People with depression tend to have the same pattern of negative thoughts and feelings about their lives and the world around them. These negative thoughts and feelings automatically kick in whenever we are feeling depressed. We often aren’t even aware that this is happening – it’s automatic.
When you are in this automatic, negative mode, things will happen that will trigger certain negative thoughts. These thoughts will often run through your mind quite quickly – much like cars on a highway in rushing through in peak-hour.
These thoughts will then link into other thoughts about things that have happened in the past. They will link into other worries and regrets, and also link into thoughts and worries about the future and what might happen. This process will happen automatically – often you aren’t even aware this has happened.
This “mind wandering” allows negative thoughts and feelings to keep running through your mind, feeding into your depressed mood and keeping you in your cycle of feeling bad, and feeling like you need alcohol or other drugs to help you cope.
However, by learning how to step out of “automatic pilot” you can keep a check on yourself, and learn to break this “automatic” cycle.
The first step is to learn how to use “mindfulness” skills.
When you are using mindfulness skills your focus is on what is happening around you, in this very moment. Your mind is not focussing on judging or evaluating, or on thoughts like “am I doing well enough?”, “is my mood better today?”, or “I think I’m feeling worse today, it’s happening again”. You are not worried about how things are going, or about what has already happened. You are not feeling guilty about things you have done or should have done or worrying about how things will be in the future. These thoughts and worries and judgements take up too much time and energy and keep you in the cycle of depression and alcohol or other drug use.
Rather, when using your mindfulness skills, you will change gears. You will switch off this automatic mode, and focus on what is happening right now, where there is no need for monitoring or evaluation. In mindfulness mode, your focus is on accepting and allowing thoughts and feelings to happen without feeling the pressure to change them.
The first step is to start to realise just how much we all operate on automatic pilot in our everyday lives. This week, your task is to start to recognise just how little of your attention goes on everyday activities such as eating, showering, or walking. .
When was the last time you sat down and ate a meal, just focussing on your food, what it smells like, what it looks like, what it tastes like? How often are you really paying attention to what is happening to your body when you are walking?
Chance are, when you are doing these everyday things, your mind is wandering off to what will happen next, what might happen in 10 minutes time, what you will do when you finish, what has just happened. Instead of paying attention to what you are doing right now, you are already off in your “automatic pilot” mode, judging, evaluating, worrying, planning – feeding into your cycle.
This week, we would like you to practice stepping out of automatic pilot, and to really pay attention to routine, everyday things as they are happening.
Let’s start with something simple, like walking.
Start by standing up and moving to one end of the room you are now in.
Once you are at one end of the room, stand in a relaxed way, with your feet pointing straight ahead, and arms hanging loosely by your sides. Look straight ahead.
In a moment, you are going to start walking. But, you will practice paying attention to all the physical and other feelings that occur when you are walking – things you probably are not normally aware of. You will practice walking like it is the first time you have ever walked.
Start by bringing your focus to the bottoms of your feet, noticing what it feels like where your feet and ground make contact.
Feel the weight of your body spread through your legs and feet to the ground.
You may like to flex your knees slightly a couple of times to feel the different sensations in your feet and legs.
Next, shift your weight into your right foot. As best you can, notice the change in physical sensations in your legs and feet as your left leg “empties” of weight and your right leg takes over as support for your body. Keep looking straight ahead.
With your left leg “empty” allow your left heel to lift slowly from the floor, noticing the change in sensations in your calf muscles as this happens.
Allow your entire left foot to lift gently off the floor until only your toes are still in contact with the ground. Slowly lift your left foot completely off the floor and move your left leg forward, noticing the physical sensations in your feet, legs and body change as your leg moves through the air.
Put your left heel on the ground in front of you and allow the rest of your left foot to make contact with the floor.
As this happens you are noticing the changes in physical sensations that occur as you shift the weight of your body onto your left foot and off your right foot.
Allow your right foot to “empty” of weight.
Repeat this whole process with your right foot.
Firstly lifting your right heel off the ground…followed by the rest of your right foot… and move your right foot slowly forward, noticing the changes in physical sensations that occur throughout this motion.
Keep repeating this process as you slowly move from one end of the room to the other, being aware of the particular sensations in the bottoms of your feet and heels as they make contact with the floor, and the muscles in your legs as they swing forward.
Keep walking mindfully, as best you can from one end of the room to the other. There is no rush here, no time limit, just practice noticing just how involved walking actually is. Being aware as best you can, of the physical sensations in your feet and legs, while keeping your gaze directed straight ahead.
When you reach one end of the room, turn your body slowly around and start you way back to the other end. As best you can practice mindful walking up and down the room a couple of times.
Your may notice that your mind will wander away from walking during your practice.
This is normal – it is what minds do.
When you notice this has happened, gently guide the focus of your attention back to the sensations in your feet and legs, paying particular attention to the contact your feet have with the floor.
This will help you stay in the present moment, concentrating on what is happening now, rather than worrying about the past or the future.
Just practice mindful walking up and down a couple of times. When you are done, walk slowly over to the computer and click to continue.