Mindfulness Blog: Part 5 - East Cheshire Hospice

Mindfulness Blog: Part 5

Mindfulness – A blog by East Cheshire Hospice’s Lindsay Dobson

In today bite size piece of mindfulness, Id like to explore reaction vs responding.

Its good to react, we need to react quickly in some situations, reaction is our natural immediate impulse. So if we step into the road and a bus is coming towards us, our reaction is to get out the way quick, and thank goodness it is!!!

Responding however, is a more thoughtful, its when we take the time to think about what we want to do next, so definitely not as useful in the bus scenario!!  But what if its a distressed person yelling at you??  Our reaction may be to shout back, or run away, or freeze – all normal human reactions to someone yelling at you – brought about by our stress response.  However they might not be as useful in this scenario as being able to take a moment, to remember this person is very upset, confused, perhaps feeling very alone and scared and its not personal,…and then responding from a place of calm compassion.

How do we do this?  Well sometimes it will just come naturally, but other times, when we are already stressed, maybe we have dealt with a lot of difficult things already today.  for me maybe the kids already destroyed one room, spent all morning fighting and are now tipping all the food on the floor to ‘experiment’- I need a moment to be able to find a calm space to respond to, to be able to see this from their point of view, they are bored, they have very little space to do what five year olds need to do, which is move, explore burn off energy added to that, they are stressed and worried and their impulse control is very slim!  However by this point so might mine be!!  My reaction is to yell, threaten, possibly even cry!


I stop… I feel my feet on the floor – maybe I even take a moment to notice my body, how tense it is,

I notice my breath

I allow my exhale to lengthen and my body to relax a little

Im in a better place to respond now!

To empathise, to calmly put in place the boundary about not using all our very hard to find shopping as an experiment, but that maybe we could go out into the yard and use some ingredients I give them to cook something up

(yes if your wondering this has happened on more than one occasion!)

For you it might be a patient, who is scared and alone, facing their death and in pain, their impulse control is very low and they start to yell at you for some tiny thing that is not even your fault!!   You naturally may want to tell them to shut up, to point out, that you are in fact risking your own health and life to care for them , to cry, to yell at someone else whose fault it it was!!  All normal human responses.  And prob for the most part what you do is respond calmly but then carry the tension with you for the rest of that day.

But if we stop.  Feel our feet on the floor, notice any tension in our body.  Feel our breath.  Take a moment to lengthen the exhale , let the tension go.

Then we can feel calmer, more empathetic or at least hold it together long enough to go take a breath of fresh air outside J

But we can actually start setting this up earlier in our day and week.  You see, our brain is designed to notice and remember stressful or dangerous, negative situations better than positive ones.  Its hardwired in from our cave man days, when to forget that that wriggling thing in the grass is a snake could be fatal – so we clock and remember the bad stuff!

We also have another handy cognitive ability that we need – which is autopilot. Ever drove to work and wondered how the heck you got there?  Washed the dishes and not noticed a second off it?  Its pretty useful ability as if we noticed everything of our day we would be overloaded, we need to switch off and use autopilot from time to time.  However when we do it without choosing it, we also miss the good stuff

Those two things combined mean we have a tendency to notice and collect negatives rather than positives.  Causing us more stress.

So my challenge to you , two fold .  Pick an everyday activity, eating  a snack (or a whole meal), brushing your teeth, washing the dishes ….. or anything else! And when you do it, really do it, notice all you can about it, when your mind wanders, gently bring it back to noticing all you can about the activity.  This trains our brain to stay focused when we want it to, and it trains us to notice we are on autopilot and either choose to be, or choose not to be.

The other part of this challenge is to notice the positives in your day, really notice them, make a mental or physical note of them, so we train the brain to pay attention to the good in this world not just the stressful.

I start every day (ok well almost everyday!) listing what I am grateful for.  Right now, its that Im at home with my children, the fact they can fight, and cry and literally climb walls and doors (and out windows!) means they are healthy and well  – mostly im grateful that we are all together and safe, that outside the window the sun shines and the world grows without me.  That adventures will be awaiting.  Yours may feel harder to come by, but even if you can only find one, it helps you feel that tiny bit less stressful.

And goodness knows, right now there is enough to be scared and stressful about in this world, to find one little bit of joy is something we all need.

I hope you find that bit of joy

With love Lindsay x

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