Have you ever been surprised by your own emotional reaction? Maybe you lost your temper with a loved one over a seemingly insignificant offense. Or maybe you found yourself panic stricken when you thought you had your worries under control. Perhaps you were hit with a wave of sadness that seemed to come from nowhere.
We are a society of busy people. When our schedules are full, taking time to be still and evaluate how we are feeling can often be pushed aside. It can feel like a waste of time. This can cause us to ignore the symptoms of mental distress until our emotions become unmanageable. One strategy mental health professionals have found to be effective in combating anxiety and stress is to incorporate mindfulness into daily life .
What is mindfulness?
The term “mindfulness” has many definitions within our current culture. In the field of psychology, mindfulness is taking time to pause and objectively observe one’s current thoughts, feelings, needs and surroundings. Mindfulness is a way of turning off our reactive negative responses in order to be fully engaged in the moment. Mindfulness allows us to recognize and become in tune with our emotions and needs in the moment before they escalate to a crisis level.
A Biblical perspective on mindfulness.
While the practice of mindfulness is increasing in popularity, the principle behind it is not new. Christ followers for centuries have promoted the idea of quieting our minds before the Lord as an act of surrender and submission to God’s plans. 17th century Christian French philosopher Blaise Pascal famously said, “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” The apostle Paul teaches us to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to “be transformed through the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). Jesus himself admonished his followers in the Sermon on the Mount to “not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34).
What does a mindfulness practice look like?
In order to begin to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, start small. Set reminders for yourself to pause what you are doing and allow yourself to fully engage with where you are. Be still, breathe deeply, and take notice of the emotion (or emotions) that you are currently feeling. If the emotions are unpleasant, resist the urge to judge the emotion or yourself for having the negative emotion. Allow yourself to acknowledge that this is how you feel at the present moment, but pause to realize that emotions change so you will not be stuck here forever. If thoughts of the past or fears of the future start creeping into your mind, notice what might be trying to distract you from your current circumstances. Tell your brain that this is not the time to think those thoughts and purposely refocus your attention on the present. Once you allow yourself to feel your physical and emotional reaction to the present moment, you can proceed with a more healthy, emotionally processed response.
Do you have an urge to access social media? Before you begin mindlessly scrolling, mindfully check in with your emotions to discover what is fueling that urge. Do you struggle with emotional eating? Before heading to the pantry, take a moment to mindfully consider if the sensations you are feeling in your stomach are hunger or maybe another unfulfilled longing. By being mindfully aware of our feelings and motivations, we can resist the temptation to fill ourselves with unsatisfying urges that will never fill us.
If you are struggling with difficult emotions and would like someone to help, we are here for you. Contact the Burke Community Church Counseling Center at burkecommunity.com/careandcounseling/