by See Change Ambassador, Cathy Shah
In the fast-paced world we all live in today, the art of true listening and mindful communication has become lost in a flurry of instant text messages, rushed emails, awkward video chats and an addiction to daily doses of social media’s instant gratification pill.
Finding the time for authentic connection and mindful communication can be of great value for our mental health and well-being as individuals and society as a whole.
Knowing how to support a friend, colleague or family member who is experiencing mental health difficulties can feel daunting and overwhelming. We all want to do the best to help and support them but maybe don’t know the best way to go about it or the right things to say.
We have been conditioned in our society to want to help fix their problems or make them disappear as quickly as possible. We want solutions and we want them now! We have come to believe that negative or unpleasant emotions are wrong or shameful and must be ‘fixed’ or got rid of as quickly as possible. Rather than being helpful, this attitude can be a hindrance and keep the person stuck and unable to move through their condition.
As someone who has struggled for many years with an array of mental health issues, my wish is to provide some insight into the type of helpful communication that has been of great benefit along my journey of recovery. I have come up with a practical and helpful,
Three Step Process For Practicing Mindful Communication
Preparation before communication:
Taking a few short minutes to prepare yourself before engaging with the person can have a positive impact on the quality of the connection.
- Ground yourself by taking five deep breaths and/or a couple of stretches. Stamp your feet on the floor. Look around you. Notice the sounds and sensations your environment brings.
- Set intentions by simply saying the intention in your mind in a calm way: For example: ‘I intend to be an effective listener by offering a safe accepting space for (name of person) to be their authentic selves’
- If you are feeling distracted write down a list of everything on your mind and put it away till after your connection
- You are clearing your mind to be present.
During communication – How to be an effective listener and bring mindfulness into your communication:
- Drop all expectations of how the conversation should go.
- Listen to hear and understand, not to react.
- Judgments will inevitably arise. accept this as part of the process.
- Park the judgments as they arise. Observe them but don’t be motivated by them or reactive towards them. You can do this by visualising them going into a cloud, the cloud passes by gently: you can deal with the clouds afterwards.
- Pause a moment and breathe before responding to the person.
- Use empathic responses such as: “I’m hearing this is very difficult for you. I understand this is very tough for you.”
- Use reflective responses by reflecting back what you are hearing every so often in a summarised way. This can help clarify the person’s thought process and also help them to feel understood, validated and accepted.
- Continue to be present during the connection. When you get distracted by your thoughts use a simple method to bring yourself back.
An example of this would be to gently place your forefinger and thumb on either side of your wrist and use that as a signal to come back to the present moment. Anything that works for you is fine. I use this method and find it highly effective. It will become a habit after a while.
By using some of the above methods, you can create a safe space where the person can express their authentic self. They will feel supported and also that they are not alone. Speaking from experience this can feel like a huge relief and the benefits of this type of mindful communication cannot be overstated.
After communicating: You can take a few short minutes to check in with yourself . This can be a great time for reflection inwards to help you clear and process your own thoughts .
- Ground yourself again by taking a few deep breaths, stretching or stamping your feet on the ground.
- Go back to the clouds we visualised earlier. These are the clouds that hold your judgements and/or distracting thoughts that may have come up during the communication. Visualise them growing and becoming a dark grey in colour. Then see them bursting open. The rain falling into the sea and rivers and being washed away. Let them go. All judgements come from beliefs and conditioning. They are not part of our true selves. It is ok to feel them fully and let them go.
- I use visualisations like this as they work for me. You can experiment with this idea to find a way that suits your own needs.
- Be gentle with yourself. You are looking for progress not perfection. Any progress made in mindful communication will be of great benefit to both yourself and the person in need.
The Benefits of effective listening and mindful communication are simple:
1) It can help the person become aware of how they are feeling
2) They will feel safe, accepted and understood
2) They can begin to process and integrate how they are feeling in that moment.
3) Gradually integration leads to transformation.
As you can see, by applying some of these simple concepts to your communication skills you can become an effective listener. As a result, the person in need of support will feel truly heard and supported on their journey to recovery. Transformation can take place gradually through this new way of communicating through acceptance.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself either. It’s not about becoming a therapist overnight!
Learning these skills can be helpful in all areas of life where communication is vital for our wellbeing.
I hope you gained some valuable insights from my experience with mindful communication. May you all be heard, understood and accepted on your journeys toward recovery.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following