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Learn & Practice

Well-Being Tip: Give Yourself a Break

By The Healthy Minds Team

In this week’s Well-Being Tip, we explore how to notice our reactions and support our response with self-compassion.

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

As you begin to practice meditation, especially if you sought something like meditation in response to overreactivity, anxiety, or overwhelming stress, it can feel a bit like things are getting worse instead of better. That’s because you’ve opened your aperture of awareness so you are feeling more things, noticing more reactions, and observing your own reactions instead of blindly walking through life. 

Noticing your reactions, in the moment, or later with a shudder of guilt, is actually a good thing. It’s nothing to beat yourself up about – it means you are working toward your well-being – which is a good thing. 

Exploring your reactions and then supporting yourself with self-compassion can be a great antidote to feelings of shame or negativity towards oneself. The Healthy Minds Framework for Well-Being gives us many tools to process these emotions within the four pillars of Awareness, Connection, Insight, and Purpose. Below is an example of how to give yourself a break as the natural process of a healthy meditation habit rears its head.

  • Step One: You messed up and you are aware of it. Maybe it’s well after the fact, but you feel it now. You blew up at your partner, snapped at your child, wrote a snide remark in an email to a colleague. You weren’t thinking – you just reacted. And now, you are feeling ashamed and guilty. 

  • Step Two: Reflect on your behavior – no need to punish yourself – just reflect. Treat this as a practice in itself – a mix of awareness and insight. You can divide your reflection into three parts: Before the reaction, during the reaction, and after the reaction.
    • Before: What were you doing? How did your body feel and what was on your mind? Notice your current bodily sensations and breathing as you think about your past experience.
    • During: What did you say or feel or do? Really try to relive the experience in order to notice your feelings – including thoughts, sensations, and actions. Noticing this behavior is a skill. As you work on this skill you’ll become more and more attuned to your own reactions – and be able to shift in the moment. But for now, just reflect. What triggered this behavior? It’s OK if it’s not clear. Just notice.
    • After: Then, once the interaction or experience was over – how did you feel? Was your breathing altered? Did your body feel tight, or was your stomach tense? How did you cope in the moment? Were you avoiding or hiding? There is no need for judgement here. You are learning. It’s the only way through.

  • Step Three: Give yourself the gift of compassion. 
    • Take a few deep breaths and rest in open awareness, relax your mind and give the active “doing and solving” part of your brain some time off. You don’t need to alter or change anything right now. You just need to be. 
    • Then ask yourself how you would respond to a close friend who might have done something they regret? What words of kindness and compassion would you give that friend? Can you give that same compassion to yourself? You can even voice it in a silent phrase, “May I continue to grow. May I treat myself with kindness. May I be at peace.” 
    • Take a few more breaths, relax your body and ask yourself, “what do I need right now?” If the answer is healthy and supportive, like getting in a workout, or taking a bath – do it. Get out of the self-critical mind that is harsh, and simply rest in this feeling of kindness.

That’s it. Just because you started meditating doesn’t mean you’ll immediately be able to handle reactions and responses you’ve built up over a lifetime. Noticing your behavior more often will naturally lead to experiences like this. It’s part of the process – and a good sign that you are on the right track.

So give yourself a break. You’re doing amazing and you got this.

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