation akin to hypnosis, my doctor coaches his patients to cure themselves of ailments like depression, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure and anxiety — my personal woe. Learning to relax your body was just the first part, though.

Anxiety by the Numbers

At my next appointment with my therapist, he hooked me up to a slew of sensors as I reclined in his plush leather chair. Three cold metal circles stuck to my forehead measured my muscle tension in millivolts, a small wire taped to my pointer finger took my skin temperature, and two more sensors on other fingers measured my sweat production. Once I was connected, the doctor quizzed me.

“Alright, count backwards from 1,000 by 3s. If you mess up, you have to start over. If you don’t get to 940 in 30 seconds, you have to start over. Ready, go.”

I’m sure my measurements immediately spiked. I’m terrible at math and to add a time pressure to them was beyond stressful. But I got through it. He did it again, but with higher stakes.

“Okay, now you’re going to count backwards from 1,000 by 6s and you have to get to 860 in 30 seconds. Ready, go.”

To prepare for my biofeedback training, my therapist was simulating an anxiety-inducing situation to see what my normal and stressful levels were.

During the following appointment, he again hooked me up to the muscle tension sensors, but this time instead of stressing me out, he walked me through the autogenic relaxation phrases from the recording. But this time, the machine I was hooked up to was now emitting a pulsing sound that correlated with my muscle tension level. The more tense I was, the faster the pulses.

As his voice coached me through the phrases, and then in the next appointments as I walked myself through them, I learned to listen to the pulsing and to my body to see what slowed the tempo. My muscle tension level started at around 4.0 millivolts and he told me some of his patients start out at as high as 10 millivolts. Each appointment, he set the threshold lower and lower on the scale and once I reached it, the pulsing turned off. Each appointment, I was learning to bring myself to a more relaxed state than the time before.

By focusing on the pulsing, I experimented with what autogenic relaxation phrases worked best for me, what my ideal relaxed breath is like, and even how to position my head and arms for optimal relaxation.

Put to the Test

I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember.

As I walked into the doctor’s office during my fourth session, I laid eyes on someone from my past who brings me a great amount of anxiety. My heart rate spiked and my chest tightened. Suddenly, breathing became a difficult task. I immediately turned on my heels and hid in my car until the person left, but the anxiety followed me into my appointment. My newfound relaxation technique was about to be tested.

As I cleared my mind during the biofeedback training, I was able to turn the pulsing off, meaning I brought my muscle tension down to the threshold set by the doctor, but the second the stressful person popped back into my mind, the pulsing turned back on. Over and over I emptied my mind and filled it with the autogenic relaxation phrases and turned the pulsing off, but, again, it’d spike back up once I thought of the person.

Running into my past turned out to be a blessing in disguise; I was learning to control the stressful thoughts and ensuing physiological response with just my mind. It was hard work, but I knew it would be a skill I could turn to my whole life. If I could control my heart racing, maybe it’d be easier to quiet my disturbing thoughts.

In the sessions that followed, I learned to relax myself instantaneously and in any situation without the autogenic phrases, getting my muscle tension level from the original 4.0 down to just 1.7. I’m now able to take a deep breath, let it out, hold it, and find that perfect state of relaxation — like magic.

Biofeedback empowered me during a time when I felt shaken down to my core. I walked away from each appointment feeling like I have a superpower and for the first time in years, I feel like I can finally control the anxiety that seems to rule my life.

How an Innovative Therapy Technique Made Me Feel like a Superhero When I Was at My Worst

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Is Mindfulness Misunderstood? Why Being “In the Moment” Isn’t Enough

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As the practice of mindfulness becomes “mainstream,” it is common to see creative applications of the practice in a variety of settings with various objectives. Clinical settings have recognized the benefits of mindfulness on emotional, relational, and cognitive functioning. They have implemented mindfulness practices in a therapeutic manner for some time. Recently, one can find applications of mindfulness practice in the board room, the classroom, and the living room. Yet as the scope of mindfulness expands its reach and creative applications are invented, the spirit of mindfulness can be compromised and diluted. At some point, these applications may no longer be mindfulness practices.

Yoga is an example of a practice that with popularity has morphed into many creative expressions. My yoga studio offers aerial yoga, which is a blast. But I know yogis who argue that while aerial yoga has some elements of yoga, at some point it lost so many of the fundamental core concepts that people should no longer call it yoga. It is a yoga hybrid.

A popular but diluted definition of mindfulness is “being in the present moment”. Mindfulness of the current moment is an important part of the practice, without a doubt. But in the present moment, it’s also important to ask, “What are you mindful of?”, and “How does this awareness benefit you?”

Within the limited scope of present moment awareness, one could be “mindful” when engaging in behaviors, thoughts, or emotions that are harmful, which is not in the spirit of mindfulness. I would imagine that a shoplifter or carjacker is aware of the present moment. If they are not aware of the present moment while shoplifting, their carelessness would increase the risk of being arrested, which I assume is an outcome most thieves are trying to avoid. Are thieves mindful?

Awareness of the present moment, when acutely elevated, has similarities to a psychological state of hypervigilance found in anxiety conditions. It is often seen in individuals scanning their environment for cues that relate to or reinforce their anxiety-producing fears. For example, I have a snake phobia. When I am outside doing yard work, I am hypervigilant looking for any sign of a snake. Eventually sticks and shadows begin to look like snakes. By most standards, I am a nature lover. But while I am hypervigilant, I am no longer enjoying the outdoors. When I go into an anxious state, it is not in the spirit of mindfulness, although I am in the present moment.

Mindfulness of the current moment is an important part of the practice, without a doubt. But in the present moment, it’s also important to ask, “What are you mindful of?”, and “How does this awareness benefit you?”One might argue that mindfulness practices contain an element of morality and integrity. The shoplifter, although in the present moment, is not practicing mindfulness. One might also argue that an element of mindfulness is the development of peace and equanimity. Hypervigilant phobic scanning is not mindful, although it is present moment awareness.

The practice of mindfulness, as explained by the Buddha in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness includes mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of the mind, and mindfulness of the Dharma. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness point not only to real-time presence but also an understanding of the humanity’s nature. The benefits provided by these insights improve our lives and allow us to cope more skillfully with suffering.

For example, mindfulness of the body can help a practitioner understand and internalize the impermanent nature of our body. This understanding can be very useful. When we understand the impermanent and unstable nature of our body, perhaps we are more appreciative of our eyesight, our hearing, or the ability to walk and talk. Maybe we understand the sacred nature of our body and are motivated to treat it with loving kindness. Perhaps I understand that my body is just like your body, and that impacts how I treat you. And perhaps, if I know the nature of the body is to decay, I will not be so upset and tormented when I begin to experience signs of aging in myself and others.

Mindfulness of the mind helps us understand the nature of our mind. Our mental processes can create inner states of peace or hell. We can create a masterpiece with our mind or garbage. Mindfulness of the mind directs us to notice mental states which may be linked to clinging or aversion. We can recognize advanced mental states or primitive mental states, and through our practice can “access” advanced mental states.

I consider myself to be a Buddhist Psychotherapist. I use many of the insights found in Buddhist teachings to help clients understand the nature of their suffering. I also use the teachings to help clients identify new behaviors, emotional reactions, and cognitive patterns intended to reduce suffering and live happier lives. I draw on Buddhist teachings to write treatment plans and for diagnostic purposes. I endorse and advocate mindfulness as fundamental practice for good mental health.

I am happy that the practice of mindfulness has become mainstream but aware that the trendiness of the practice can create misunderstandings. Mindfulness is quite profound. Yet without a fundamental understanding of basic teachings, the practice of mindfulness is susceptible to misunderstanding and may lead to applications that are not beneficial.

If you would like to work on mindfulness with a mental health professional, you can find a therapist here.

Reference:

Myint, U Hla. (2013.). Great Observing Power (Satipatthana). San Jose, CA: Tathagata Meditation Center.

© Copyright 2019 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Diane Chrestman, LCSW, DCEP, CcHT, therapist in Suwanee, Georgia

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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6 Ways to Use Mindfulness to Ease Difficult Emotions

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Mindfulness has become quite the buzzword these days, with impressive studies popping up in the news with regularity.

For example, research from the University of Oxford finds that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is just as effective as antidepressants for preventing a relapse of depression. In MBCT, a person learns to pay closer attention to the present moment and to let go of the negative thoughts and ruminations that can trigger depression. They also explore a greater awareness of their own body, identifying stress and signs of depression before a crisis hits.

Four years ago, I took an eight-week intensive Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at Anne Arundel Community Hospital. The course was approved by and modeled from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s incredibly successful program at the University of Massachusetts. I often refer to the wise chapters of Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living (which we used as a text book). Here are a few of the strategies he offers:

Hold Your Feelings with Awareness

One of the key concepts of mindfulness is bringing awareness to whatever you are experiencing — not pushing it away, ignoring it, or trying to replace it with a more positive experience. This is extraordinarily difficult when you are in the midst of deep pain, but it can also cut the edge off of the suffering.

“Strange as it may sound,” explains Kabat-Zinn, “the intentional knowing of your feelings in times of emotional suffering contains in itself the seeds of healing.” This is because the awareness itself is independent of your suffering. It exists outside of your pain.

So just as the weather unfolds within the sky, painful emotions happen against the backdrop of our awareness. This means we are no longer a victim of a storm. We are affected by it, yes, but it no longer happens to us. By relating to our pain consciously, and bringing awareness to our emotions, we are engaging with our feelings instead of being a victim to them and the stories we tell ourselves.

Accept What Is

At the heart of much of our suffering is our desire for things to be different than they are.

“If you are mindful as emotional storms occur,” writes Kabat-Zinn, “perhaps you will see in yourself an unwillingness to accept things as they already are, whether you like them or not.”

You may not be ready to accept things as they are, but knowing that part of your pain stems from the desire for things to be different can help put some space between you and your emotions.

Ride the Wave

One of the most reassuring elements of mindfulness for me is the reminder that nothing is permanent. Even though pain feels as though it is constant or solid at times, it actually ebbs and flows much like the ocean. The intensity fluctuates, comes and goes, and therefore gives us pockets of peace.

“Even these recurring images, thoughts, and feelings have a beginning and an end,” explains Kabat-Zinn, “that they are like waves that rise up in the mind and then subside. You may also notice that they are never quite the same. Each time one comes back, it is slightly different, never exactly the same as any pervious wave.”

Apply Compassion

Kabat-Zinn compares mindfulness of emotions to that of a loving mother who would be a source of comfort and compassion for her child who was upset. A mother knows that the painful emotions will pass — she is separate to her child’s feelings — so she is that awareness that provides peace and perspective. “Sometimes we need to care for ourselves as if that part of us that is suffering is our own child,” Kabat-Zinn writes. “Why not show compassion, kindness, and sympathy toward our own being, even as we open fully to our pain?”

Separate Yourself from the Pain

People who have suffered years from chronic illness tend to define themselves by their illnesses. Sometimes their identity is wrapped up in their symptoms. Kabat-Zinn reminds us that the painful feelings, sensations, and thoughts are separate to who we are. “Your awarenessof sensations, thoughts, and emotions is different from the sensations, the thoughts, and the emotions themselves,” he writes. “That aspect of your being that is aware is not itself in pain or ruled by these thoughts and feelings at all. It knows them, but it itself is free of them.”

He cautions us about the tendency to define ourselves as a “chronic pain patient.” “Instead,” he says, “remind yourself on a regular basis that you are a whole person who happens to have to face and work with a chronic pain condition as intelligently as possible — for the sake of your quality of life and well-being.”

Uncouple Your Thoughts, Emotions, and Sensations

Just as the sensations, thoughts, and emotions are separate from my identity, they are separate from each other. We tend to lump them all in together: “I feel anxious” or “I am depressed.” However, if we tease them apart, we might realize that a sensation (such as heart palpitations or nausea) we are experiencing is made worse by certain thoughts, and those thoughts feed other emotions.

By holding all three in awareness, we could find that the thoughts are nothing more than untrue narratives that are feeding emotions of fear and panic, and that by associating the thoughts and emotions with the sensation, we are creating more pain for ourselves.

“This phenomenon of uncoupling can give us new degrees of freedom in resting in awareness and holding whatever arises in any or all of these three domains in an entirely different way, and dramatically reduce the suffering experienced,” explains Kabat-Zinn.

6 Ways to Use Mindfulness to Ease Difficult Emotions

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Why Understanding Mindfulness Doesn’t Make You Mindful

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As a therapist, I often hear from clients that they’ve read mindfulness books or downloaded apps. I ask if they find them helpful. Usually, there’s a micro-gap between my question and the answer. I interpret this gap to mean, “well, not really,” though I most often hear “yes.”

I have an idea why this is.

The Difference Between Knowledge and Understanding of Mindfulness

In our culture, we are bombarded with information. We have our devices on high alert at all times to cull this information and bring it into our private worlds, where we chew on it constantly and relentlessly. The problem is that as with eating, to chew is not to digest.

With regard to mindfulness, we can learn a tremendous amount. Books abound. Apps abound. And Google can lead us down fractal rabbit holes, filling us with information and more information. We learn about its roots in Buddhism or Hinduism, for example. We learn that it predates both religious traditions, and we learn that it is not necessarily a religious practice, nor has it always been.

We learn techniques. Some are based in visualizations. Some are based in mantra. Some rely on breathing. We read about the benefits of mindfulness. We have mindful eating. Mindful housework. Today, we have mindful everything.

When you couple this plethora of information with the urgent calls our culture invokes as fear of missing out (FOMO), we have the perfect storm for knowing everything about mindfulness (or any other popularized topic related to self-care) and understanding nothing.

Being mindful as a practice means to bring that self into the present through means that reside within your mind.

This is simply because to know is not the same as to understand. Our culture creates dataheads.

Think of yourself in high school algebra class. If you were like most students, even the brightest, you learned to apply formulae and rules in order to show your work and derive products of your thinking. You might have excelled, just as you might have excelled at the grammatical discipline of diagramming sentences.

Working with algebraic equations and parsing speech, though, can be differentiated from understanding the vast and purposeful intricacies of mathematics and language. To approach these avenues of human ingenuity with anything less than a framework of awe is to see the black marks on a page without sensing that they coalesce into meaning beyond their visible structure.

And so it is with mindfulness.

To Embrace Mindfulness, Move Into Awe

The first order of business in grasping mindfulness is to stand back in awe. What are the considerations? They are at once intuitive and counterintuitive. To move into awe is to stand in ambiguity and embrace it, acknowledging there are things we simply cannot understand intellectually. However, at the same time, we can grasp them intensely though our senses. This is you on a breathtakingly starry night. This is you at the edge of the ocean’s roar. This is you with your newborn. You are not called to understand. You are moved to embrace.

Being mindful as a practice means to bring that self into the present through means that reside within your mind. It is to go inside in order to experience infinity. It is to be outside of time. And this is visceral. All the data, all the information, will not create the pathway to mindfulness if you do not start with a vantage point of awe.

What a wonder it is to be the thinker of the thoughts! To be the feeler of the feelings, the toucher who touches. That is the space of mindfulness. It is to dwell in the awe you can bring to every moment, if you so choose. This awe is latent within you. You can call it forth.

Within this framework, you can then sort through the information you’ve gathered about mindfulness practices. You will find an idiom that aligns best with your needs. The only important thing is what comforts you. All the “Top Ten Mindfulness Apps” and “Best Books about Mindfulness” lists will not give you that information.

You must sense it for yourself. First, though, you must give yourself permission to explore and choose, and to cast off even the Top-Rated Technique in favor of what gives you momentary respite from the weight of daily life and the opportunity to catch your breath. It is personal. You are honoring yourself as the chooser of the choices. And that is the soul you are attempting to soothe.

When You Reach the Roof, Create Your Practice

As Ludwig Wittgenstein counseled when expressing his thoughts about studying philosophy, once you climb the ladder to reach the roof, you no longer need the ladder. So it is with mindfulness. Once you read the books and download the apps, you are on the roof. Your senses can now come alive to themselves.

Now you can create your own practice. If you remain in the creating phase, the reckoning phase, the quantifying phase (“Am I doing this right? Is this how other people do it? Do I feel better? Should I do it more?”), you will be on that ladder forever. Your benefits will seem meager and you risk giving up on This Mindfulness Thing.

Take a chance. Stand on the roof. Let yourself feel your mindfulness practice. Feel it! Awe will accompany you into the rest of your day. Remember that rest can mean remainder and it can also mean relaxation. Relaxation is a felt sense. No understanding is required.

Kick that ladder away.

If you wish to deepen your mindfulness practice but are struggling with the process, the right therapist or counselor can help you slow down, focus on the present, and learn new skills that could make it easier to understand mindfulness. Find a therapist today.

© Copyright 2019 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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Finding Your Yes: A Powerful Strategy for Shifting from Negative Habits to Positive Ones

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Try this short experiment and say the following statements to yourself: I want to stop eating junk food. I want to stop yelling at my kids. I want to stop worrying about things I can’t control. (Feel free to substitute behaviors that might be more relevant in your life).

Notice how this feels in your body when you say these things to yourself. Do you feel tight and constricted or more open and expansive? Do you feel motivated and energized to change these habits, or do you tend to feel stuck, closed off, or perhaps even some sense of guilt or shame?

Now try these statements out (and again feel free to change them to fit the behaviors that are relevant in your life): I want to commit to making food choices that support and nourish radiant health and wholeness. I want to parent my kids so that they feel deeply supported and valued; I want to fully engage in as many precious, present moments of my life as possible. Notice how this feels in your body as you say these things, and ask yourself the same questions as above.

Chances are, these first and second statements have a different feeling tone for you.

To simplify this experiment even further, you might say the word “no” out loud several times and notice what happens in your body. Now say the word “yes” several times. For most people, the first has a feeling of resisting or rejecting something, and it feels constricted and closed, whereas the second has a feeling of embracing or moving toward something that is more energizing, open and hopeful.

Focusing on the “Yes”

According to the work of researcher and health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, focusing on what you can say “yes” to, choosing a value-based commitment that reflects something important to you in your life, and taking a positive action toward something, are more effective ways to change behavior than trying to say no to something or trying to stop engaging in a behavior you are unhappy with. In other words, committing to what you want is more powerful than trying to resist something that you don’t want.

As simple as this shift may sound, it is a new idea for many people, especially when it comes to wanting to change difficult behaviors. It is human nature to want to resist, push away, and fight against what is unpleasant or undesirable. In addition, it is common to be self-critical and to beat ourselves up when we aren’t able to stop engaging in an unhelpful behavior. We sometimes think that if we are hard on ourselves this will help us stick to our goals. According to researcher Dr. Kristen Neff, the research is quite compelling to support the power of self-compassion over self-criticism, as a vehicle for behavior change.

I know for me, during my teen years and into my early college years, I struggled with a very unhealthy relationship to food and a negative body image. I would binge eat, and then try to punish myself by restricting my eating. I would berate myself and feel shame when I couldn’t stick to my goals of eliminating junk food and losing weight. Then one day, I read a book that completely shifted my focus and how I was approaching my goals. It was a book about the benefits of aerobic exercise and it sparked my interest in becoming healthier and stronger by adding a positive behavior instead of trying to eliminate a negative one.

As I moved toward incorporating this new behavior (exercise) into my life, my struggle with food began to fall away. I was no longer battling myself and focusing on constantly saying “no” throughout my day; instead, I was saying “yes” to something that I found meaningful and that I enjoyed. When I look back at other big changes in my life, they too involved saying “yes” to something rather than saying “no” and trying to stop myself from doing something (which often didn’t work).

Finding Your YES

So I invite you to ask yourself what you might say YES to in your life today. Instead of trying to stop something that isn’t working, what might you add into your life that encompasses a value that is deeply important to you? For example, instead of trying to stop binge watching TV or playing on your phone at night, you might focus instead on adding in 30 minutes of quality time with your children or partner or friends each night, and notice how that shifts your experience with TV.

Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself to get started:

  1. What do you want to say yes to, go after, create or cultivate in your life?
  2. What is your WHY? Why is this important to you? How does it connect to your deepest values about how you want to live your life?
  3. What can you do today, and what small, specific and committed actions can you take each day that are consistent with your long-term values (from question 2).
  4. How might your inner dialogue (that voice in your head and the things you say to yourself all day long) support your long-term goals and be self-compassionate when you are struggling? In other words, imagine what you would say to a good friend who was trying to say “yes” to something in their life and at times experiencing setbacks, that would be supportive and encouraging. Try to speak to yourself that way.

Finding Your Yes: A Powerful Strategy for Shifting from Negative Habits to Positive Ones

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The Power of Pausing: Why You Should Give Yourself a Break

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There is power in a pause—a lot of power.

When asked why he played so well, piano virtuoso Artur Schnabel responded, “I handle notes no better than many others. But the pauses; that’s where the art resides.”

A pause is simple, almost invisible. What does a pause do and how can we cultivate the fine art of pauses?

Understanding the ‘Pause’

A pause is a conscious slowing down—a space-maker between stimulus and response. Pausing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us become calm. When our nervous systems are calm, we have more capacity to avoid reacting out of habit, and instead, to choose a response that is more satisfying, effective, and attuned to the situation at hand.

My first “aha” about the transformative power of pausing came when I got fed up with my list-bound behavior. I was always moving like a freight train to get through my list of self-imposed and other-imposed things to accomplish. As if by never stopping, I was going to someday get through the list and finally be able to relax. This was a fool’s errand. So, I decided to try an experiment and took 5 minutes between things on my list. I could not believe what happened in 5 minutes.

I had a chance to feel what I was drawn to do next on the list, and even better, a number of things on the list became less urgent, or I realized they were things I could easily delegate to someone else. My list grew smaller, and I grew more aligned and satisfied with my tasks.

Pausing As Self-Care

Learning to pause is also a personal gift of self-care. Pausing briefly throughout the day reduces tension. More space and less anxiety and rush make much-needed room for pleasure and wonder. We can then work harder while being happier and more relaxed.

When we are moving too fast, or when we don’t take time to pause, we can easily misuse power because our habitual reactions overtake our ability to choose a more considered response.

As I am teaching, I often invite my students to stop and take three breaths whenever we transition from one topic or process to another. The pause created by taking three breaths allows for a little clearing and a chance to make room inside for the next thing. I feel so strongly about this that I consider it unethical for people to be too busy to take three breaths.

When we are moving too fast, or when we don’t take time to pause, we can easily misuse power because our habitual reactions overtake our ability to choose a more considered response. I tend to react to an issue with an immediate idea of how to fix it. When I take three breaths before responding, I make room for a more creative and inclusive unfolding of the resolution.

Pausing in Relationships

Pausing is also a powerful relationship tool, though pausing in the context of a relationship is not as easy as it might seem. It takes a surprising amount of self-awareness: first, to be able to notice an automatic pattern you habitually use in relationships and second, to make some space before reacting and choose a different response.

I have discovered one of my own automatic patterns that shows up in my role as a therapist. A client says something, and I have an impulsive habit of immediately giving a verbal response. When I am able to pause and wait just a little bit longer than usual, there’s more room for something new or deeper to come forth from the client. For example, in the pause, the client may say, “Oh, I notice something else…”

Skillfully using relationship pauses is a good leadership skill. One of my mentors once told me it was very important not to rush in too quickly to solve a problem. “You could use up all your time going from handling one crisis to another,” he said. “Instead, make some space to empower others to put in their ideas and let a creative and collaborative resolution emerge.”

Two Ways to Use Pausing in Day-to-Day Life

Using pauses well is one of the great secrets of being power positive. Here are several specific experiments to try. For a week, do at least one of each experiment. Write down the results at the end of the day. Harvest your results.

  1. Pause in your personal world: Consciously choose to make space between tasks.
  2. Pause in your relationship world: Consciously choose to wait longer than usual before speaking.

It’s not always easy to slow down. If you feel too stressed or overwhelmed to find time to pause, consider reaching out to a therapist who can help you learn skills to manage stressors and cope with overwhelm.

© Copyright 2019 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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