Learn a way to get back in the driving seat when feeling distressed
When describing the present moment awareness of being mindful, I often compare it to being in the driving seat of a car.
You can look through the window and see everything that’s going on outside the car - the bend up ahead, other cars on the road, people on the pavement - and, at the same time, you can look inside at the dashboard to know the car’s speed, its temperature, its fuel level and warning lights signal if there’s an issue to attend to.
So too with mindfulness. We notice what’s going on around us and what’s going on internally – our thoughts, feelings and body sensations.
Not only is driving a useful analogy when defining the meaning of mindfulness but it also holds true for how we can navigate our day.
When driving, by taking account of what's going on externally and internally, we remain in control and safely reach our destination.
When it comes to our lives, however, control may not be something that we feel we have much of the time.
Demands, events and situations often seem to be beyond our control.
Yet whilst situations may be out of our control, we are free to choose how we respond to them. Remembering that we always have a choice gives us back our sense of control and empowers us.
There are various methods we can use that help to put us in the driving seat of our lives.
When I sense internally that I am becoming distressed, perhaps my thoughts are whirling, there’s tension in my chest or I have a sense of dread, I use what I call the SOS technique.
If something unexpected appears on the road, we slow down to remain in control as we take time to understand the nature of the obstacle and choose how to respond.
This is exactly how the three-step SOS technique works – we take time to become clear on our options and then we respond.
In both situations, the action we take is to keep us (and others if involved) unharmed.
Step 1. Slowdown
There is always time, no matter how things feel, to shift down a gear or idle even if just for a moment.
In that moment I bring my attention to my body, to steady and ground myself. This may be with a few conscious breaths or by feeling points of contact - feet on the floor, seat on the chair.
In doing so, I drop out of mental commentary, help to switch on the body’s relaxation response and adopt the position of the mindful witness.
In other words, I am off autopilot and in the driver’s seat.
Step 2. Observe
As the witnessing self I can become what I call the detached detective. The one who gathers information to understand what’s going on.
No detective is interested in opinion. We are dealing with facts only.
What’s happening externally and what’s going on inside? What thoughts are here? What’s going on in the body? What emotion has arisen?
As a detective, there’s no judgement just openness and curiosity as I note what is happening. The evidence I gather provides clues to why I am feeling distressed.
From this position I can now consider options and make an informed choice of what to do.
Step 3. Steer
To decide which way to steer I ask myself things like:
what do I need?
what would be the most helpful thing for me and/or others?
what is the best thing to do right now?
Most times there is something I can do to help myself when distress arises.
Actions I might take include:
>Asking for time to think - giving myself time to respond
>Gathering more information – asking questions of others and the internet
>Changing my perspective - wondering what other ways I might see the situation
>Asking for help to deal with the situation
>Stating boundaries and outlining consequences
>Waiting until more information is available
>Nothing, just getting clarity of what's going on for me may be enough.
The SOS technique is a tool that helps you take care of yourself when things feel uncomfortable or distressing.
When you feel an emotion such as irritation rising, it can be done in under 60 seconds to avoid overwhelm but at other times when it’s about a difficult situation it may take longer as you develop and consider options.
Regardless, I’ve found taking a moment when my body is signalling distress to check-in and ask what I need, leads to once again feeling in control.
Why wait? Take care of you.
This is one of many practices taught during the 6-week bring mindfulness to life course. If you would like to explore learning how to benefit from mindfulness get in touch.