How I conquered my stress — without mindfulness meditation
It seems the magical solution to all our everyday problems: learn mindfulness meditation and all your sorrows will vanish, allowing you to live happily ever after. But mindfulness teacher Marisa Garau warns that meditation doesn’t work for each and everyone of us, especially if you have a demanding job, care for your family, and are juggling a thousands tasks a day. By sharing her story Marisa explains how you could benefit from all the goodness of mindfulness without wasting precious time on a meditation cushion, hoping to inspire you to create a less stressful, more balanced life.
By Marisa Garau (published in Verve Magazine - 2019)
My wake-up call
It was early November 2005. I woke on a misty Sunday morning, and suddenly realised that I had to change my life drastically. I had been running my own advertising agency in Amsterdam for ten years, and while the money in my bankaccount had been growing steadily, my mental health had eroded at quite the same pace. I was chronically stressed, suffered from anxiety attacks, and had been in psychotherapy for more than a year to deal with severe depression. My fragile mental state had impacted my body beyond repair: I had developed a lifelong autoimmune disorder, and hadn’t had my period for more than five years while I was only 37.
Unhealthy thinking patterns
My Sunday morning awakening shook me up big time. It tore me away from my helplessness and victimhood, gave me a sense of warrior-like energy I had never experienced before, and pushed me into massive action. I quit my agency and signed up for the standard Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course to change my unhealthy thinking patterns and create a new, stress-free life for once and for all.
A new life
I now live in beautiful Mangawhai and produce my own olive oil. My books on mindfulness are international bestsellers, and my online platform Growing Mindfulness gets 200,000 visitors each year. Rather than chasing money and status like I did in my former life, I now find deep contentment in helping others conquer their stressful habits and create a more relaxed, better balanced and utterly fulfilling life for themselves.
Not for everyone
Mindfulness meditation has changed my life for the better. But I know it doesn’t work for everybody. While I incorporated the mindfulness principles into my life by committing myself to meditating on a daily basis, others who follow the course struggle to meditate regularly. The hour-long meditation, no matter the clinically proven benefits, is just another chore on their to-do list, causing rather than reducing stress.
Mindfulness without the woo woo
Fortunately mindfulness can be practised in many other ways. And it’s this insight that I harness to help my stressed out audience find inner calm and emotional balance. Despite popular belief, mindfulness is not about meditation. It’s about being aware in the present moment and paying non-judgemental attention to what is happening now.
So how can you practise meditation-free mindfulness?
1. Your thoughts are not you
What made such a huge impact on my thinking is the understanding that wehavethoughts, but that weare notour thoughts. You might think: ‘I’m so stressed’ while in reality you only have stressful thoughts. Don’t allow these negative thoughts to define your personality and put your down. So when you feel pressured, say to yourself: ‘My mind has stressful thoughts. It has nothing to do with me, I’m good the way I am.’ This way you create some much needed space between you and your mind, which helps you see that you’re not weak or helpless but that your brain is just producing a lot of judgemental thoughts.
2. Observe your own thought process
The human mind is both a blessing and a bother. It has just one task: to produce thoughts, day and night. And so that’s what it does. Thanks to evolution it produces lots of negative thoughts to warn us for danger, which — let’s be honest — made us a highly successful species. But when that thought-producing machine in your head is not being controlled by its owner (you) it will start dominating and overpowering you. With mindfulness you learn to take a step back and look at your own thought process. Once you quietly observe your own thoughts and give them your undivided attention, you’ll see that your thoughts are just like little, demanding children. They just want attention. As soon as you start giving attention, you’re getting back in control. Don’t judge your thoughts (remember they’re just ignorant children) or push them away. But instead be mild and give them your full attention. This will take the hurtful energy from those thoughts and their intensity will decrease. You’ll see that they will bother you less and less frequently. Eventually they will evaporate completely.
3. Recognise reoccuring thoughts
By observing your thoughts, you will start recognising them which makes them less frightening. Thoughts are in the habit of popping in over and over again, like old friends. You’ll find that you always worry about the same familiar issues, such as your unhappy upbringing, your terrible financial situation, your bad health or your loveless relationship. When you feel you’re being sucked into one of those thought tornados, practise mindfulness by welcoming all those negative thoughts full of annoyance, pain, stress, regret, anger and fear. Say to yourself: ‘Ha, here are the my-parents-never-understood-me thoughts again. Hello, here are the I’m-so-useless-I-make-a-mess-of-every-relationship’ thoughts again.’ Look at these stressful thoughts as if you’re a researcher in a laboratory, with a neutral attitude and a healthy distance. Then tell them: ‘Thank you for sharing, I have listened to you. But now I’m going to continue what I was doing.’ Acknowledge these negative thoughts, but refuse to be dragged into their damaging content.
4. Distract your mind with feel-good-tasks
If you go through a boring and well-known chore that doesn’t require analytical or problem-solving thinking, your mind immediately starts to wander. Guess where it wanders to? To your terrible boss and how she insulted you the other day. Then it moves on to your terrible divorce and how badly your husband has treated you. Only to quickly remind you of that terrible dinner the other day which you didn’t enjoy at all. Now stop these negative and useless thoughts by deliberately giving your mind something else to chew on:
Take your dog (or your friend’s dog) for a play in the park and give him your undivided attention. Fully emerge in the game and be wholly present for this sentient soul.
Visit to your elderly neighbour and this time have a slow rather than a quick catch-up. Be fully present and listen with an open mind to her stories.
Pick up litter from your local park with undivided attention, realising that your park will look a lot nicer after your random act of kindness.
Rather than milling through the same old thoughts that exhaust you and severely undermine your joy for life, you’re now doing something awesome for a dog, for your neighbour, for your community. Small but significant steps like this will inspire and energise you, actively lowering your stress levels and boosting your immune system.
Mindfulness: good for you and your social network
Mindfulness is a very effective way to liberate yourself from tired thinking processes. As you can see from my insights and practical advice, you don’t need mindfulness meditation to be mindful. Everyday life is full of opportunities to be mindful and reduce stress, anxiety and endless worrying. With mindfulness you are more content, more balanced and more patient. And that’s not only better for you, but for your loved ones too.
Learn more about Marisa’s pragmatic mindfulness method in this free e-book.
You too can achieve a mindful state of living, without having to curl up into a pretzel or light your house with scented candles. Marisa will explain it all to you without the woo-woo.