How mindfulness practice has changed my life – a personal story

Person walking on beach
NeustockImages/iStock
Karen Liebenguth
Coach, MBTI facilitator, mindfulness teacher
www.greenspacecoaching.com
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I have dreadful memories from when I was 4 or 5 and onwards of feeling terribly frightened and anxious about anything and everything. Going to sleep was the worst.

Ideally I would have liked to stay at my mother’s side day and night.

I didn’t want to go to school because I was feeling scared of being in a big group of children I didn’t know, I didn’t want to be in a car with more than three people in it because I was feeling terribly anxious about the car breaking, I did not want to be on a boat for fear it would sink, I didn’t want to be at home with a child minder because I was worried that my mother was not coming back.

Many things terrified me.

I constantly believed that something bad was going to happen to me, that I would get lost, that I had to go to hospital, that I was going to be separated from my mother and sister, that I was going to be in a lot of pain, that I was going to die…

Those were some of my catastrophic thoughts that kept me in a constant state of high alert and worry.

Life felt very scary to me.

It certainly has given me back my life.

Anxiety – worrying about what has not happened yet - has inhibited me from fully living.

Of course I had therapy when I was a child; also later when I was a student and as young adult. It reduced the level of anxiety I was suffering from considerably.

Still, anxiety had been a constant unpleasant companion in my life for almost four decades until I was introduced to the practice of mindfulness in 2008 – when I was forty.

Thanks to mindfulness practice I understand myself better and the cause for my anxiety.

That in itself is not a remedy but it helped me bring understanding and compassion to myself and that has helped me to come into a different, more supportive relationship with myself.

My parents divorced when I and my sister where two and three years old. My mother never remarried and brought us up a s single mum needing to work full-time.

It meant that we had to grow up quickly, to get on with our life, and that felt deeply scary and unsafe. Don’t get me wrong, my mother was certainly not a bad mother – this is not about blaming my parents – it was just that she wasn’t around enough to reassure me that I was okay.

Mindfulness has helped me become more and more aware of my stress pattern.

When I feel anxious and then stressed I have a narrative in my head that goes like this: It’s too much, I have too much work to do, I can’t cope, I won’t be able to do it. These thoughts trigger my mind’s alarm system which in turn triggers more tension in my body and makes my breath shallow and inhibited which in turn impacts on the choices I make; what I say to my colleagues, friends, partner, family etc and how I say it, aka knee-jerk reactions.

Anxiety – worrying about what has not happened yet - has inhibited me from fully living.

Then, to top it all off, I beat myself up for being so stressed, inefficient, grumpy or moody which adds another layer of anxiety and stress. And this is the crucial bit that was a complete eye-opener for me that mindfulness has taught me: harsh self-criticism or self-judgement is the very thing that puts most pressure on me, on us, that creates most stress, anxiety and can lead to depression.

Mindfulness practice has helped me to see things more for what they are

Yes, I have work to do, and deadlines that perhaps are unpleasant but they are just deadlines and work is just work and giving a talk is just giving a talk – no more no less. It’s called primary experience. What we do with it, ie how we interpret what happens to us is called secondary experience and that’s what can cause us a lot of pain depending on how we interpret, judge, analyse life’s events.

Mindfulness has helped me become more and more aware of my stress and anxiety pattern

So when I feel stressed or anxious, I now notice my breath getting shallow, I recognise the thoughts racing through my head, and the feelings in my body (eg tightness, racing heart, anxiety, sweating, panic, overwhelm, too muchness) and take some deeper breaths and let my breath find its natural rhythm again which allows my mind and body to calm down and relax.

Mindfulness has transformed how I experience myself

It has helped me see and understand my helpful and unhelpful habitual ways of thinking and behaving which in turn has helped me respond differently, more kindly and compassionately to myself, others and life’s challenges.

Today, I still suffer from anxiety occasionally, particularly in the early hours of the morning when I wake up sweaty and with my heart racing. The difference is, today I know what I need to do.

I expand my in-breath and slow down my out-breath. I feel my body on the mattress, my feet, legs, bum, back, back of my head. I become aware of whatever catastrophic thought is going through my head, I ask my self: Is this true? 99% of the time the answer is ‘No’. I’m back in the here and now and continue to sleep.

Mindfulness is not an idea, it’s a practice. It requires daily commitment, faith and stamina. The pay-off is huge and can be life-changing. It certainly has given me back my life.

About kliebenguth

About kliebenguth

Karen Liebenguth is an experienced coach, an accredited mindfulness teacher, a certified MBTI facilitator and Focusing practitioner. She works with private and corporate individuals and groups to foster personal growth and sustainable change.

She set up Green Space Coaching in 2008 (www.greenspacecoaching.com) to offer coaching while walking in London’s parks and green space tapping into the benefits nature has on our psychological, emotional and physical well-being. She believes that it is in nature where reflection, insight and change can happen most naturally.

Karen helps people deal better with stress and anxiety, find direction, feel more in charge of and confident about their life so that they can make long-lasting change and spend more time doing what most matters to them.

As well as working with individuals outdoors, Karen is an experienced group facilitator helping teams develop, communicate at a deeper level as well as understand differences and shared values. Together with her coaching colleague Simon-Hawtrey-Woore she offers days out of the office and in nature for teams of all levels.

She uses Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Mindful Coaching, the Natural Learning Cycle, Compassionate Communication and Focusing. She is a member of the Association for Coaching, an accredited mindfulness teacher with BreathworksMindfulness.org and a qualified Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) facilitator.

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