Sometimes I notice my thoughts are cycling around in my head as if they were driving around a traffic circle and never exiting.
When these thoughts are making me feel bad, I may notice feelings of regret, disappointment, or frustration at the circumstance. I want the thoughts to exit the circle and move on, and sometimes it feels like I just can’t make them stop which only adds to my frustration.
Introducing the Continuum of Awareness
The continuum of awareness is a mindfulness based practice used in Gestalt Psychotherapy that can be a helpful tool in calming the mind and regulating the emotions. The practice has its roots in Buddhist and Daoist mindfulness practice so if you have a meditation practice this might be familiar to you. (More information on gestalt can be found here.)
Zones of Awareness
The continuum of awareness uses three zones to describes our experiences:
- Middle Zone includes thoughts, judgements, curiosities; it is where we make meaning of things, where questions arise, and where our cognition is. It is usually housed in the head.
- Inner Zone includes any feelings or sensations that are felt inside the body; this could be your heart beating, a muscle contraction or tightening, the feeling of your breath in your lungs, body temperature, butterflies in your stomach. For some, emotions fall into in this zone.
- Outer Zone includes your five senses: what you touch, smell, taste, see and hear.
Practicing the Awareness Continuum
When we practice with awareness continuum, we attempt to name one thing we are aware of from one zone at a time: I’m aware of tightness in my shoulders (inner zone) I’m aware of the contrast between the white page and the black letters I’m typing (outer zone), I’m aware of a thought –is this blog post going to be too long? (middle zone).
As we practice the awareness continuum, we begin to develop the understanding that our awareness can be separate from our thoughts, feelings, and sensations instead of merged with it.
As I do this practice, I might start to notice things like how my body responds to certain thoughts or feelings, or what it’s like to gaze out the window and focus on the trees outside instead of the screen.
A Default Zone
Often, people have a default zone that we default into.
An Amplified Zone
We also may have one or two zones that may get amplified in a high stress situations. Maybe you notice your inner zone ignite as your heart rate increases and you start heating up, for example.
A Zone for Self-Regulation
Additionally, we may have a zone that may really help us self-regulate.
Putting It All Together
When we notice what is happening for us in each of these zones in any given moment, we gather more data that we can incorporate into our full experience of ourselves, and also develop strategies on how to shift our awareness when we need to.
Strategies to Reduce Anxiety, Reduce Stress, and Clear the Mind
In the example I gave earlier, I felt caught in my middle zone. When this happens, shuttling my awareness can be incredibly supportive.
When we shuttle our awareness, we are intentionally shifting our awareness from one zone to another.
Some people with panic attacks have a very intense experience being both in their middle and inner zones, so for them, shuttling to the outer zone (i.e describing what it is they see in front of them) can be incredibly helpful and regulating. Sometimes a focus on breathing (inner zone experience) can also be calming and regulating.
When I was feeling my thoughts racing around the traffic circle and not exiting (a middle zone experience), I decided to shuttle my awareness to the outer zone by taking a hot shower. I focused on the external sensations I was feeling: the feeling of the water hitting my skin, the warmth, the sound of water droplets, the steam.
Almost immediately, I noticed a shift as I exited the traffic circle. And this feeling stayed with me for the remainder of the night.
The Benefits of Shuttling Awareness
Shuttling awareness can be helpful for those that have insomnia. I may shuttle my awareness on my inner zone by focusing on breathing and the feeling of my chest rising and falling.
I have always relied on exercise (specifically running) to relieve feelings of stress and a busy mind. This is a wonderful form of shuttling awareness if you like to be active.
Exercising increases the heart rate and pace and depth of breathing and while I do find myself thinking about things on my run, my focus is inadvertently very much on my body. After the run, I feel a certain clarity that I didn’t have before the exercise.
So, the next time you find yourself in a state that you’re uncomfortable with and you want to support yourself, try experimenting with awareness continuum! See what happens when you shift your attention.
If you would like some additional support, therapy can help. Contact us for a free consultation today.
About the Author
Sadie says, “The goal, as I see it, is to feel the full spectrum of emotions, to become the person we want to be, and to have meaningful and fulfilling relationships. At the heart of this, I believe, is the cultivation and nourishment of a wise self.”