Saturday 11 August 2018

How Being Mindful of My Judgements of Others Helped Me Manage Anxiety

Ethan explores how mindfulness, while not always the quick and easy solution to mental health struggles it is often claimed to be, helped him with his depression and anxiety.
- Ethan

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the word ‘mindfulness’ by now, a very popular buzzword that is often presented as a quick solution to many common mental health struggles. But, because of how often mindfulness is portrayed as a seemingly effortless solution, it can be frustrating when our issues are not immediately solved upon a first attempt to be mindful. As a result, to many, it can seem like a futile exercise. 

Before starting University, intrigued by this illusive practice that promised to make me happier, I picked up one of many books on mindfulness: G. Hasson’s ‘Mindfulness: Be mindful. Live in the moment.’As I was reading through it, it all seemed to make sense; take time to breathe, don’t let your thoughts run wild, and keep calm when facing new situations. Even though this all sounded very idealistic and unachievable, I began to dedicate periods of time to mindfulness – like a form of meditation but while doing other things – into my life. 

However, after coming to university and facing struggles with depression and constant self-deprecating thoughts, living a mindful life couldn’t have seemed more unrealistic. I became very fixated on my appearance, as it was something I could use to control how people viewed me and to hide how I really felt. Before leaving my room, I would first shower, then meticulously iron my clothes and lather my hair with gel, not allowing one hair to be out of place. 

This constant self-criticism and surveillance of my appearance didn’t end when I got ready for the day. Leaving my room only ramped-up my anxiety. Not feeling great about your appearance doesn’t pair well with having low confidence with what’s on the inside too. I also found that if I caught myself judging other people on the way they looked, talked, or presented themselves, I would evoke a feeling of guilt in myself. I felt horrible about how quickly my mind leapt to judgments of others; it was unfair of me to label them, or think less of them, and doing so, in turn, made me think less of myself. 

It was at this time that I began trying again to incorporate more bursts of mindfulness into my life, but nothing too significant or frustrating to overwhelm myself. I began simply being mindful of my judgments of others before I even began to try to be mindful of my own thoughts or life. Of course, it is difficult at first to control the judgments that pop into our heads. At first, I tried my best to pass positive judgments on others. Perhaps I would identify a nice piece of clothing, or the happy mood they appeared to be in, without being too envious of either. I then began to try to imagine and empathise with the identity struggles that they may also be facing. I found it beneficial to just look at each person as a human trying to get by, rather than the veil that they presented themselves behind. 

After practicing this more, and guilting myself less for judging others, I had found a beneficial way to practice mindfulness. I felt like I had imposed some sense of control over my thoughts, rather than letting them run riot as it is so easy for us to do. I could then put this into practice with my own appearance, negative thoughts, and stressful situations, helping me to manage my anxious thoughts a bit more each day. 

Hey, I'm Ethan! Having not found the past few years a breeze, as few people do, and struggling along the journey to know myself and where I'd like for my life to take me, I thought I'd share my experiences and the lessons I've learnt from for others going through similar struggles, in hope that you also get a better idea of how you want to experience life. I'm currently studying Philosophy and Politics at UEA.

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