Why I Became More Mindful
In honour of World Mental Health Day, I wanted to share some of my experiences with mindfulness and what set me on the path to feeling that it was something I needed to try.
A few years back, I got hit with a dreaded case of imposter syndrome, which eventually led to anxiety and mild panic attacks. Suddenly, things that I'd had no problem with before, like getting up in front of a room of my peers and talking about the subjects that I love to talk about, became terrifying and I actively started avoiding it. More than that though, I started avoiding anything that would require me to speak in a group. I would stay quiet in meetings, even if I had something I wanted to contribute. When I wanted to leave my job, I was scared to do interviews (another thing I had previously had no problem with) or technical tests, my impostor syndrome telling me I wasn't good enough to pass the tests and would be found out as a fraud. As you can probably tell, it was a pretty crappy time! The anxiety started creeping into other areas of my life beyond work too, which coupled with already existing insomnia, became a lot to handle.
Eventually, I decided to open up to a friend who is also in the industry and has battled depression for most of his adult life. He had recently started using an app called Headspace and found it was helping him a lot. So I figured I had nothing to lose, and gave the free trial a go. I'd never thought I was the sort of person that would be able to do meditation, my mind is always running. I went into it with an open mind though, knowing how much it had helped my friend. The free trial allowed me to learn the basics of being mindful and I only had to commit 10 minutes a day to do it. And I loved it! Like really loved it. After the 10 minutes each day, I felt so relaxed. Tension throughout my body that I didn't even know was there melted away. After I'd finished learning the basics, I didn't hesitate to sign up to Headspace for the year. Their offering now a few years later is pretty vast too, with lots of nuanced paths to take to try and help with whatever may be bothering you. I realise at this point I may sound like a Headspace advert, but I promise I'm not. I just really love the app and found it incredibly useful. You don't have to use an app like this though. There are loads of free resources out there and videos on sites like YouTube for guided meditation and mindfulness (I've included one of my new favourites at the end).
I started trying to take 10 minutes every day to dedicate to being mindful. I don't always achieve that, sometimes I just don't get around to it, but that's ok. Even if I can't do my full 10 minutes guided with the app, I know it quite well now so I can spend a couple of quiet minutes doing it alone.
Over time, I started to try and apply the principles I was learning from being mindful when I felt that surge of anxiety and panic about anything. Gradually I started to chip away at it. The waves started to get smaller and I started to repair my confidence. I still have impostor syndrome, but now I have a way to cope with it. I own it, it doesn't own me anymore. I still have anxiety, but that's much more manageable too. Being mindful has given me ways to cope so I don't feel helpless anymore when I have those attacks of anxiety or panic.
I recently did a 4-week programme of pilates and mindfulness which I would highly recommend. A lot of the exercises in pilates are about improving posture and core strength. Very good things to work on when, like me, you spend most of your time sat at a desk. The second half of the session being about mindfulness was just a bonus! Also, a really simple change that I found has also helped a lot is to drink more water. I used to barely drink anything through the day and in the evenings it would usually be something like Pepsi Max over water. I started aiming for 2 litres a day and the minimum I have to hit before I can have something like Pepsi Max in the evening is 1 litre. I'm not a huge fan of the tap water where I live, so I often put some sugar-free squash in to help make it more palatable!
I still avoid certain situations. If I'm in an environment at work where things get very heated and argumentative, I prefer to remove myself from the situation as that makes me very anxious. I think that will always be the case though as anxious or not, I don't think that's a very productive situation for anyone to be in. I haven't quite worked up the courage to get back to getting up in front of a room of peers and giving a talk yet, but I'm working on it with a coach and when I do get there, I'll be using my mindful techniques before the big day to help me make those waves smaller.
I'll leave you with a mindfulness exercise I was introduced to recently that I really loved, called "The Mountain". Give it a try & enjoy!