Let’s wrap up our series on how women can use mindfulness to combat stressful thoughts and emotions. If you're just joining us, click on back to the intro on mindfulness so you can quickly get up to speed.
Last, but not least, we’re going to talk about how mindfulness can help women improve their mental health. How does mindfulness do this? By helping you identify problematic thoughts and beliefs and staying present enough to fully recognize two things:
1) the powerful effects they're having on your mental health, and
2) the limitations (or the real truth or untruth) of those thoughts and beliefs.
Remember my client Emma? In the first part of this series, we talked about how mindfulness helped Emma work through the emotional rollercoaster of being a working mom. Mindfulness helped her recognize the thoughts that were propelling her emotional turmoil, then bring better balance to those thoughts (click here for the post). In part two, we explored how mindfulness helped Emma ditch her inner critic and fight back against the self talk that noticed all her imperfections and put her body and her looks down (click here for the post). Mindfulness helped Emma practice a new sort of self love that introduced a mantra “I am enough as I am.” This allowed Emma to exercise full self acceptance, rather than keep striving for some future in which she could finally achieve unrealistic standards of perfection. By staying more present in her thoughts about herself, Emma was able to better appreciate who she is today and the person she is in the world.
What I love about mindfulness is that it’s so much more practical than we think. As I’ve said before, it doesn’t have to involve any woo woo meditations or unrealistic peace and stillness to achieve. The clients I work with – busy, overscheduled, achieving women -- aren’t exactly plentiful in the meditation, peace, and stillness department. All mindfulness asks of us is to get out of the past, come back from our fantasy of the future, and arrive just where we are – in the present. It asks us to be mindfully aware of what is present in the present.
Common Thoughts that Impact Women’s Mental Health
Mindfulness helps women improve their mental health by bringing awareness to the thoughts that are impacting their behaviors, actions, and feelings. For the women I work with, often those deep down thoughts are, “I’m afraid of failure.” Or “I’m not sure I’m enough,” Or “Am I really worthy of (love, success, joy, etc)?”
I hear my clients dance around ideas like 'I’m not good enough', 'I don’t even deserve to feel how I'm feeling', and 'ugh, it's my fault, I should have done x, y, z differently'.
Those thoughts reflect shame, self-doubt, hesitation, confusion, and uncertainty, to name a few. We bring all our "things" from the past and the beliefs and thoughts just keep compounding unless we are actively working on addressing and correcting them.
Mindfulness asks you to MOVE PAST YOUR OWN BLOCKS AND OPEN UP POSSIBILITY.
What if you were not burdened by the past?
What if you were not lost in the future?
What if you were focused more fully on the opportunities and value of TODAY? What could you achieve? What would you consider doing? How would you spend your time?
How would you feel?
Here are some steps to help you get underneath it:
1) Right now, ask yourself what you’re feeling. Try to identify that feeling. Write it down on a piece of paper now. (ie: overwhelmed, sad, lost, confused, excited).
2) Okay; now ask yourself, “what are the thoughts and beliefs about myself and the world that are informing that belief?”
Can you write or think a little bit about that?
You’ll probably find yourself going back to the past or fast forwarding into the future, and finding a whole lot of fears, concerns, past or projected stressors, limiting beliefs, things people have said to you, things you’re worried people will think or say…. You probably feel kind of alone in those thoughts and feelings, too.
The thing about being overwhelmed and thinking “I JUST CAN’T DO THIS!” is that usually its 25% about what’s happening in the moment, and 75% of your past, present, and future junk. The result is total overload, which leads to confusion, and then sometimes leads also to shut down.
For my client, Emma, all she wanted was to explore a new career. But the word “can’t” kept popping into her mind. Every time we’d touch on the idea, she had many reasons why she wasn’t able to have a career that fulfilled her more. When we brought mindful awareness to her thought process, she realized a lot of things:
That she worried that pursuing a new career or different educational path would call into question her dedication to her family as a young mom. (projected future self-judgment)
That she was worried it was too late to focus on her own goals since her kids now were her priority. (projected regret)
She already felt stretched thin and couldn't imagine her family would stay functioning if she were turning her efforts or attention elsewhere. (projected limiting beliefs/limiting emotional labor responsibilities).
That she wasn't confident she actually knew what she wanted to do since neither of her parents had worked in jobs they felt passionate about. (past limiting beliefs and examples)
Emma's mental health was suffering (she was experiencing high stress and depressing thoughts about work) because she kept projecting lots of negative energy into her world…. Rather than by fully realizing in the present what was truly underneath all those tough thoughts and feelings. By using mindfulness, we were finally able to identify more fully what was actually frustrating and saddening her.
By bringing more accurate awareness to Emma's present self and life, we were able to better overturn all those nay saying fears and "what ifs," Emma was able to consider taking new steps forward with less hesitation and more hope and excitement.
Can you see how quieting all the past and future noise can replace difficult thoughts and beliefs about yourself and your life with a new sense of clarity and possibility?
I encourage my clients to bring a level of awareness to their thoughts that introduce the idea that every moment is a new moment. Every thought is an opportunity for a new thought. It is so important to practice accepting your past and quieting those endless chaotic thoughts about your uncertain future. It is only by doing that hard but rewarding work that you will finally be able to understand your true value and potential in the present.
Remember: your future will never know your past... unless you bring it with you there. Mindfulness can help women gain control of their experiences, practice wholehearted acceptance, and actually reveal their true capabilities and desires for the present…. Which is the only way to shape and create a fulfilling, joyful, and meaningful life.
Please share this article with a friend or family member for whom you think it would be helpful! If you need a hand getting your thoughts and feelings in a better place, please call me for a consultation at 860-339-6515. Counseling and therapy can help you feel better and begin to live your best life.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is a women's therapist and counselor, providing individual counseling in Old Saybrook, CT and online 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. 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.