5 Ways Mindfulness Meditation Can help You Deal with Negative People and Challenging Situations
1. You’ll develop empathy and compassion.
When you empathize with other people, you put your ability to understand someone else’s feelings into action.
Why would you ever want to understand someone else’s point of view? Especially if you’re dealing with someone who seems completely idiotic, negative, or draining?
At the end of the day, we’re all human. We’re people who deal with emotions, who deal with disappointments, who strive to meet goals and fight to find love. We all want to be heard and acknowledged. And that realization alone can change the way you view another person’s actions.
Holding space to recognize someone else's humanity, and allowing that recognition to precede your reactions is part of what happens when you practice mindfulness regularly. You begin to live life in full awareness - looking at situations from a wider perspective - understanding that although you can identify your anger or disappointment rising within you, you also know that your emotion is a byproduct of someone else’s human need to be heard.
When you are able to look at a situation with compassion, recognizing that someone else might be stressed, or hurting, or worried… when you can understand that their negativity might stem from that pain, then your reaction can also soften. You can act from a place of compassion instead of a place of defensive anger. Not only will this be freeing for you (because you won’t be a slave to your negative emotions), but you’ll also be able to be around many different types of people without it costing your peace.
2. You’ll be able to observe the frustrating moment without identifying with your emotional reaction to it.
Have you heard people talking about how learning to let go is one of the best ways to find happiness?
Mindfulness is like jumping in the carpool lane on your way to letting go.
Out of everything that upset you today, how many of those things happened in the past? How many of those things can you actually do something about? How many of those things happened so long ago that you can’t remember what you ate on the day it happened? Mindfulness teaches us that you don’t have to continue reliving the things that have ben negative in your life.
You can pay attention to the negative moment, recognize your emotion, and let it go. As soon as your mind jumps (as it will) to another thought, and that moment brings with it another reaction, another emotion, stay present with it. Do not return to the past negativity. Stay with your present situation. Enjoy it while it lasts. You don't have to continue grappling with things that don't serve you. You can put them aside. You can move forward. You can choose what to focus on.
A regular mindfulness meditation practice makes this process so much easier. After a while, you won’t have to think about staying in the moment - you will notice your mind as it moves from one interpretation to another, and you’ll watch its movements with compassion and acceptance.
3. You’ll be able to notice when your reaction to the negativity surfaces, and you’ll be able to watch it as it subsides.
How many times have you been able to think about something you did years ago and laugh hysterically about it? Even though in the moment you were really upset or sad, given time and space, you were able to see the situation from a completely different perspective.
Why does this happen? Well… when we have distance from the immediacy of the pain we experience, we know we’ve already been through the worst of it. We know we survived the situation. We know we made it through, and we no longer have to figure out how to deal with any consequences. It’s over. And so we can take things a lot less seriously. It becomes humorous because we see how ridiculous it was to think this situation meant the end of the world at the time. But we can only identify how ridiculous it was because we are on the other side of it.
Is it possible to experience this kind of relief without waiting for years of distance to come between us and our crappy situation? YES!
When we learn to pay attention to how we feel in the moment, and then look at our situation from an mindful perspective - one in which we see the situation exactly as it is and not as we want it to be, we give ourselves the same distance that time eventually offers us, except we don’t have to wait years to get there. We can observe the frustration. We can watch the negativity, understand where it’s coming from, and learn that the negativity doesn’t have to change the way we behave, or the way we think. We don’t have to respond to the negative situation immediately. We can observe. We can choose better. We can give ourselves the gift of mindful awareness, and act with intention later on.
4. Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to CHOOSE how we want to respond and engage with other people instead of relying on our immediate and emotionally charged instincts.
When we learn to observe and be present in our lives, we are giving ourselves the gift of time. When we stop relying on immediate and negatively charged reactions, we can be much more deliberate about how we engage with ourselves and those around us.
If we’re going through our day rushing because we have a million deadlines and an endless schedule, and the entire time we’re berating ourselves for not having it all done perfectly already… exhaustion probably isn’t too far away. Or maybe a meltdown with a significant other, or a mistake fueled by a lack of focus or angry nervous energy…
If we were to go through the same schedule-heavy, busy day with a mindful perspective… everything changes! When we begin feeling frustrated because we have too much to do and not enough time, we can stop for a couple of seconds. We can check in with ourselves. We can ask ourselves how we’re doing. We can pay attention to the way our body feels. Is our heart racing? Are we sweating? Are we feeling dehydrated? Are we hungry? Are we feeling tense? Then we can quickly address one of those issues if we need to. Getting water in that moment, and appreciating how the water tastes as we drink it can bring us back into the moment. Eating a snack, taking a minute to stretch your arms and neck, or taking a couple of deep breaths can make a huge difference. (The intentionality with which we complete these activities with makes a difference in how impactful they are. If you’re constantly berating yourself as you take the time to stretch, you might not even feel like you stretched. You might end up more tense than when you began).
After grounding yourself, after giving yourself what you need, you can begin to choose how you want to approach the rest of your day, without succumbing to the constant negative banter in your mind. You can become aware of your frustration and your lack of time and tell yourself, “I know I only have so much time today, and I might not get everything done the way I’d hoped. But I’m going to do what I can. And right now, I’m going to focus on finishing this project because it makes the most sense to me. If I need to change priorities later, I will.” And then acknowledge, with compassion, how nicely you just treated yourself. You can smile and tell yourself, “I feel a little more relaxed knowing that I’m supporting myself through my busy day. No matter what happens, I know I did everything I could.”
As you move forward with your mindfulness practice, you’ll find language that fits with how you want to talk to yourself, language that resonates and feels right to you, empowering for you in the moment. It might be strange at first, but just as we like it when our loved ones give us pep talks and support when things get challenging, we need to accept support from ourselves as well.
Will mindfulness and awareness automatically make your day magical and perfect? No. But your intentionality, your focus, your dedication to your self-love and support is what makes the difference. The next time you feel your stress rising, acknowledge that you’re feeling overwhelmed again, and you can go through the process again. You can ask yourself:
What thought made you feel overwhelmed?
Is that thought actually true right now? Or is it something rooted in the past or the future?
Is there a way you can support yourself through this moment?
Is there a way you can acknowledge what you’ve done right in this moment?
Is there a way you can give yourself a little credit right now?
After answering these questions, recognize how quickly your emotions can change based on the topic of your thoughts. Allow that recognition to give you a sense of calm.
5. We can get a deeper understanding of why we’re interpreting the person or situation as a negative one.
We might want to stop in the middle of our frustration to pay attention to WHY we’re feeling negative emotions. (Not that you should try to get rid of them once you notice they’re there... negative emotions have a purpose and being mindful of them means simply observing them but not judging them). Understanding that the negative emotions are showing up for a reason - and that reason might not be what your thought it was - can be really helpful.
So when we’re practicing awareness, we can look at the entirety of a situation and understand the context, not just our interpretation of the events. If we return to the example we talked about in #4 up above, and we think about WHY we’re feeling frustrated during our super busy day, we might do a full body awareness scan and realize that you completely skipped lunch that day.
Your frustration might not be coming from the fact that you’re busy… it might be coming from the fact that you didn’t get a chance to eat, and that made you resentful of everything on your to-do list. Maybe if you were able to find a solution for your hunger, (ordering food if you're too busy to get it yourself... keeping a stash of snacks for moments like this, or sacrificing some time to get food knowing that being full will help increase your productivity in the long-term), and then acknowledge yourself for solving your problem, you’d be able to find peace in that moment.
Knowing that you took care of yourself in that moment, knowing that you valued your body enough to provide nourishment as soon as you could, can offer a sense of security and solace that you wouldn’t have had if you just continued on with your day, hungry and upset. All because you took the time to pay attention to your body and look deeply into your situation instead of assuming that your emotion was directly (and only) tied to your lack of time.
Paying attention to your life, in every second, and watching as your thoughts come and go can help us solve problems in ways we wouldn't have prior to living mindfully. We begin to think in a different way. We begin to live in a different way. And eventually, negative people and situations don't seem as negative anymore.
Life is about perspective, and living mindfully allows us to shape our perspective in ways that truly free us from the constraints of "shoulds," expectations, and past pain.
If creating (and sticking to) self-care activities is hard for you, if finding joy in the small moments seems like complete BS, if you believe that life means being frustrated and disappointed because that’s just how things are, if you find yourself starting your day committed to loving yourself and being happy but by the time you brush your teeth in the morning you’ve found 15 things to be annoyed and angry about…
There’s another way!
Mindfulness teaches us how to pay close attention to our experiences without beating ourselves up. It teaches us how to be more compassionate with the people in our lives. It shows us how to love and support ourselves through every situation. It allows us to find the lesson in the pain, the power in our anger, and the benefits of the array of emotions we go through.
The best part about it?
Mindfulness is really simple! Once it becomes a habit, your ability to love and support yourself becomes second nature. You don’t have to struggle to figure out how to be positive.
You can find peace in any situation if you’re willing.
Although mindfulness is simple, creating a new habit when life is already so busy and chaotic can be extremely difficult.
Have you ever told yourself you were going to meditate and practice mindfulness regularly only to have completely given up on your new practice a week later? Have you ever read about mindfulness and thought it sounded great, but didn’t even know where to begin implementing the practice into your own life? Are you just tired of your self-care routines, and want something that will do more than a loofah and a bath tub?
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