By Dr Megan Jones Bell, Headspace’s Chief Strategy & Science Officer
We all experience sadness and low moods at points in our lives – these are normal human emotions. However, too much of these feelings can weigh us down, narrow our perspective and fog our experience of happiness.
Mindfulness is a proven method to help people better manage difficult emotions as they arise by shifting perspective, helping transform how we view thoughts and teaching us not to attach so much weight to these feelings.
By becoming more aware of how negative feelings appear in our thoughts and bodily sensations, we can observe them, helping us to accept that these are normal and understandable experiences. When we teach ourselves to experience negative thoughts and feelings in a clear, calm and non-judgemental way, we allow ourselves to move through sadness or worry better.
1. Begin with awareness
Becoming aware of the thoughts, emotions and sensations you feel is the first step in learning to change your relationship to them. When we learn to notice and observe thoughts as simply thoughts, it helps us gain more separation from them in a constructive way - not to undermine their accuracy, and helps us realise that our brains process lots of thoughts every moment. Whilst we might agree with some, others can lead to us feeling a certain way, and there are also those which might not make any sense at all.
When we aren’t experiencing strong feelings of happiness or kindness, it’s very difficult to believe that they are always there. You may naturally have a restless mind or frequently feel frustrated, irritated, sad, critical and so on. We might mistakenly believe this to be who we are or the sum of the mind, forgetting that thoughts and feelings are simply on the surface.
Noting thoughts and feelings nonjudgmentally can give us incredible freedom. We can sit with our experiences, be patient with ourselves, and realise that thoughts and feelings are ultimately fleeting experiences.
2. Let go of negative commentary
Feeling down or sad, stressed or anxious are natural responses; we can’t control when they arise, but we can change how we relate to them. Through meditation, we can familiarise ourselves with the storylines that created these feelings and help us notice what sad thoughts we’re holding on to. We can learn to see these preoccupying thoughts, sit with them, and let them go by acknowledging that our thoughts do not define us.
The only way we can experience calm is to let go of that endless commentary which questions, doubts and obstructs the way to achieve happiness. When we let go of thought through meditation, we experience something more spacious, less judgmental, more empathetic.
3. Using your breath as an anchor
Overthinking can induce low moods as well as stress and anxiety. By focussing on our breath, we can ground ourselves in the present moment instead of focussing on unwanted thoughts in your mind.
The simple act of focusing on the physicality of your breathing - the rise and fall of your diaphragm - can help you to unwind, distance yourself from unnerving thoughts, and step away from the worried or sad mind.