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Sunday, 9 October 2016

Using the Breathing Space

Using the Breathing Space: The Action Step

The Breathing Space provides a way to remind us to use activity to deal with unpleasant feelings as they arise.

After reconnecting with an expanded awareness in the Breathing Space, it may feel appropriate to take some Considered Action.  In dealing with depressed feelings the following activities can be particularly helpful:

1.       Doing something pleasurable
2.       Doing something that will give you a sense of satisfaction or master
3.       And acting mindfully.

To work out which is most likely to be helpful, ask yourself:

  • What do I need for myself right now?
  • How can I best take care of myself right now?

The try some of the following:

Doing something pleasurable

Be kind to your body
Have a nice hot bath; have a nap; treat yourself to your favourite food without feeling guilty; have your favourite hot drink.

Engage in Enjoyable Activities
Go for a walk (maybe with a dog or friend); visit a friend; do your favourite hobby; do some gardening; take some exercise; phone a friend; spend time with someone you like; cook a meal; go shopping; watch something funny or uplifting on TV; read something that gives you pleasure; listen to music that makes you feel good.

Be aware of barriers to pleasure
Remember the barriers to experiencing pleasant moments.  Be aware of “killjoy” thoughts that tell you, “You won’t” enjoy a pleasure you have planned, that “you don’t” deserve it, that “you should” be enjoying it more, thoughts that distract you from fully experiencing what you are doing.

Doing something that gives you a Sense of Mastery, Satisfaction, Achievement or Control

Clean the house; clear out a cupboard or drawer; catch up with letter writing; do some work; pay a bill; do something that you have been putting off doing; take some exercise.

Be aware of high standards and “it should be different thinking”

They may make it hard for you to feel you have achieved anything worthwhile.  Notice thoughts like “I should be doing this better/faster/more easily”, recognise them for what they are, and let them be.

Things that are normally easy can be very difficult when mood is low.  So give yourself the credit you would give another person struggling with a difficult task.  It may well be helpful to break tasks down into smaller steps and only tackle one step at a time.  Make sure you treat yourself kindly and with respect, and congratulate yourself whenever you complete a difficult task or take part of a task.

Acting Mindfully

When mood is low, our minds tend to be preoccupied with worries and ruminations.  We may be going over and over things that have happened in the past, trying to make sense of why we feel the way we do, or anxiously wondering about the future.  The end result is that our attention is not really on what we are doing – we are lost in our heads, rather than focussed on what is happening right here and now.  This means that activities that might nourish us become depleting.

Notice if your mind has been hijacked by negative thoughts that tend to take you away from being present.  Instead, have an intention to focus your entire attention on what you are doing right now.  Keep yourself in the very moment you are in; put your mind in the present (e.g. “Now I am walking down the stairs… now I can feel the banister beneath my hand… now I’m walking into the kitchen… now I’m turning on the light…”).  Be aware of your breathing as you do other things; be aware of the contact of your foot with the floor as you walk.

The more powerful your thoughts, the more difficult it may be.

But with practice, you will find your capacity to be more fully present in each moment will grow.


Be open minded
Whatever you choose to do, perform your action as an experiment.  Don’t pre-judge how you will feel after it is completed.  Keep an open mind about whether doing this will be helpful in any way.

Aim for a broad range
Consider a range of activities and don’t limit yourself to a favourite few.  Sometimes trying new behaviours can be interesting in itself. ‘Exploring’ and ‘enquiring’ often works against ‘withdrawal’ and ‘retreat’.

Don’t expect miracles
Carry out what you have planned to do as best you can.  Putting extra pressure on yourself by expecting a single activity to alter things dramatically may be unrealistic.  Even a 1% change in your pattern of activities, increasing those that nourish you and decreasing those that deplete you, is helpful in building your overall sense of control in the face of shifts in your mood.

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