Mindfulness and Valued Action
Stress is a part of life. Difficult and unpleasant thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming at times. When pain arises in our lives in one shape or another, we often have the tendency to immediately run away from this pain or do something to get rid of it. For example, we often automatically react to difficult or unwanted emotions by distracting ourselves with food, drugs, television, or perhaps by keeping ourselves super busy.
Sometimes pain comes and goes and other times it comes and stays for a while. Sometimes our pain is intense while other times it is minor. There simply is no way to completely avoid or control pain in our lives. In many cases, difficult thoughts, emotions, and body sensations will arise whether we want them or not. If avoidance is our only strategy to cope with pain, we limit ourselves and the ways we can respond to stress pain. In some sense we have less freedom, because every time pain arises we are programmed to react a certain way instead of responding and making a conscious choice that supports a healthy and meaningful life. Instead of relying on avoidance as a coping strategy for dealing with stress and difficult emotions, we can learn how to be more flexible and how to respond to stress in more effective ways that ultimately help us live the life that we want.
This is where mindfulness connects with values and meaningful living. Remember that mindfulness is the process or skill of intentionally paying attention to our experience in the present moment with an open and accepting attitude. Practicing mindfulness helps us develop awareness and acceptance of our experience. When we are more aware and accepting of our experience, such as our thoughts and feelings, we can choose how we want to respond, instead of letting our thoughts and feelings run our lives. So when difficult thoughts and emotions arise, instead of automatically reacting to avoid them, another option is to notice how you feel with acceptance and then make a conscious choice in how your want to respond. You can choose to respond in a number of different ways. There is no right way to respond to stress. It really depends on how you want to respond and what matters to you in that moment. The key is to be aware of what you are doing and to respond in a flexible way.
A major benefit of being able to respond to stress in a flexible way is that you can then CHOOSE to respond in a way that supports your values and the things you care about in life. Mindfulness gives your flexibility and flexibility gives you the ability to respond to stress in better ways so that you can focus your time and energy on working towards your values instead being dependent on having to avoid stress or reacting to it in the same way every time.
So here are some tips on how to apply mindfulness in your life and respond in flexible and effective ways to stress and difficult emotions that come your way:
When you are experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings, it is suggested to try to do the following as best you can:
- Pause and notice how you are feeling with a open and accepting attitude
- Take a moment to think about one or more of the following: (Choose one or more of the questions below that make the most sense or are the most helpful for you)
- What is the best way for me to respond in this moment?
- Is there a way for me to respond in this moment that will help me to take action towards my values and the things I care about?
- Am I willing to experience these thoughts and feelings if it means doing what I value?
If you find the questions written above helpful, then consider writing these questions on a notecard and carrying this notecard with you. When you have difficult thoughts and emotions, take out your notecard and use the question or reminder on the notecard to help you respond in an effective way.