What to do in the heat of the moment


This morning I got some bad news. A client cancelled a job on me, last minute, that would have brought in some much needed income. I felt angry at how they’d acted and then anxious about the financial consequences of not having the job.

My sister asked, ‘How do you deal with this mindfully?’ A useful reminder, as when you need mindfulness most is usually when it goes out the window. I told her “I need to let go of it.” But there were actually a few steps before that.

First I made sure there was nothing I could do to change the situation, and there wasn’t. I had definitely lost the job, and my mind was already moving on to what I would do instead and how I would make up for my deficit.

My immediate reaction was to just ‘get on with things’, which is often what people tell me they do when they’re feeling stressed. Sometimes it’s the idea that getting more things done will relieve the stress (which is rarely the case, in my experience) and sometimes it’s to distract away from feeling the feeling, which just buries it.

So when I realised that was what I was doing, I decided to sit down and take a few of minutes to check in with myself, and really pay attention to how I was feeling. I used the Three Minute Breathing Space, from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, which guides you through noticing your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and breathing.

I noticed tightness in my chest and diaphragm area, a slight headache right at the top of my head, and a general heaviness in my body, like the situation was literally weighing me down. I did feel a bit better by the end of it though, and I started to think about how I could use the experience to push me to look for more work that I really want to do.

The general principle is that you won’t be able to fully deal with the emotion of an experience until you’ve allowed yourself to feel the full extent of it. It’s like the emotion’s got something to tell you and it won’t leave your body until it knows you’ve heard what it’s got to say.

So I suggest you try this three minute meditation (it’s the fifth one down). Next time a situation hits you like a punch in the stomach, it might come in useful.