Every day, in some varying situations, we are confronted with constantly changing internal and external stimuli. This causes us to encounter and try to make sense of many conflicting forces.
A good example of this is the mental toll being endured by many around the world during this Covid pandemic. Very few of us have the clarity to understand and navigate what’s mentally going on.
This outcome results in wide variations of needs, fears, and desires. There is just too much uncertainty happening all at once for us to be able to rationalise between all the different thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
As a result, we sometimes find ourselves struggling to hold it all together. Everything keeps changing- Our moods, our emotions and our thinking.
It becomes a full-time occupation trying to maintain the discipline necessary to create the appearance of control and calm.
Media reports during the pandemic support these claims. They indicate there are an ever-growing number of people seeking help through mental health services and support networks.
So what can we do to help overcome the uncertainty and fears we face daily?
Our Need for Stability and Safety
When we struggle with all these psychological challenges we suffer. We notice this most when things start to fall apart or are outside of our realm of control.
Our mind goes into turmoil. We struggle to hold our inner world together.
Yet, in reality, what aspect of our lives are we trying to control?
The answer is we are attempting to create a sense of stability and safety.
What this means is we are attempting to craft a world that is predictable in behaviour and nature. If we can’t achieve this outcome we become unsettled and feel threatened.
This protective shield of beliefs and perceptions acts as a boundary between us and the people we engage with. By having preconceived ideas about how people should behave we feel safe and more in control.
Consider how nice you are to people when they behave in a manner that is acceptable to your expectations. On the flip side consider how you behave when those expectations are not meet.
No doubt you distance yourself physically and mentally. You form a negative opinion about that person.
Consider how you would feel if you could loosen the rigidity of your boundary walls? What would happen?
Would you feel fear or freedom?
Things We Do To Survive
To help us survive in the hectic world we all wear different masks at different times.
For example, to protect ourselves when we go to work we wear our professional masks. People see a certain type of persona. Then, at the end of the day, when we transition from work to home to reunite with our family and friends we allow ourselves to change our masks. The work masks fall into the background to be replaced with a more relaxed social mask.
But who is that the real you? Who is the person behind the mask?
Have you created a persona based on what you want or what you think others want or need?
Understanding Who We Are
Society has a lot to say about this. These mental and emotional constraints are engrained within us from a very young age.
There are acceptable and unacceptable social behaviours for almost everything we say and do.
When we do well in life typically we are rewarded. Alternatively, when we don’t, we are punished in some form or another. This could be physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Through our life experiences thoughts, feelings, and impressions of the world constantly flow into our consciousness from a very young age.
Over time we tend to grab onto selective impressions of people, places, and things. We see events that happened when we were maybe ten years old and hold onto those memories.
Those memories form who we perceive we are. Yet in reality, we are not the events. We are the ones who experienced the events over time.
This becomes a false sense of self that we tend to hide behind to protect ourselves. But this model does not serve us well now. It’s an outdated point of reference in many ways. This is why we struggle.
Uncertainty and Fear
The reason we build these mental memories or models as reference points is to avoid suffering. If an event doesn’t fit our conceptual model we will always struggle with uncertainty and a sense of fear.
Yet to be free, to truly experience life, we need to learn a few new truths. We need to not allow events to leave impressions inside us.
But how can we achieve that outcome?
The only way to overcome this suffering is by developing awareness.
We need to stop defining the disturbed mind as a negative experience. We just need to see it for what it is.
If we want peace, joy, and happiness we have to start getting more familiar with what we are thinking and feeling in the present moment and then learn to let go. We need to become more comfortable with the uncomfortable by shining the light into those dark places of the mind.
Your only way out is to be the witness. Just keep letting go and accepting by being aware that you are aware.
Cultivating the Art of Awareness
A mindfulness technique that achieves this outcome is called ‘STOP’. It is a relatively simple skill that does not require the need for formal sitting meditation. It can be engaged on the go whenever or wherever you are.
It involves a gentle acceptance of whatever comes into your awareness at the moment. It’s about exploring your experience and expanding your awareness of your inner world.
STOP ACRONYM STANDS FOR:
S: Stop. Whatever you’re doing, just pause momentarily.
T: Take a breath. Re-connect with your breath. The breath is an anchor to the present moment.
O: Observe. Notice what is happening. What is happening inside you, and outside of you? Where has your mind gone? What do you feel? What are you doing?
P: Proceed. Continue doing what you were doing. Or don’t: Use the information gained during this check-in to change course. Whatever you do, do it mindfully.
The more you STOP during the day, the more you re-engage with reality, and disengage from the habitual busyness of your mind.
Try to make it part of your day! Whether you are stuck in traffic, or waiting in line out the checkout -just remember ‘STOP’. Use that time to engage briefly with the present moment to see how you are thinking, and feeling.
Don’t allow those habitual ways to hijack you and fuel your fears and uncertainties.