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4d57319e-fd8b-46cf-9d99-3811b61b8b44After the birth of my daughter a few months ago, I was faced with a collection of challenges including a birth complication which left me unable to walk for 6 weeks, breastfeeding difficulties and more – this was all whilst under the influence of a psychedelic like natural hormonal cocktail and sleep deprivation. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty and certainly didn’t match the imaginings I had envisioned before the birth.

When you are struck by overwhelming unpleasant emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety or sadness it can be very, very hard to maintain your mindfulness (aka an ability to see the emotion not just be the emotion). During this bumpy time, I turned to all of the inner resources and skills I had learned over a lifetime to try and ride the waves of uncertainty and discomfort.

Here are six tips on bringing mindfulness to tough times.

1. Use mindfulness to manage overwhelming emotion

Mindfulness, the ability to bring a non-judgemental awareness to one’s present moment experience is the first step required for managing overwhelming unpleasant emotions more effectively.

I created a powerful way of stepping into the observer position and regaining my mindfulness amidst the passing emotional storms.

It’s the mindful video diary. Here’s how it works…

  • Emotion arises such as frustration or overwhelm
  • When you recognise you are in the emotion pull out your phone
  • Start recording yourself whilst in the overwhelming emotion
  • Speak to the video about what you are feeling, what stories you are telling yourself, your thoughts and feelings, and any sensations you are noticing in your body as a way of re-grounding into the present moment. Name the emotion your are feeling as a way of “naming it to tame it” – science has supported the fact that when you use language to describe your emotions it actually helps you regulate your emotions more effectively – meaning you can more quickly recover back to a place of calm.
  • Watch your video a few days later and be reminded of the law of impermanence – all emotions that arise will also pass even though when you are in the midst of a strong emotion it can feel like it is a permanent state.

The Mindful Video Diary is a powerful way of remembering to step into mindfulness whilst in the midst of an overwhelming emotion. The purpose of this practice is to help you realise that although the emotion usually feels all consuming it will pass and you will look back on the video and likely feel compassion for yourself and what you were going through in that moment (and occasionally you may even laugh at how all consuming emotions can feel in the moment).

2. Call upon your community

Many of us are not comfortable asking for support. Sometimes your friends or family may not know how best to offer support. Next time you find yourself in the midst of a difficult time here are a few ideas of how you can reach out, or help someone else when they are in need.

  • Ask someone to get your friends to create a food roster. You can use this helpful tool Take Them a Meal to coordinate it. My friends do this for each other after anyone has a baby – it’s been a life saver.
  • Write an email to your closest friends or family and explain what you are going through and what you need. It may sound obvious or for some too demanding. However, friends and family usually want to know how they can help and be useful when you are going through a time of need.


3. Be mindful of what media you ingest

When you are going through a difficult time be intentional about what media you are ingesting. Find stories of hope, optimism, inspiration  and shared humanity such as the many that are shared on Humans of New York.  Alternatively explore sites such as Karma Tube or The Optimist for the more hopeful side of humanity.


4. Start a gratitude group

Gratitude is a powerful way to train your attention to notice the good in your life rather than the deficits – this is the foundation of happiness.  Contact a few friends and hold each other accountable to checking in with daily gratitude. I have enjoyed using Whats App and creating a gratitude group with friends from around the world. It’s an easy way of communicating and means you don’t need to use Facebook (which I find always becomes more of a distraction and time waster than support). As William James famously quoted “What you attend to becomes your reality”. Even when you are going through hard times there is always the choice about where you are going to focus your attention.


5. Practice Self Compassion 

I called upon the practices that Kristen Neff, author of Self Compassion, shared with me in the interview I shared as part of Mindful in May. At it’s core self compassion is about learning to be your own best friend, rather than falling into harsh self criticism when you are faced with hardship and perhaps not “coping” as well as you would like.


6. Meditate

Our mind can be our greatest ally or worst enemy. Meditation is training for the mind that helps us enrich rather than obstruct our happiness. It’s a practice that helps you learn how to be master rather than slave to your mind and thinking. The only thing is just like training your body before a marathon, if you wait until the tough times to learn to meditate you could be asking too much of your mind. Put meditation on the list when things are calm and develop an inner resource that you can call upon when the going gets tough to help you maintain your calm and clarity.


To put mindfulness into practice download this FREE guided mindfulness meditation that you can keep forever.