Question 1: Dealing with change during challenging times.
The ‘change curve’ derived from the work of Kubler-Ross, describes the internal emotional journey that individuals typically experience when dealing with change and transition.
Phase 1: Denial, moving towards anger and resistance:
How can we manage this stage?
Communication: We need to seek to understand reality as it is, we really need to lean on our support network to understand things from a rational perspective.
Gaining clarity: Use journaling, self-reflection and mindfulness to widen your perspective and consider where you may be wrong about things.
Cognitive reframing: Stoic principles and principles from CBT can be evoked. Reframing times of challenge and change as opportunities for growth and development. A useful stoic idea is that of Amor Fati, which means to love one’s fate, teaches us to embrace the moment and let challenges and opportunities alike be our teacher.
Breath work: During this stage our baseline level of anxiety and stress will be heightened, something really effective we can do to manage this is to focus on breathwork. Using deep breathing to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, try breathing slowly, a cadence of 5 seconds in and around 5-10 seconds out is really helpful.
Phase 2: Depression moving into bargaining and planning.
What can we do?
Communication: emphasis on communicating how we feel, we aren’t seeking solutions as much as we desire an empathetic ear to listen to and acknowledge how we are feeling.
Good Habits: you have to get the basics right- at the time when it’s the hardest to do we have to focus on the so called “little things” which are actually the foundation for how we think, feel and operate. Exercise, waking up and sleeping at the same time, good nutrition. We must build a strong base and this will provide a bottom to your dip and keep us as resilient as possible in difficult times.
Bad Habits as this will make a bad situation hellish. Stay away from things like alcohol, drugs. Anything that drains your energy, unstable people, low-quality content on social media, reality tv, bad news etc.
Setting goals & looking forward: As we begin looking forward we must begin planning for the future, looking beyond our current circumstances and looking to embrace change. Start creating that gap between where you are and where you want to be, don’t make it so big that it feels crushing, but focus on the incremental improvements you can make and get excited about this future. Having a range of goals is important for starting to generate positive emotion, delaying gratification and building a sense of optimism about the future.
Phase 3: Acceptance moving towards implementation & integration
Communication: Here we must be focused on specific practical advice. Only once we reach this phase of emotional equanimity are we really open to seeking out guidance from others. Share plans with others, seek feedback and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Setting goals momentum: movement towards goals is what provides us with the release of positive emotion that sustains us. Build momentum on the goals we have set, begin to focus on the process rather than the destination and reflect on your progress, celebrating successes often. Share your ideal with other people for accountability and social motivation.
Cultivate curiosity: Try new things, get involved in new experiences that can open up your world. Engage in simple hobbies such as getting out to new places, meet new people, joining new clubs. Seek to establish new patterns, be open to things and seek out change. Even small changes can make a difference like reading or watching something you usually wouldn’t that could make you think differently.
Along any journey or phase of life it’s important to remember that no matter what is going on there are always things we can control that will provide a sustained lift in our mood and overall sense of wellbeing.
Mindfulness & general questions about the mind.
Question 2: Why should you meditate?
The mind is involved in everything we do, the main benefits are:
1. A sense of calm and clarity. Mindfulness lowers our baseline level of anxiety, if we are more present and less caught in our thoughts we are far more likely to experience the relaxed focus of something like a flow state.
2. Presence and relationships. One of the best benefits is how mindfulness helps us connect with other people. Training our awareness to be present is essential for conversations, empathy and active listening. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone else if we are also talking to ourselves internally, it puts this barrier up between us and them which is very evident in conversation.
3. Positive emotion. There are loads of studies showing that people who meditate have a brain that is slightly tilted towards experiencing positive emotion- this is mostly due to the fact mindfulness helps us train the relationship we have with our limbic system. The default mode network in our brain can often push us towards negative thoughts and feelings, meditations shifts us away from this kind of remuneration. Staying present also keeps us from drifting into the anticipatory anxiety involved in thinking too much about the future and negative emotions arising from dwelling in the past.
4. Meditation is so effective at increasing your cognition and problem-solving ability. Half of this comes through the increased focus and resilient in the face of difficulty and the other is from meditations ability to improve our creativity. Creativity is improved as meditation helps us break free of our DMN and repetitive patterns of mind to form new frameworks and unlock new perspectives.
Question 3: How does meditation change the mind?
Meditation changes our mind to be less reactive, more emotionally stable, and better able to focus, plan and use rationality when we need it.
This mechanism can easily be explained. Inside our prefrontal cortex, we have two important areas the lateral and the medial cortex.
The lateral area is associated with the higher-order functions discussed earlier (the ability to override our unconscious habits and behaviors). During meditation, the connections between this area of the brain and the amygdala grow stronger. This allows for effective two-way communication between the higher and lower brain regions, and thus a better assessment and regulation of our negative states of mind.
As this occurs the connection between the amygdala and the medial region of the prefrontal cortex become weaker. The medial area is related to our personal experience. It creates self-referential mental activity; the "me, myself and I" thoughts. We feel connected to the medial area as it is responsible for the day to day mental chatter that relates to who we are. The weakened connection between this area and the amygdala means we feel less strongly associated with the feelings of apprehension, stress, laziness and fear (feelings associated with our lower brain regions).
Question 4: How do I encourage mindfulness in children, or anyone else?
Such an important topic considering kids are growing-up in an increasingly digital world that competes for their attention. Obviously, tech brings so many advantages but it creates an environment where we easily lose control of our attention if we are constantly pulled around by high highly stimulating technology that just smashes our mind with dopamine. Books such as The Shallows by Nicholas Carr identify the way that the internet can fragment our attention and disrupt our ability to focus or find a sense of stillness & contentment in the present moment.
1. Lead by example. Meditate around your children and
discuss the benefits that you personally feel
2. Encourage interest but don’t force it. Ask them questions about their experience to encourage knowledge of awareness, sensations, thoughts and feelings. Again, if they meditate be sure to follow this up with a great discussion.
3. Get mindful beyond meditation. Bring mindfulness into all aspects of life, work and play. Use language that allows your child to develop a deeper engagement with everyday activities through focus, being intentional and maintaining self-awareness.
4. Use a variety of techniques to develop their interest. Guided meditation, walking meditation, vipassana, music, even try a transcendental or affirmation type meditation. See what suits them.
More on dealing with change: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_96.htm
More on meditation and the mind: https://www.alivesydney.com/post/neuroscience-mindfulness
More on mindfulness for children: https://annakaharris.com/mindfulness-for-children/