By Tehani Gunsekara (Clinical Psychologist)
I don’t know about you but often my head can be buzzing with a gazillion things. Things I need to do, things that happened and things that may happen. Ideas, hopes, dreams, fears and doubts can rush through my mind all at once. This can make it difficult to focus on one thing, and can lead to a sense of overwhelm and exhaustion. Trying not to think about it only makes things worse! The harder you tell yourself not to think about .... the more you find yourself thinking about ..... So, if thinking about it leads to overwhelm and not thinking about it is just not possible what can you do? Try out this 3 minute breathing space excercise.
First, some background. The original 3 minute breathing space was developed by John Teasdale, Mark Williams and Zindel Segal (Segel, 2016). They designed it as a technique that could be used quickly and easily in everyday life. The technique trains us to direct our attention on purpose. Instead of our mind and attention getting stuck, we intentionally take the wheel of our attention and direct it ourselves, working with, rather than against our minds. You start with a fairly broad focus and then narrow your focus to one thing ( in this case the breath) before broadening your focus again. A bit like an hour glass. This way we get unstuck from the overwhelm without fighting it.
Here's how to do it:
You can set the timer on your phone for this or simply guesstimate the time.
1. Sit in a comfortable position with your legs uncrossed and feet planted firmly on the ground.
Close your eyes. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. For approximately 1 minute simply notice your inner experience. Let your thoughts wander, let your feelings come and go . Let all the worries, To Dos etc flow through your mind. Rather than trying to stop them, just notice them. You are simply noticing them, you are not trying to change your thoughts or feelings.
2. After approximately 1 minute shift focus. This time notice your breath. Don’t change your breathing. Simply notice it. Notice the rise and fall of your stomach as you take air in and breathe it back out. Notice the air on the tip of your nose before it enters your body. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice the air as it leaves your mouth. Is it warmer or cooler than the air you took in through your nose? Notice the air travelling down your throat and into your stomach.
3. In the final minute start broadening your focus onto your body. Notice Your spine supporting you as you sit in the chair. Notice your feet on the floor. Then notice your environment. Notice what you can hear and what you can feel in contact with your skin. Finally, open your eyes, look around and notice where you are. Take it all in at once, what you can see, hear and feel on your skin.
Now that you’ve dropped the overwhelm get up and do something on your To Do list, or, even better, do something nice for yourself.