A Few Simple Mindfulness Exercises Can Alleviate Distress.
Christine Clarridge recently interviewed me for her article, Not wild about dogs? How to cope in mutt-mad Seattle, that appeared in the June 9, 2017 issue of the Seattle Times. The premise of the article, which you may have already gathered from the title, was about how Seattle is overrun with dogs, making more than a few people uncomfortable. In a city where there are more dogs than children, dogs can be seen sometimes running off leash and non-service dogs can be found cruising the aisles of grocery stores. People who dislike, fear or are even neutral about dogs are experiencing a lot of discomfort in this place clogged with canines. Short of moving to a new city, non-dog lovers can feel powerless to change their situation, afraid to speak up and receive dirty looks, be told off or tagged as a dog hater. Much like living in an area of the country that experiences long winters, a lot of rain or stretches of 100-plus degree days, there’s not much people can do here to change the fact that Seattle plays host to thousands of dogs. But, what people can do is when unable to alter a situation—whether that’s living in an city inundated with dogs, dealing with current feelings of political polarization or trying to manage any kind of stressful situation—is to change their response to it, and developing a mindfulness practice can help.
Mindfulness Techniques To Disengage With Distress
There are specific mindfulness exercises that you can engage in when dealing with any kind of stress or distress. Distress often stems from an attachment on how things should be rather than how things actually are. Developing a heightened awareness about and acceptance for the reality that something is occurring can go a long way in alleviating distress. You can also work on mindfully creating distance between you and specific triggers. For instance, if you aren’t a dog person, and they seem to be everywhere, try shifting your focus. Instead of thinking about how irritated you are, gently turn your attention away from the troubling thoughts and back to the present moment in a nonjudgmental way.
When it feels impossible to shift focus, there are other mindfulness exercises you can apply to help you through the moment. Try things like counting your steps, feeling your breath, noticing the feel and sound of your feet touching the ground as you walk, smelling the air, seeing the sky or looking for interesting shapes and textures in the environment around you. Practicing these types of mindfulness techniques when distressing thoughts and feelings start to come on can help you become less reactive and more responsive. They can also help to mitigate how much space distressing thoughts take up in your mind, which can free up your mind to entertain more fulfilling and satisfying thoughts.
If you’re really struggling with something specific or in life in general, working with a mindfulness therapist or mindfulness coach can help. While simple, although often not easy, practicing mindfulness becomes easier the more you do it and the benefits of increasing awareness and tethering yourself to the present moment can be great. More information on Mindfulness Therapy and Mindfulness Coaching can be found on my website.
Samara V. Serotkin, Psy.D. is a Seattle-based clinical psychologist and mindfulness-based coach. Dr. Serotkin, the author of “The Relationship Between Self-Actualization and Creativity,” has served as an advisor to multiple startup companies and presented at national conferences on topics ranging from mindfulness meditation to creating behavioral change.