Do you remember when somebody last told you to calm down? Chances are it did not help. We often feel that we, or others need to calm ourselves down in difficult situations but it can be hard to know how to do it. In fact, one of the most common questions I am asked at my mindfulness classes in Whitley Bay and Newcastle is, how do I calm myself down when I feel very emotional? Many of the people who attend these classes have been used to keeping themselves very busy and coping with high stress situations by physical activity of one sort or another. However, when ill-health comes along often these strategies are no longer available.
Mindfulness is about being in the moment – however that moment is. It is not about secretly trying to feel, or stop feeling a particular way. So we would not try to change or control what we experience. However, we can still look after ourselves by choosing where to place our attention. The present moment includes many experiences, some of which we will be more aware of than others at any one time. When we are feeling agitated, angry, anxious or upset the chances are that we are focusing on our thoughts about the situation that has triggered these feelings. At these times our thoughts can have a very strong pull and will probably move very fast. They may or may not be true – it does not matter. It is almost impossible to continue to focus on our thoughts without adding fuel to the fire of how we are feeling. So instead we can choose to take care of our needs in the moment by directing our attention towards another aspect of our present moment experience.
We could choose something about the environment around us, and do our best to direct most of our attention on to an object that we can see or hold. We would do this without trying to 'block out' any thoughts or feelings that kept coming back to us (which they certainly would). We would simply keep redirecting our attention gently back to our chosen object, without giving ourselves a hard time. Choosing to focus most of our attention on the solid feeling of the feet on the floor, while we are standing, sitting or walking can be a really helpful way of calming our minds when we are in danger of being overwhelmed.
Or a really helpful way of dealing with and processing difficult emotion is to pay attention to the feeling of the emotion in the body. So when we notice that we are feeling angry, we can ask ourselves 'how do I feel this in the body?' We might notice some tension in our chest or arms. We can then try to explore this with a really gentle attitude and an intention to simply look after our needs the best we can. We can imagine using our breath to gently explore the detail of what we are experiencing in the body. With practice this can help us to acknowledge and look after our emotions without getting carried away by them to the point where we automatically keep adding fuel to the fire of how we feel.