In the introduction to this series, I explained a little bit about how women struggle day in and day out with automatic thoughts. These thoughts fly in and out of our brains faster than we can even recognize them, yet they can totally rain on our emotional state. By using mindfulness, women can catch those automatic thoughts and establish better patterns of thinking. The result? I like to call it, “Less resentment, more contentment.”
How to start using mindfulness to improve your emotional wellness
Start by identifying your most common difficult emotion. You can do this by completing this sentence as it relates to an emotional state you struggle with frequently: “I feel so _____ !”
What finishes that sentence for you? Is it anxious? Lonely? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Only you know what it is for you.
Now take a moment to think about WHY you might feel that emotion so often. Can you identify at least three contributing factors?
For example, Emma often found herself struggling with being passive aggressive, unhappy, and resentful. We worked to figure out that anger was the catch-all emotion fed by all those other sub-emotions.
Three main factors that commonly contributed to Emma's anger were:
My husband works a lot.
I don’t like my job.
There aren’t enough hours in the day, I’m exhausted.
Do you have three common factors that contribute to how you often feel? Good. Now let’s dig even deeper.
What are the most common automatic thoughts you get sucked into about these three factors? Take your three factors and add the EMOTIONAL MESSAGE that you tell yourself about them.
For Emma, it would be:
My husband works a lot; it feels like he’s gone all the time and like I’m handling the kids all on my own. What the hell! I didn’t sign up for this!
Since I don’t like my job, I feel like I spend my life going back and forth between a job I don’t love and taking care of my family. I have no escape! What about me!?
There aren’t enough hours in the day. I’m exhausted, and inevitably I feel like I’m always coming short. Why do other moms seem like they have a handle on all this stuff?
Can you see why Emma was feeling angry?
How Improving Mindful Awareness Can Change Things
Can you see how your thoughts lead to your feelings (which impact your behaviors?) Emma didn’t entirely know WHY she was feeling so unhappy and stuck, she just knew she couldn’t stop. But part of why she couldn’t stop is that she wasn’t entirely AWARE of what her thoughts were telling her in the first place!
And this is what happens to all of us. We get totally caught up in our thoughts – our mind loves to hang out in the past and in the future – and we lose control of our emotions in the present.
Emma began to bring mindful awareness to her thoughts. She began to anticipate her thoughts in a new way. When her husband would leave for a business trip, she was already talking herself through a new process:
“Ok, Emma. You’re feeling like 'there he goes! he’s just off again! must be nice!'. You’re already thinking about all the things he’s not doing for the kids while he’s gone from home, and lamenting all the things you’ll be juggling instead.”
By being mindful, Emma was able to call herself out on her thoughts before they took over. Which meant that SHE was in control this time. And then? Staying mindful of her internal struggle allowed her to bring more balance to the situation. She could then consciously add,
“Ok, remember… when he goes to work it’s also for the family. He misses the kids, too. Part of why you love him is that he’s ambitious.”
Emma is now better able to stay grounded in a more accurate sense of reality. Instead of getting totally sucked away by the negative, she is able to talk herself through both sides of the situation. Rather than allow frustrations of the past and projections about the future overwhelm her emotional state and muddle her happiness, she was able to tame the beast and focus on the presenting facts at hand.
Another important tip that will help you stay mindfully aware is to identify all the conditions you’re putting on your thoughts. These are called "qualifiers." They sound like:
“All the time” or “always” or “never”, etc.
Man, it’s pretty tough to cope with ginormous situations that are “always” like this or “never” like that! With people who "always" this or "never" that. Are your emotions any match for a thought of that proportion? Probably not!
What if you stayed focused on only right now? Then there is no always or never.
As in, “Right now, Charlie left for LA. I wish he were here to be together with the kids and me. But he’s not at this time.”
Then, rather than get sucked in to the giant rules of "this is always the case," you can actually change what is now, thereby changing what is 'always the case'.
As in the new thought: “perhaps the kids and I can get out for dinner once this week so I won’t have to cook or clean up, and they’ll have fun; and maybe Charlie and I can schedule a family day on the Saturday he comes back.”
Emma was no longer stuck being as angry as she often was. She had a new sense of ownership over her present and therefore her reality.
The result? More control. A different emotional experience.
I hope that this segment has helped you understand a little bit about how greater mindfulness about your thoughts can equal greater awareness of your emotional triggers, which in turn can help you reshape those thoughts and transform your emotions. Staying mindful of what’s bothering you, and bringing greater awareness in the here-and-now, allows you the time and space to approach things more rationally and logically. You can more easily shed the baggage of the past and your projected concerns about the future... Which leads to less resentment and more contentment.
In our next post we’ll be applying this mindfulness exercise to the thoughts you have about your physical self (a huge one for women). Schedule your complimentary consultation if you need to get to the next level of breaking through your barriers!
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, and call (860) 339-6515 to schedule your free initial consultation.