Mindfulness for Gay Men: How To Get Out Of Your Head And Be More Engaged In Life
What is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” But what does that actually mean? Let’s break that down.
Mindfulness at its core is about attention. It’s about what we pay attention to. It’s very easy to get hooked by thoughts about the future (i.e. will I ever be able to come out to my family?) and about the past (i.e. I really regret doing that thing in the past). It’s so easy, in fact, that we often do it automatically without really realizing it.
Challenges like trauma, anxiety, or depression make this process that much more automatic. If you’re struggling with feeling stuck in your head, you’re not alone! Mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness offers another perspective. It involves paying attention, on purpose (so in a conscious way) to the present moment (versus getting caught up in the past or the future). How might we do this?
Our minds are expert time travellers
We can think about what it might be like 10 years from now. We can also be haunted by early memories from childhood, which often happens when trauma occurs, and get really stuck in the past.
Sometimes there’s a time and place to focus on the past. Like when processing trauma, or to make goals for the future. But often, we spend too much time getting caught up in our thoughts and miss out on the here-and-now, which is where life happens.
The good news is that our physical bodies always live in the present moment
And so we can use them as a tool to get in contact with the present moment.
Two of the main methods for doing this are through our breathing and through our senses. Our breath allows us to tap into our autonomic nervous system. Our nervous system is responsible for the “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” response (an anxiety/stress response). This response signals to our body that we can go into “rest and digest”–which feels much more calming.
I like to think about using our senses as the “stop to smell the roses phenomenon.”
We want to use our taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing to really absorb what’s going on in the present moment, and thus feel more in our bodies and less in our heads.
The last piece is doing this all non-judgementally… which is much easier said than done
As gay men, many of us have been stigmatized and shamed by society, which often results in a degree of internalized homophobia and shame. We often feel like we aren’t good enough.
However when it comes to mindfulness, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. It’s about what works for you.
It’s also a skill that takes time to practice, so you won’t be good at it right away. That doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong, are “broken” or aren’t good enough. In fact, there are even nine mindfulness attitudes that can be practiced as “antidotes” to some of these “not good enough” feelings.
But for now, try and be kind to yourself as you explore a new skill!
When and how should I use mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about taking a new perspective on everyday activities. That being said, it can bring particular relief for those times of day when you feel like you’re really struggling.
For example, if you notice that you get nervous while on a date, meeting new people, or coming out to someone for the first time, try the following:
1️⃣ Label what you’re feeling in your mind: is it nervousness, anxiety, fear, worry? However you’re feeling is valid, try and not judge this as good or bad, it simply just is.
2️⃣ Take 5-10 deep breaths. Bring your attention to what’s going on inside your body as you breathe. Notice what it feels like for the air to enter your nose/mouth, go down your windpipe and into your lungs. Notice how your body contracts/expands with each breath. Notice what it feels like to have the breath exit your body.
3️⃣ Feel your feet on the floor, notice how your socks or shoes feel. Notice how your body comes in contact with the ground or a chair if you’re sitting. Notice how you’re always connected to the Earth in one way or another. Both your breath and the Earth are here to make you feel grounded. Even if you feel unstable, the Earth and your breath can be an anchor to help stabilize you.
Here’s another example:
If you find yourself getting stuck in your head when spending time with your partner or when trying to fall asleep, try the following:
1️⃣ Notice your breathing. As above, take a few deep breaths to get in contact with the present moment. Focus your attention on what it feels like to breathe.
2️⃣ Notice what you can feel. What does it feel like with those areas of your body that come in contact with the Earth? Can you feel the weight of your body against the ground, a chair or a bed?
3️⃣ Notice what you can hear. Is the air conditioning or a fan on? Can you hear the hum of electronics? Is there background music? Can you hear your own breath? Focus on the sounds around you for a few moments.
4️⃣ Notice what you can see. What are the colours of objects around you? What are their textures? Try and look at the area around you with a set of eyes as if you were a newborn baby. Try and examine something that you’ve never really examined in depth.
5️⃣ Notice if you can taste anything. Maybe you can taste toothpaste if you’re going to bed and just brushed your teeth. Or maybe you can taste the last thing you ate or drank. Or maybe you notice your mouth is dry and you need to drink some water.
6️⃣ Notice if you can smell anything. The smell of your partner’s cologne. Or the scent of freshly washed sheets. Or the familiar smell of your house.
Try both methods out and see what works for you
And remember, it takes practice. If you notice you get stuck in your head while doing the exercise, simply just take note and return your attention to the next step.
Want to learn more about how mindfulness can apply to your specific situation? Click the button below to get started.
RCC, MSW, RSW
As a counsellor at The Centre for Gay Counselling, Victor excels at helping gay men find freedom from anxiety, stress and overwhelm so that they can start living life to the fullest again. Interested in working with Victor? Click the button below to get started.