The Dangers of Being Too Busy and How to Restore Your Health and Sanity

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” ~Jim Rohn
Busy doesn’t adequately describe my life over the past few years. Let’s say it was a hurricane of a schedule, with extra storms and a tsunami thrown in. Looking back from my current safe vantage point, I’m not sure how I survived.

The Stress Of A Busy Schedule

In 2011 I was working full time for the civil service and working part time trying to start up my own business. Early in the year I had my son, who turned out to be a non-sleeper and a constant crier.
After nine months of sleeplessness, stress, and upset I went back to the civil service ‘part time’ three days a week, but the reality was I had the same workload, only now I had to sort out childcare and stay awake all night to deal with my son too.
Over the course of three years we also moved three times. You know how they say moving is the most stressful experience? It is—especially with two jobs and a toddler.
On top of all this stress I kept getting ill. At my check-up I was told my blood pressure was too high. I couldn’t shift a permanent backache, cold, and headache.
I cried literally all the time, boosting the crying human total to two in one house. My son outdid me, though, because you’ve got to get on. Being a new mum is hard, but I told myself “Get a grip,” every day.

The Wake Up Call

Then my aunt suddenly died at the young age of fifty-nine.
She was always busy moving, rescuing horses, and looking fabulous. She complained to her doctor about headaches and he sent her away with a “stress” diagnosis. The following week she was taken to the emergency department and she died of cancer a few months later.
It was a mighty wake-up call for me. Work, stress, and demands had taken the fun out of life—it was miserable.
Life is too short, so I made a vow to sort myself out. I was ungrateful for my life, too busy to appreciate anything except tea and Kit Kats. I was a horrible person to be around, if anyone actually saw me.

How I Dealt with the Nightmare Years

I ate rubbish.

I don’t eat much meat or dairy, but I ate a lot of processed foods to save time. My son had lovingly prepared home-cooked foods, but me? I ate standing up in the kitchen—usually jam on toast.

I didn’t exercise.

I didn’t have time to exercise. If my son was asleep it was time to work on the business, or cook something, or even clean.

I found time for friends instead of me.

I sent round robin emails and Facebook updates to stay in touch because I didn’t have time for individual chats, but I went on nights out even when I was too tired to stand up. I felt my social obligations were important. I was still the joker and laughed at anything going, but by god, it was exhausting. 

I lost touch with my hubby. 

We argued all the time, trying to outdo each other in the “I’m more exhausted than you” Tiredness Olympics. I won because I fell out of bed one night and didn’t wake up. He didn’t notice.

I didn’t enjoy my son.

I feel robbed of his early years, not just because he was a nightmare baby, but because I didn’t have time to appreciate him.

I cried a lot. 

I cried every day, usually in the bath at midnight after I fell asleep and dropped my phone in the water.
So what do you think of my coping strategy? It’s pretty pathetic looking back. Many of us do this in the belief that we’re soldiering on, but in fact we’re destroying our health.

How I Made it Better

After discussions with my husband we decided to make some cutbacks so I could give up my civil service job. The thought of us both commuting and juggling a school run with a traffic jam was the deal breaker. I was to concentrate on my home business instead.
I realize I was fortunate to be able to drop my job and focus on my son and my business, and that not everyone can do that. But I believe everyone can start restoring their health and their sanity by making these choices and lifestyle changes.

Sleep and more sleep. 

Skip that TV program and go to bed.
I started getting ready for bed at 10:00. By the time I was asleep it was 11ish, but this was a lot better than my midnight to 1:00am routine.
When my son woke in the night, instead of putting him back in his own bed (with an hour of fighting), I just let him in with us. It’s quite cosy, and he’s more relaxed.
Getting kicked every now and then is worth it in my opinion. A new Korean study has shown we increase our odds of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease if we get less than six hours a night—so damn the parenting magazines.

I went to the doctor.

It’s easy to dismiss small symptoms when you don’t have the time to stop.
When I finally got to the doctor, who went thirty minutes over my allotted ten minute appointment, I left with appointments for a physiotherapist, an ultrasound, and the contraception nurse; a prescription for psoriasis treatment; and instructions to buy a steam inhaler and some iron tablets.
It turned out that I had a large ovarian cyst, anaemia, sciatica, chronic nasal infections, a bad time on the implant contraceptive, and violent psoriasis all dragging me down—and I was exhausted. The doctor thought I had post-natal depression, but in hindsight I think I was simply tired out.
Talk about a mess! That’s what can build up when you ignore your health. The solution?


Fresh air and walking are tonics like no other. I started walking and talking with my son. I soon realized he was bright and had a real grasp of emotion and how people felt. He told me I was always cross, but he wanted to make me happy (cue crying).
He’s now at school, so we walk there and back every day to talk about his day and the worries he might have. His behavior is startlingly better and he sleeps well too.
After drop-off I walk to the supermarket or wherever, just for the exercise. I’ve lost fourteen pounds and my backache is pretty much gone.

Put the mobile down.

It’s easy to constantly look at Facebook, Twitter, personal emails, and even work emails when you should be resting.
Keeping work and home life separate is harder than ever, but it’s more important than ever. Talk to your family, watch mindless TV, or read a book. I stopped reading email or Facebook after 6:00pm and immediately felt more relaxed.

Drink water, not wine.

Dehydration is a problem for many people, but they don’t realize it. Your body doesn’t function well without water. A new study claims that millions of us visit the doctor with tiredness symptoms when we’re simply dehydrated.
I didn’t drink much water in the dark days because it didn’t give me a boost and I resented all the peeing time. As a result, my skin was dull and grey, and yes, I was exhausted.

I got a pet.

My rescue cat was the best present ever. He kept me calm with purring, sleepiness, and soft fur. Dave lent me a furry ear and didn’t mind when I complained or cried it out.


From the outside all was calm, organized, and clean. On the inside I was fire fighting with sugar, caffeine palpitations, and a bad attitude. So I took up mindfulness—the act of present-time-awareness.
According to The NHS, “Mindfulness, sometimes also called ‘present-centredness,’ can help us enjoy the world more and understand ourselves better.” They aren’t wrong!
It’s okay to say you need some alone time, or to leave the house messy. I didn’t want people to think badly of me back then, so I put myself under pressure to be an actual Wonder Woman. I found out there’s a reason she’s fictional.

I stopped eating sugar.

Processed stuff was my main diet, and it’s horrible for our health.
I was never fond of meat and dairy, but I was filling up on caffeine and sugar. I upped our family intake of fruit and vegetables, bought soya milk, and caffeine-free teabags to use in every other cup. Bye-bye constipation and headaches.

No smoking.

I wasn’t a smoker, but a busy stressful schedule can cause people to start or to smoke more. Goodness knows I was looking for a prop. The effects of smoking on health are devastating—heart disease, cancer, asthma, and susceptibly to colds are just a few. There are no pros.

Feeling Human

It’s taken almost a year to feel human again. My dietary changes, exercise, and water intake helped almost immediately, but it took a little longer for the health problems to clear up.
Now I find myself looking back and wondering how on earth I allowed my busy schedule to harm my health so badly, not to mention my family life and friendships.
Nothing is more important than your health and well-being, because without it you have no life. Is that overtime really worth it? Can that email wait? Those illness symptoms certainly can’t.
When we’re on a busy schedule, fitting in some self-care and relaxation time just feels like another chore. However, it’s one that could save your health, life, and relationship. Make it your number one priority—before it’s too late.
By: Becky Mathews–

Dealing with Emotional Triggers: What to Do When You’re Stuck on a Feeling

“As you grow more practiced in noticing your triggers, offering yourself kindness and remembering that the power to heal your life is always available in the present moment, the situations that once set you off lose their explosive potential.” ~Martha Beck
Recently, I stayed with a friend I don’t see very often so I could attend a mindfulness event near her home. I took the train to her apartment about an hour before the event. We embraced and spent the first few moments together catching up on things.
And then my cellphone dinged.
Which, of course, it does every five minutes or so throughout the day.
Between email, Facebook, Twitter, messaging, and Whatsapp, my phone is like a running faucet—it never stops. But it’s never seemed to really bother me.
Apparently, it bothered my friend.
“What was that sound?” she asked, glaring at my phone.
“Ah, who knows? Probably an email came in. I won’t answer it,” I assured her.
Appearing slightly disturbed, she made an uncertain face and then resumed the conversation.
Within minutes, it dinged again.
Worried and anticipating disapproval, I looked at my friend. As expected, she made a dissatisfying face and a “tsk” sound demonstrating denunciation. Still, she made no mention of the phone.
She invited me and her family to sit down for dinner, and less than a minute into beginning our meal, my phone dinged again.
That damn phone, I suddenly thought to myself!
“Can you please just turn your phone off?” my friend remarked in a reprimanding tone.
Did my friend just reprimand me? I thought to myself. And in front of her children? How dare she shame me!
I looked around at the faces staring back at me and knew I was stuck. So, I turned to The S.T.U.C.K. Method, a simple and easy-to-remember technique I practice anytime, anywhere to stop being hijacked by my emotions and take better care of myself and my relationships.
So I stopped. I closed my eyes for a brief second and took a deep breath.
I told myself I was stuck on embarrassment.
I uncovered my beliefs and checked the accuracy of each one.
I believed I’m allowed to live the way I want to live regarding the use of my phone!
Yes, but don’t you want to show respect for your friend and her family?
I believed my friend had no right to lecture me and certainly not in front of her kids!
Shira, did she lecture you?
I believed my friend just ruined the entire evening!
The entire evening? Shira, the evening just began!
I believed my friend completely embarrassed me!
What was so embarrassing with what she said?
Looking at my beliefs, I could see my story was not really stable, so I came up with other perspectives.

  • I considered that, in all honesty, the phone was starting to bother me, even before my friend remarked on it.
  • I considered that my friend did not lecture me and had no intention of hurting me.
  • I considered that I could respect the standards my friend sets for herself and her family and silence my phone at certain times during the visit.
  • I considered the irony that my friend, the one with little to no experience in mindfulness, was trying to gently help me realize the freedom I could experience if I were to silence my phone.
  • I considered I could just silence the phone during dinner and not make a big deal out of it.
  • I considered gratitude for having a friend in my life who feels comfortable to be honest with me and holds me to the same standard she holds her family.

I recognized my friend had no ill will and, therefore, I had no reason to feel embarrassed. I chose to do something I never do. I got up from the table and silenced my phone.
I got stuck on embarrassment, but it’s okay. I’m glad I didn’t stay stuck for too long and ruin what otherwise was a beautiful and inspiring evening, both at the lecture and in the company of my dear friend.
The next time you are feeling emotionally triggered, try The S.T.U.C.K. Method.
First, STOP and bring your attention to something real in the present moment (such as noticing your breath).
Next, TELL yourself what you are feeling (such as: “I am stuck on anger”).
UNCOVER your beliefs about what is triggering you. Look out for words such as: need, should, always, never, and other generalizations. For each belief, ask yourself, is this 100% accurate?
Then, CONSIDER other perspectives. Stretch your “consideration muscles” and allow any and every other kind of viewpoint to be possible. Then, choose at least one and take it on. Finally, remind yourself that it’s OK you got stuck in the first place.
By closing this practice with self-compassion, you relieve yourself of any guilt or self-criticism that may arise from getting stuck in the first place and promote well-being.
By: Shira Taylor –

How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity

How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity (and How to Break the Habit)

“Spending today complaining about yesterday won’t make tomorrow any better.” ~Unknown
When I was about sixteen or so, one of my parent’s friends got into some trouble with the law. When we’d visit him he’d often shake his head from side to side and mumble, my life is in the toilet.
He said it many times, for many years, even when things seemed to have gotten better for him.
My life is in the toilet was his mantra.
At the time I thought it was funny, so I adopted it for myself, until one day I started to believe it. I’ve since dumped that charming phrase and gotten a new mantra.
Things haven’t magically become ideal for me since I did that. I mean, there’s this pinched nerve in my neck and those construction sounds across the street, and I could really use some more work, and…

Type of Drains

Everyone complains, at some point, at least a little, says Robin Kowalski, PhD, a professor of psychology at Clemson University.
There are different types of complainers, according to Kowalski, such as The Venter. The Venter is a “dissatisfied person who doesn’t want to hear solutions, however brilliant.”
Venting. We’re just letting off steam, right? Maybe not. I’ve personally found that the complain drain can be soul draining, not just for the complainer, but for all within earshot.
Other types you may have met along the way (or may be yourself) are the Sympathy Seekers, the I got it worse than you do, and the habitual everything sucks folks.
The Chronic Complainers, those living in a state of complaint, do something researchers call “ruminating.” This basically means thinking and complaining about a problem again and again. Instead of feeling a release after complaining, this sort of complaining can actually make things worse. It can cause even more worry and anxiety.
No one is suggesting you be a peachy-keen-Josephine and pretend all is swell when it isn’t. What I’ve learned in my mindfulness practice is to aim to do the opposite.
In mindfulness meditation, we try to experience fully the truth of the situation, in this exact moment, and allow it to just be. Easier said than done (but what isn’t?) Still, with practice, the need to express our dissatisfaction for things not being how we’d like them to be lessens.

Can’t We Just Call Roto-Rooter?

Running with this drain analogy…
Call Roto-Rooter, that’s the name and away go troubles down the drain!
When I was a kid I loved singing along to those Roto-Rooter commercials. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could “away go troubles down the drain?” Well, maybe we can.
Most of us may have been unintentionally reinforcing the nasty habit of complaining, by virtue of… complaining.
There’s something called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity,” which is the continuing creation and grouping of neuron connections in our brains that take place as a result of our life experiences.
Neuroscience teaches us that neurons that fire together, wire together. Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, coined that phrase back in 1949. What this means is that whenever we think a thought or have a feeling or physical sensation, thousands of neurons are triggered and they all get together to form a neural network.
With repetitive thinking, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time.
So, if you keep your mind looping on self-criticism, worries, and how nothing is working out for you, your mind will more easily find that part of your brain and will quickly assist you in thinking those same thoughts again.
This shapes your mind into greater reactivity, making you more vulnerable to anxiety.
Imagine a truck driving down a muddy road. The wheels create a groove in the mud, and each time that truck drives down that exact spot, the groove gets deeper and deeper.
The truck might even, eventually, get stuck in that mud rut. But it doesn’t have to. Instead of repeating the same negative complaints, we can drive our thoughts on a different road so we don’t get stuck in that negative mud rut.
Throughout our lives we are wiring our brains, based on our repetitive thinking. We get good at what we practice.
If we worry, creating more unease and anxiety, we become stellar worriers since our brain is responding, making it easier for us to worry each time we do it, thus creating our default mode living.
Default mode living is our habitual way of going about our lives. It’s our reacting minds as opposed to ourresponding minds.
Our reacting minds are often knee-jerk reactions to something. We often say or do things that we’ve said and done in the past, as if we were in that default mode living, on automatic pilot. But our responding minds come into play when we give ourselves a pause before responding to a situation.
We ask ourselves what’s really going on and what the next best step is. It’s a clearer response in the moment that’s not linked to past responses. So, how do we respond instead of react?

4 D.I.Y. Tips – Stop The Drain!

You’re stuck in traffic and not only are you complaining out loud to the cars that are in your way, you’re imagining getting home and complaining to tell your significant other all about it. You’re practicing this conversation in your head while in the car. Your heart races, your forehead tenses up. It’s all so very annoying! What to do?

1. Catch yourself.

During meditation we soon find out that our minds will wander. The moment when we notice it wandering and we bring it back to our focus, our breath, that moment is what one of my teachers calls “that magic moment.”
The catching yourself is the practice. Also, the not judging or berating yourself for having a mind that thinks thoughts. All minds think thoughts. That’s their job.
So to stop the drain:

  • Catch yourself in a complaint.
  • Stop complaining.
  • Congratulate yourself—you’re aware!

2. Be grateful.

I’ve tried it; I simply can’t seem to complain and be grateful at the same time!
I’m stuck in traffic, but I’m grateful to have a car. I’m grateful for the song that’s playing on the radio and the sunny day.
It doesn’t matter what you’re grateful for; it can be the smallest thing, just notice. Complaining could very well be the evil twin of gratitude. Favor gratitude.

3. Practice wise effort.

In Buddhism, wise effort is letting go of that which is not helpful and cultivating that which is skillful.
In the book Awakening the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das breaks down wise effort into four aspects, the first one being, restraint: “the effort to prevent unskillful thoughts and actions.”
Make the effort to pay attention and catch your complaining, negative thoughts before they become words.
Try it out and see how it feels. You might be surprised as to where you habitually have been putting your energy. Everything takes a certain amount of energy.
Next time you find yourself caught in a complaining loop, pause and regroup. Make the choice to put your energy elsewhere. The more you do this, the easier it gets.

4. Make a new groove.

Just the way our thoughts created that groove to make negative thoughts easier to replicate, we can create a brand new groove for pleasant feelings.
The more often we allow our minds to remember the good stuff, the easier that kind of thinking becomes.
Do you want to be the person who’s never satisfied and can always find fault in others, yourself, and the world at large? Or would you rather be someone who sees things as they are and finds a way to make peace with it? Let’s pretend it’s up to you. Oh, wait, it is up to you.
So, what do you say? You don’t need Roto Rooter to flush your troubles down the drain. Just make a new groove.
By: Annie Wood –

Why We Don’t Need to Worry About What’s Missing in Our Lives

“Don’t compare your struggles to anyone else’s. Don’t get discouraged by the success of others. Make your own path and never give up.” ~Unknown
My recent breakup was the most painful experience of my life. More painful maybe than it should have been, as it came at a time when a lot of things weren’t going as I hoped they would.
The road to healing seemed so much steeper and longer when all of these things also needed to be ‘fixed.’
As I approached my thirtieth birthday, I found myself back living at home with my parents and at a crossroads in my career. I was suffering from anxiety and felt as though my life had little purpose. Things just weren’t supposed to be this way. This was not part of the plan.
I knew that I needed to make some serious changes, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task in my hands.
It wasn’t just my heart that had smashed. It was as though my life was a jigsaw that had just been broken into a million pieces. And I had to recreate the picture.
So I started as you do with a jigsaw.
I slowly picked up the pieces, one by one, and tried my best to slot them together.
It wasn’t an easy task. Sometimes I couldn’t find the piece that I was looking for. Often, it seemed like the small sections I had completed would never properly fit together. There were many times I got frustrated and felt like abandoning the project all together.
Yet somewhere along the way the picture started to take shape.
I focused on my mental health and explored mindfulness. I devoted time to new hobbies and joined a sports club. I revisited my childhood passion for writing. I spent quality time with old friends and enjoyed getting to know new ones. I got a puppy.
Bit by bit, I picked up the pieces and worked hard to create something new.
After a while I could start to recognize some serious progress. I was still a long way off finishing the jigsaw, but it was getting easier to work on it. I was feeling much stronger, feeling a new sense of hope that one day I would get there. I had caught a glimpse of what the picture could become.
Yet despite my best efforts, the holes in the picture haunted me.
I was acutely aware of the parts that were missing. Months had passed, and some of the main pieces still evaded me, the ones that I saw as being crucial to my picture. It weighed on me greatly.
Without these pieces, I felt that the jigsaw could never really make sense. Instead of concentrating on the pieces I had, I spent a lot of my time searching for these middle pieces. The others just didn’t hold as much value. At least, that’s how I chose to view it.
Then one day, I cast my thoughts back to the start of my jigsaw journey.
I remembered how utterly lost and frightened I had felt at that time. How overwhelming the whole process ahead seemed. And I realized just how much of the picture had appeared without me really noticing it. I considered how inconceivable this progress had seemed at the start, how proud I should be that I had managed to get this far.
But once again, the missing pieces came into focus.
On a night out with friends, talk naturally revolved around our jigsaws. I was already acutely aware that theirs were at a more advanced stage to mine. Engagements, mortgages, weddings, children.
I observed, sadly, how many of their milestone pieces were already secure. An acute reminder that I still had so many to find.
I wondered if I would ever find them or if my jigsaw would just remain incomplete forever. Still a jigsaw of sorts, but not as it should look. I was happy for my friends’ success. I just worried that I seemed to be so far behind.
But then, as the conversation continued, I made another observation.
It seemed as though there were parts of their jigsaws that were also still incomplete. These may have been the outer parts, the ones not quite at the center, but they were parts of the jigsaw nonetheless—parts that I, myself, had managed to obtain but perhaps had taken for granted.
Through hard work and determination, I had successfully made the career transition that had once seemed impossible.
My lowest points had strengthened my relationships and showed me that I had people who I could really count on.
My period of reflection had taught me a lot about myself and what I wanted from life.
I had developed my own interests as an individual and become more independent.
I acknowledged that these were also a significant part of the picture, and that a jigsaw had many different pieces and everyone still had work to do. I realized that while I was busy concentrating on my missing pieces, I had neglected to appreciate the value of these other ones.
While I was busy feeling ashamed of its hollow middle, others may just have been noticing how my corners were taking shape. To me, my jigsaw didn’t look as I wanted it to, but that didn’t mean that it looked the same to everyone else. And it didn’t make my success any less admirable.
Viewed with a less critical eye, they would see a jigsaw that was slowly but surely taking shape, albeit a little slower than their own. A jigsaw at a different stage but with lots of potential. If I shifted my perspective, I might just notice how all the pieces were starting to connect.
We are all completing a jigsaw of our lives at any given moment. Some of us are further ahead; some of us are a little bit behind. Sometimes a tremor comes along that will damage a piece of the picture, or may even dismantle it completely.
In that case we must start to rebuild it again, maybe even from scratch. Sometimes we may never find a missing piece and the jigsaw must be appreciated without it. To destroy the whole jigsaw because of one missing piece would be to sacrifice a lifetime’s effort.
The important thing is that, as we work side by side to do this, we must not let each other’s “success” deter our own progress. We have all been given slightly different jigsaws, some appear easy, some harder, but they will all have their unique challenges. And in the end, each one creates a beautiful picture. A result that is completely unique.
How someone else constructs their jigsaw will not be the same as your approach. Some people dive straight in and fill in the middle, but then can find it a bit more difficult to fill out the edges. Some like to sort out all the pieces carefully before they even start.
Some will have help completing their jigsaw, but that just makes it more of an achievement for those who manage to complete it alone. Your jigsaw is your masterpiece. It does not have to look like anybody else’s, nor does it have to be completed in the same way.
Approach it your own way, and be sure to credit yourself for each part that takes shape. You can glance at others’ jigsaws now and again, but don’t let this put you off yours. No one knows what life holds in store for us, so comparison is a futile exercise.
Support others and celebrate their progress, trusting in your heart that they will do the same for you as you move forward. Your time will come. You may even inspire others along the way.
Try not to worry about how the picture will turn out, but enjoy the process and the excitement of seeing it revealed. You may think that you know what the picture will be like, only for it to turn out completely different. But either way, at the end, you will look back and see that they were all made perfectly. That your final picture is beautiful and as it was always meant to be.
As it stands my jigsaw is still incomplete, but I am choosing to view the process differently. I am consistently working on the smaller pieces and these are bringing me much greater satisfaction.
They are starting to give the whole picture a lot more meaning now that I’m not fixated on the gap in the middle. I now have much more appreciation for the value of these pieces. I know that I will look back one day and see that these were a lot more vital than I initially thought.
I am also choosing to trust that the bigger pieces are on their way. I look forward to the days when they will slot easily into their rightful place, surrounded by a sturdy framework.
With hindsight I can see that first jigsaw just wasn’t working out for me. Although painful at the time, the shake-up was necessary. There were pieces that were never going to fit, no matter how much I wanted them to. I like to believe that there is a reason why my jigsaw needed to be reconstructed in this way.
For now, though, I have decided to be present and just enjoy the process. Because the reality is that we only get one jigsaw, and I want to make the most of the one I’ve got.
I have a feeling that it’s shaping up to be a good one.
By: Siofra Ann –

When Mindfulness Hurts: Feeling Is the Key to Healing

“You start watching your breath and all your problems are solved. It is not like that at all. You are working with the heart of your experiences, learning to turn towards them, and that is difficult and can be uncomfortable.” ~Ed Halliwell
Can mindfulness be bad for you?
I had been expecting it: Once you become a regular at it, mindfulness permeates all aspects of your life.
I only sit in meditation for twenty minutes daily (and a full hour on Sundays), but I carry its effects with me the rest of the time, elevated levels of awareness and all.
This is not to say that I constantly float on a blissful cloud. In fact, this sudden increase in mindfulness, even for someone used to deep introspection and resolutely committed to lucidity, comes at a certain cost. What I hadn’t expected was the actual weight of mindfulness.
Three months into the daily practice of mindful meditation, I had to admit that it was not solely eliciting the deep serenity I had hoped for. In fact, I realized that in some ways, I actually felt less happy than before.
I couldn’t precisely put my finger on it. All I knew was that things seemed heavier, more raw. How could that be? Wasn’t mindfulness supposed to help me transcend the vicissitudes of life? What was I doing wrong? Was I the only one in that odd situation?
I decided to do some research. It didn’t take long before I discovered evidence that mindfulness can indeed have “side effects.”
A quick online search showed me that I’m actually in very good company. Mindfulness, and the practice of meditation, has reportedly entailed significant “downsides” for a number of enthusiasts.
We come to mindfulness in the hope that it will constitute the path to peacefulness, often unaware that this path is paved with cracked and bumpy stones. Only after stepping onto that road do you realize how uncomfortable the process can be.
Just like therapy, meditating is difficult, sometimes painful.
The first and most obvious reason is that sitting still, quieting the mind, and focusing on the breath presents a real challenge. Many beginners and non-beginners complain of an overwhelming restlessness or, on the contrary, of an irresistible tendency to fall asleep (I belong to the latter category).
The second reason is that mindfulness has a way of annihilating our blissful ignorance. It offers an unexpected and unparalleled insight into our areas of vulnerability, the sides of us that we are not always prepared to welcome nonjudgmentally.
To get the most of it, one must recognize that the practice of mindfulness is dirty, hard work.
According to Willoughby Britton, a Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University Medical School, the downsides of mindfulness range from mild to severe, and can manifest in various ways—from unexpected anger and anxiety all the way to depression and psychosis.
Mindfulness can exacerbate a number of mental health conditions, bring back to the surface traumatic memories, or simply force you to deal with things that had conveniently been swept under the rug.
Whatever your initial levels of stability (or instability), a lot can emerge in the first stages of the regular practice of meditation. Ready or not, you have to deal with it. It is disconcerting at best. In my case, it was sometimes downright depressing.
Picture a handful of Band-Aids applied to different spots on your body. Each Band-Aid conveniently covers an injury that you’re happy to ignore (or so you think).
Mindfulness is like peeling off the Band-Aids, one by one. It hurts.
Then you discover what’s under them: A bad cut here. A big bruise there. The occasional infected wound. A few badly healed scars. Mindfulness makes it hard to ignore that you are, under all those Band-Aids, actually hurting, or at least not entirely recovered.
To add insult to the injury, mindfulness has a way of preventing you from applying new Band-Aids. Things that we considered pleasant, and that help us deal with life’s vagaries, lose their appeal once we become aware of their true purpose and associated costs.
We use, in our daily lives, an arsenal of strategies, often without knowing it: thinking patterns, daily habits, activities we view as pleasurable “add-ons,” such as eating, shopping, staring at a screen, and so on. We don’t perceive those “pursuits” as Band-Aids. Aren’t they the spice of life?
The regular practice of meditation and a more mindful approach to life, however, sheds some light on our dependence. Any behavior that resists modification might indicate an addiction, even if it was just to chocolate, new running shorts, or social media.
I am now, more than ever, aware of my coping mechanisms, aware that rather than making life interesting, they mostly patch up an aspect of my existence that requires attention.
If I feel bored, tired, or stressed, no amount of sweets, sports gear, or Internet surfing will truly fill the void or fulfill the need.
Where I would mindlessly resolve to an old habit, this new knowledge stops me in my tracks. I pause, observe, notice the underlying emotion or sensation.
If I’m under work-related stress, such as a quickly approaching deadline, or a recalcitrant passage to translate, I will often have a sudden craving for sweets, or feel the pressing need to check my Facebook page. It’s not a coincidence, I know that now, but I needed mindfulness to realize it fully.
Now, instead of walking to the cupboard or opening a new tab in my browser, I stay put and take a deep breath. I skip the coping mechanism and refrain applying a new Band-Aid or replacing an old one.
Even my thought processes are modified. When certain situations repeatedly elicited the kind of stress that requires a Band-Aid, I was forced to reconsider, at least to a certain extent, the choices I had been making in various areas of my life: my career path, other types of commitments, and even some relationships. I realized I had too much on my plate and that I needed to respect my limits.
Accepting the fact that I indeed have limits was no small feat. Even if I have long been aware of some of my “rationalizations” and “compensations,” I have never faced life with such clarity, honesty, and courage. I am proud of it. I am also unsettled.
In spite of this, I am still fully committed to continue with my mindfulness practice. The cans of worms I am opening can be a handful, but I was carrying them anyway, and they were wearing me down. I choose to deal with them.
Things might feel very raw, but they also feel very real. I can already sense a new level of lightness and freedom on the other side of this demanding exercise.
I invite you to give it a try too. As we move along in our mindfulness practice, I trust that we can all find our own sweet spot, the place where an increased awareness meets a renewed sense of well-being.
For many, this will mean starting slow. When you incorporate mindful meditation into your life, don’t go for the three-day retreat right away. Not only will it be too demanding, it might even backfire.
Instead, simply find a quiet place where you can sit for at least five minutes, in silence, every day, and focus on the breath.
You may feel uncomfortable at first, as the feelings you formerly numbed or avoided emerge. Don’t let that deter you. If you embrace the discomfort, you’ll eventually gain the clarity needed to acknowledge and heal old wounds, break unhealthy patterns, and generally step onto the path to a more authentic life.
By: Julie Saint Mleux –